Unforgettable life in Koraput (Numa)

Biswanath Pattanayak

Govt. Of Orissa Activities Report 2004-05

    In the year 1946 after being released from the jail Numa (Malati Chaudhury) (She was arrested for participation in Quit India movement) set up Baji Rout Chhatrabas in Angul in memory of Saheed Baji Rout with the objective of providing education to the children of distressed political workers of princely states (Gadajat) of Orissa. Initially only the children of the workers from the Gadajat were admitted to the Chhatrabas. Later since 1949 the children of poor tribals and Harijans (Schedule Castes) were admitted. Thus the tribal boys and girls from Koraput district came to be admitted to the Chhatrabas. In 1948, a meeting  was convened by the great soul Gopabandhu Chaudhury in his residence at 'Bakharabad' to discuss the remedy for the repression on tribals by awakening the their consciousness. In this meeting were present Sage like Acharya Harihara, revered Sarngadhar Dash, revered Nabakrushna Chaudhury, Mother Rama Devi, Numa, Vyasji and the volunteers working amongst the tribals. It was decided to form an institution to work amongst the tribals. A suitable name was looked for during the discussion. Revered Gopababu said, "Minu (Malati Devi) is writing in the Journal krushak a serial under the title 'Nabajeevan' to bring about a new life amongst those for whom the proposed institution will work. Let us keep that name for the institution." This proposal was unanimously accepted and the institution was named as 'Utkal Nabajeevan Mandal'.  Revered Sarangadhar Das became its president where as Revered Gopbandhu Chaudhury, its Secretary. Malati Devi, Acharya Harihara and Mother Rama Devi and others became its members. After this Revered Gopababu and Mother Rama Devi began Padayatra (moving on foot) through the tribal belt of Orissa. At that time there was no road. He was overcome with grief by seeing the pitiable condition of the tribals. He gave the entire responsibility of Utkal Nabajeevan Mandal to Numa and asked her to work for their development and awakening their consciousness.  Then onwards the Utkal Nabajeevan Mandal was managed under the direction of Numa and she, till her death engaged herself in unwavering service to the tribals.

    A women training center was started in Angul to train the women to work in tribal belts by staying with tribal people. From various districts the girls got the training so also were trained the widows and deserted women. Though these girls to start with were not enough educated yet the way they were taught three RRR's and were so trained that they could cause an awakening among the tribals to fight against injustice, repression and torture of the money-lenders, revenue police and forest officials.

   Numa was requested to visit Koraput to see the conditions of the tribals. She came to Gunupur region of the district and was impressed by the tribal culture when she saw the simple living of the tribals, their costumes, their frugality, their cleanliness etc. Whenever she cam to Koraput she stayed with them, took food with them and relaxed in their verandah. Durign festive occasions she used to roam, dance and sing with them. The tribals accepted her as one of their own. They used to openly discuss issues with her both Numa and Bapi (Nabakrushna Chaudhury) were very fond of dancing. 

    It wont be an exaggeration to say that Numa was available where the tribals were in distress. She used to be overcome with grief and shock to find the condition of neglected tribals. She opened centers of Utkal Nabajeevan Mandal in tribal areas and made efforts to raise their consciousness. In Koraput district many centers were opened in different regions. The workers of the centers at Gunupur, Durgi, Bisam Cuttack, Rayagada, Kolasakata, Koraput, Talabonda, UparaBonda, Patangi, Sunabeda, Nawarangpur etc began fighting against the injustice and oppression. This resulted in the end of the exploitation by the money-lenders, police and foresters etc. The movement for freedom from bonded labour continued. Numa used to visit all the centers. Due to this the rate of interest charged by the money-lenders reduced. The practice of the tribals working without any wage came to an end. The fear of the people reduced. To a large extent they mustered courage to tell the truth. Numa moved around the forests and mountains of Koraput and worked. Wherever she felt the pain of climbing or descending the mountains people carried her happily on a cot. She had gone into very very remote areas. In Gunupur region a disease called Yaws was rampant and it was very painful for the person suffering from it. Trained workers of Utkal Nabajeevan Mandal along with doctors were able to eradicate the disease. The workers were also attending the patients suffering from leprosy. These workers were engaged in the eradication of illiteracy, awakening of consciousness amongst the women, prohibition and building self confidence within the tribals. 

