The Non-cooperation Movement in Odisha

Three important events like passing of Rowlatt Acts, Khilafat movement and Jalianawallabagh massacre occurred just after the end of the World War I which prompted the Indian nationalists to act against the British. The Rowlatt Acts were passed to suppress the freedom of Indians, and the Government of India Act, 1919, failed to satisfy the aspirations of the Indians. Protesting against the Jalianawallabagh massacre and Khilafat Movement, the Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi decided in its special session, held at Calcutta in September, 1920, to start the Non-cooperation movement against the British Government. In September1920, Gopabandhu attended this special session and returned from it, being imbued with staunch nationalist ideas. Although Madhusudan Das had associated himself with the Congress in the early phase, subsequently he kept himself aloof from it being unable to get support from the Congress leaders for the merger of Odia tracts. He kept himself preoccupied with the Odia movement. Subsequently in 1920, when Gandhi started the Non-cooperation movement, there was practically no Congress organization working in Odisha.At the clarion call of Gandhi in 1920-21, Gopabandhu Das virtually started once again the Congress movement in Odisha. The Nagpur Session of the Indian National Congress, held in December, 1920, which finally passed the Non-Cooperation resolution, was attended by a number of delegates from Odisha such as Pandit Gopabandhu Das, Bhagirathi Mahapatra, Jagabandhu Singh, Jadumani Mangaraj, Mukunda Prasad Das, Niranjan Patanaik, and Harekrushna Mahatab. This session of the Congress decided to form the Provincial Congress Committees on linguistic basis. As a result a separate Provincial Congress Committee was formed for Odisha even though Odisha was not a separate province at that time. Soon after the Nagpur Congress session, the Utkal Union Conference was held at Chakradharpur under the presidentship of Jagabandhu Singh. In this conference Gopabandhu Das suggested a modification in the outlook of the Utkal Union Conference. He held that though the merger of all Odia speaking areas was a vital issue for Odias, yet Odisha should not remain aloof from the mainstream of national consciousness, represented by the Congress. He proposed that the aims and objects of the Indian National Congress be accepted as those of the Utkal Union conference in addition to the accepted objectives of the conference. “This was passed by the Conference, even though quite a number of people including the president of the conference abstained from voting on it as a mark of dissent.

On his return from Chakradharpur, Gopabandhu held a public meeting at Cuttack on 24 January, 1921 and exhorted the students to join the Non-Cooperation Movement. Mahatma Gandhi came to Odisha in March, 1921 and in his addresses to the people at Cuttack, Puri, Bhadrak and Berhampur he appealed to them to join the Non-cooperation movement. The Utkal Provincial Congress Committee consisted of Gopabhandhu as President, Ekram Rasool as Vice- President, Bhagirathi Mahapatra as Secretary and Brajabandhu Das as Joint Secretary. The Utkal Provincial Congress Committee deputed the following twelve members to represent Odisha in the A.I.C.C. like (1) Gopabandhu Das, (2) Jagabandhu Singh, (3) Nilakantha Das, (4) Gopabandhu Choudhury, (6) Niranjan Pattanaik, (6) Harekrushna Mahatab, (7) Bhagirathi Mahapatra, (8) Dharanidhar Mishra Banaprastha, (9) Nilakantha Das Chaudhuri, (10) Atal Bihari Acharya, (11) Brajamohan Panda, (12) Jamini Kanta Biswas. On the other hand, District and Sub-divisional Committees were also formed in Puri, Cuttack, Balasore, Sambalpur and Ganjam under the charge of the following persons.