    In 1950, in the drought hit regions of Ramanaguda of Gunupur, Chandrapur and Bisam Cuttack people died of hunger. Receiving this news Mother Ramadevi and Malati Devi both came to these areas and  saved the children by opening food centers and getting them attendance of the doctors. The government when realised the gravity of the situation sent the help as there was no arrangement for transporting the food materials. She suggested the government to engage four elephants of the king of Jaipur for the purpose of transporting the food materials to the relief centers. Government accepted her suggestion and engaged two elephants in the relief work. Wit the help of these elephants the food a materials could be reached at the appropriate place. 

   The money-lenders in connivance with the then Zamindar of Jaipur took the possession of the lands of the tribals and in the same land the tribals were made to work as labourers. After independence on realising this the tribals in 1951 requested the government to   take steps towards the return of such lands to them as the possession by the money-lenders was taken without their knowledge. As the government did not heed to their request they decided, by informing the money-lenders and the government to take possession of their earlier land. On this basis a movement was launched under the name Bhu-Satyagraha. At the instance of Malati Devi these tribals began cultivating these lands. The money-lenders in connivance with the  police harassed these tribals and filed cases against them. The tribals were not taken to jail but used to be made to sit in the police station for long hours. This continued for a few months till the government found a solution to it by consulting with the tribal leaders. The government deputed Mr. Gopinath Mohanty as special officer with independent power to settle on the spot the allegations by the tribals against the money-lenders. The decision of Gopinath Babu went in favour of the tribals. Therefore the money-lenders took the shelter of court. Some of them however without going to the court tried to solve the problem through discussion. At that time Numa had been to Gunupur area. Gopinath Babu went to meet her. Numa told to Gopinath babu that she on hearing from Biswanath (Pattanayak) his (Gopinath babu) sympathy for the tribals felt like touching his feet. She was saying so  to an officer of the government which her husband, Nabakrushna Chaudhury heading as Chief Minister This demonstrates her commitments towards the tribals. The thought and vision of Numa and Bapi were revolutionary. They opposed injustice and untruth. She used to be disturbed at others distress. Her heart bled for the neglected tribals and Harijans, exploited and suppressed people. Those who worked for instilling courage in them and for their development they always enjoyed her affection and sympathy. 

    She was firm in her view that the Naxals are working for poor and deprived. Therefore whenever she heard the woes of the family members of Naxalites she reached them to console. She heard that the police is harassing the family members of Naxal Ramchandra Madkami. She went to see the family members of Madkami. Madkami's village was in a remote area of Korukonda block of Malkangiri sub-division of Koraput district. Yet both Numa and Bapi could reach the village and on finding the misery of the family members they burst into tears. Madkami had two wives. There was no food in the house. The body was scarcely covered. They also visited the village Nandapur and met the wife and daughters of Naxal leader Purosattam Pali. They were disturbed on hearing the police atrocities on the Pali's family members.

    The Naxal leader Nagbhubshan patanaik was sentenced to death. This saddened Numa and Bapi. They made efforts To save Nagbushan. By collecting signatures from various persons they submitted mass petition to the then president V. V. Giri. On the basis of this petition, personal letters and appeals Nagbhusan was spared from death sentence. But had to suffer imprisionment. when Nagabhusan was in Rajmahindri jail he fell ill. Numa and Bapi met repeatedly the then chief minister of Andhra Pradesh Sri P.V. Narashima Rao requesting him to make proper medical facilities available to Nagabhusan. In Gunupur area, the police tortured the innocent Garanda tribals dubbing them as naxalites. Numa and Naba Babu along with some workers, camped in Garanda village for three months and infused courage in the people. She brought to the notice of the people the torture that police was inflicting on the worker Baikuntha Patra. But she did not approve of  all the activities of naxalites. She condemed the activities which she thought are not proper. They were shocked at the ruthless murder of Dinabandhu, a poor pawn broker of the Badamul village of the Kamnagnda block. he was slaughtered to death on sleep before the eyes of his wife. what hurt them the most was that they had nothing but a handful of grains. Thy remarked that if the naxalites continued doing such activities, they would lose sympathy of the people.