  1. Harekrushna Mahatab – Balasore district.
  2. Jadumani Mangaraj -Kendrapara Subdivision of Cuttack district.
  3. Rajakrushna Bose- Jajpur Subdivision of Cuttack district.
  4. Bhagirathi Mahapatra – Cuttack Sadar Subdivision with head-quarters at Alakashram, jagatsinghpur.
  5. Jagabandhu Singh and Krupasindhu Mishra – Puri District.
  6. Nilakantha Das – Sambalpur district.
  7. Niranjan Pattnaik – Ganjam district

Response towards the Non-cooperation Movement in Odisha

Mahatma Gandhi’s call brought nationwide response including Odisha. A number of young persons left their schools, colleges and Government service in Odisha. H.K. Mahatab, N. Kanungo, Nabakrushna Choudhury and R.K. Bose left their studies at the call of Gandhiji and joined the Non-cooperation movement. Gopabandhu Choudhury resigned from his lucrative post of deputy collector. Bhagirathi Mahapatra, a prominent lawyer at that time gave up his legal job and joined the movement. Surendra Nath De, a sub-inspector of police and Muhammed Hanif, an excise sub-inspector resigned from their service and joined the Non-cooperation movemnt. Mahendranath Verma and Achutananda Purohit, the two promising lawyers of Sambalpur gave up their legal practice. On the other hand, Raja Krushna Bose discontinued his Medical studies and joined the movement. The Congress workers of Odisha involved themselves whole heartedly to work out the Gandhian programmes of Non-co-operation movement in Odisha under the leadership of Gopabandhu Das. The weekly news paper Samaj started by Gopabandhu played an important role in spreading the nationalist ideas during the Non-cooperation movement in Odisha. For training the Congress volunteers and workers, two institutions like Swaraj Ashram of Cuttack and Alaka Ashram of Jagatsinghpur were established by Odisha Congress leaders. The students also established Swaraj Sevak Sangha at Cuttack for working out the programmes of Non-co-operation. Gopabandhu‟s efforts to include Odisha with the main stream of nationalist movement did not go in vain. Throughout Odisha, a wave of unprecedented enthusiasm for the INC was noticed.

Programmes of Non-co-operation in Odisha

Non-cooperation meant the withdrawal of cooperation from the British Government in all aspects. The programme of Non-co-operation movement had two phases of actions. The first phase of the programme consisted of
(a) boycott of schools and colleges by students and teachers,
(b) boycott of British goods,
(c) boycott of courts by lawyers and judges, and
(d) boycott of services by the Government services, etc.

The second phase of actions included
(a) promotion of Khadar ,
(b) Hindu-Muslim unity,
(c) removal of untouchability, and
(d) promotion of national education through the establishment of National schools and colleges.

As a mark of protest, picketing and burning of foreign cloths was undertaken in each and every district of the state. The picketing of foreign cloth was entirely successful at Jaleswar in Balasore district. A dealer of foreign cloths was fined by the Congress workers for dealing in foreign cloth at Jaleswar. The Congress workers of Swaraj Mandir also energetically carried on picketing against the foreign cloth shops at Balasore.

Mahatma Gandhi’s first visit to Odisha

Mahatma Gandhi visited Odisha for the first time in March 1921. His visit gave a tremendous fillip to the Non-Cooperation movement in Odisha. The people of Odisha extended warm welcome to him. In every railway station large crowds of people gathered to have a glimpse of their leader i.e. Mahatma Gandhi. He reached Cuttack on 23 March 1921, and in the evening he addressed a large gathering on the Kathjodi river bed at Cuttack. In his speech, he appealed to the people of Odisha to make their contribution Tilak Swaraj Fund for getting Swaraj. Besides the promotion of Hindu-Muslim unity in the state, he set the targets for the people of Odisha like:

(a)enrolment of one lakh Congress members,
(b) distribution of one lakh Charkhas (spinning wheels) and
(c) collection of three lakhs of rupees for the Tilak Swaraj fund.