    In another incident,  the tribal people of Balikhama and Sankalpa villages  filed a case against Harihara Mishra, a pawnbroker of Paikapada village, who had forcibly taken away their lands. Harihara Mishra entangled the ignorant people in legal formalities. The tribal people without finding anyway took possession of their land and started cultivating without bothering for the legal repercussions. Harihara Mishra and his nephew in an attempt to prevent them  from cultivation shot dead two persons on the field. This incident lead to the arrest of 42 tribal people, who were given lifetime imprisonment. Numa and Bapi visited both the villages and with the help of Sri Ratan Das, a noted social worker, took the uphill task of rescuing the tribal people. It took three years to collect the necessary evidences. The then chief minister Biren Mitra, on the request of Naba babu, appealed to the President of India to free those people. Finally, they were released, after a lot of efforts. Out of the 42, 7 persons expired in the jail. Out of the 35 released, 28 were from Balikhamana and 7 from Sankhalapada village. Since the tribal people suffered a lot, fighting for their own lands, Numa and Bapi did everything to help them. Like Numa and Bapi, Subara Panigrahi of Manjusa Village was working on the hilly regions of Mahendra Tannaya for the neglected tribal people. He was gunned down by the policemen and was accused to be a naxalite. Many tribal villages were burnt down. The tribal people had to hide in villages to escape the wrath of the people. On hearing this incident, Numa sent MLA Biraja Prasad Ray for investigation. Biraja babu and I moved about the hilly regions of Mahendra tanaya and collected the necessary information. We also had discussions with some tribal people who had hidden themselves in the forests. After probing into the matter, Biraja Babu sent an informative report to Numa.

    The Bonda tribe of Koraput district are the most backward and neglected clan. after moving about with Numa and bapi for 2 days, we deceded to take up the lower Bonda Kadamguda village as the central village in the Bonda region for the Navjeevan Society. Intially Sister Radhamani, Sita and Shantilata stayed at the centre. In the first three months there was no problem. But after that they had to face the atrocities of the police. Two policemen of Mudulipada police station visited the nearby village Khuriguda situated near Kadamguda. They asked Guru Sima who was sleeping on the verandah to climb the tree and bring down the pot of liquor that was hanging and serve them. As Guru Sima was ill, he refused to do so. This angered the two policemen and they attacked Sima with bow and arrow which was lying there. This was brought to the notice of the women workers (called apa)  by Samantrisani and Sunadhar Sisa. They  could not tolerate the injustice done to Sima and raised a protest. Police lodged cases against them. The judicial proceeding started.I had to attended the court on all the dates. late T Sangana, the then MP and Ratan Babu had for also many a times attended the court during the proceedings.Numa bapi had also attended the proceedings. Following the judgment,  Kalia jaman and Pandra jaman were suspended. Both Numa and Bapi had  a soft corner for the tribal people.  They could never tolerate any injustice done to them and were always ready to stand by them. They were revolutionaries propelled by the kindness and  sympathy . I, personally have given a lot of pain by dragging both of them to a lot of places where these tribal people have been oppressed or faced problems.

    I had been asked to write on Malati Devi's experience in Koraput but she had also worked a  lot for the tribal people residing in Phulbani and Ganjam, many of them are worth mentioning . She raised  a protest against the policemen who had arrested the Sarvodaya workers in Phulbani under the instigation of the pawn brokers. She was also instrumental in the release of sister Radhamani Sahoo, a worker of Burlubaru Mandal who was arrested by the policemen while fighting for the cause of the tribal people. She was protesting against the policemen who had looted the money and gold of tribal people. On raising a protest the police gave back the belongings of the tribal people but arrested Srimati Radhamani Sahoo. 

    Numa's love and affection for the people is unforgettable. In the back of her mind she was always concerned for the tribal people of Koraput. When she was ill, she used to enquire about the people living in those places and would ask why she was not taken to Koraput anymore? Today, she is no more with us but her work has made her immortal. I pay my homage to her for her service to the tribal people.


Source : Numa, compiled by the Utkal Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, Bakharabad, Cuttack; published by Malati Devi Nabakrushna Chaudhury Trust, Bhubaneswar, 1998; )

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Translation : Madhulika Panda

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