Some news papers like „The Samaj‟ and „Utkal Sevak‟ played an important role in inspiring the common mass to participate in the national movement. His visit intensified the common man’s zeal and enthusiasm for the cause of nationalist movement in Odisha. Harekrushna Mahtab emphasized Gandhi’s importance on Swaraj as the birth right of the people. In 1921, Gopabandhu went to Calcutta for enlisting the Congress members from among the Odia labour population at Calcutta. His stimulating speech to the Odias in Calcutta made a deep impact. At the call of Gopabandhu, many Odia labourers left the shops having foreign articles. Their refusal to carry foreign cloth was so successful in theBurrabazar area of Calcutta that business in that area came to standstill. Some national schools were established in Odisha. On the other hand, the Satyabadi School of Gopabandhu was converted into a national school. Another national school was established at Nayabazar of Cuttack town by Madhusudan-Biswal, Damodar Mohanty and Atal Bihari Acharya. The curriculum of this school included such subjects as Hindi, Ayurveda, spinning, weaving and carpentry. Another national school of education was also established at Jagatsinghpur.

Kanika movement

In 1922 a peasant‟s revolt in the zamindari of Kanika occurred which was closely associated with the Non-co-operation movement. The zamindari of Kanika was situated in Cuttack as well as Balasore districts of Odisha. The peasants of Kanika revolted against the Raja of Kanika who was collecting various kinds of taxes and exploiting the people in many ways. The peasant‟s revolt initially had no connection with Non-cooperation movement. But the raja of Kanika, convinced the Government that agitation against him was engineered by the Congress and was a part of the Non-co-operation movement. The Government in order to suppress the revolt, started harsh oppression against the peasants of Kanika. To speak against the raja of Kanika was tantamount to treason. Many people tortured and women were molested. Rich persons like Khandeita Roy and Ashwini Kumar Palei were not only lost their landed property but also expelled from the estate.

The Congress leaders protested against this unfair oppression upon the innocent peasants of Kanika. In order to protest against the repression of the raja of Kanika, Gopabandhu and Bhagirathi Mahapatra came to Bhadrak to hold a meeting. The two leaders were not allowed to hold any public meeting in the region. However, with much difficulty they held a meeting at Bhadrak. For holding this meeting both the leaders were arrested and sentenced to six months imprisonment. During this time arsons were taking place in Cuttack and Balasore. On one occasion, seized with anxiety, some people of the Cuttack town assaulted a police constable. The constable was severely wounded and rescued by Gopabandhu Das. He was brought to the Swaraj Ashram where he was given medical aid, food to eat and a Khadar cloth to wear. Later the constable complained in the court that Gopabandhu had assaulted him and compelled him to wear the Khadar cloth. On this charge Gopabandhu Das and Bhagirathi Mahapatra weresentenced to two years imprisonment. However, most of the Congress leaders of Odisha were arrested by the end of 1922.

Despite its limitations, the Non-cooperation movement roused an unparalleled political stir in Odisha. The widespread lecture tours of Gopabandhu and his associates made the people familiar with the Congress programme and roused the political knowledge of the people of Odisha. Unlike the movement of Utkal Union Conference, the Non-cooperation movement reached the common mass. By the end of 1921, about fifty two thousand Congressmen were enrolled in Odisha. After the suspension of the Non-co-operation movement, following the Chaurichaura incident in U.P. early in 1922, the Congress party was divided into two groups; while some wanted to enter the legislatures under the Government of India Act, 1919, and some wanted to work out the constructive programme of Gandhiji while boycotting the legislatures. The Swaraj party was formed in Odisha in 1923. It looked for the Dominion Status and adopted such method as „obstructionism‟ in the legislatures and Local Boards. The Congressmen like Godavarish Mishra, Jagabandhu Singh and Radharanajan Das were elected from Odisha to the Bihar and Odisha Provincial Legislative Council and Nilakantha Das was elected for Central Legislative Assembly.

After the release from jail Gopabandhu devoted himself to the Congress movement in Odisha. On the other hand, H.K. Mahtab, after his release from jail, started to work out the Gandhian constructive programme in his home district. He also started a weekly newspaper, called Prajatantra at Balasore on 2 September 1923. Madhusudan Das who had distanced himself from the Congress and the Non-cooperation movement became a member of the Congress in the Utkal Pradesh Congress Conference, held at Cuttack in 1924 under the presidentship of Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy, the eminent chemist of Bengal. A women‟s branch was formed by Ramadevi, Saraladevi and others to strengthen the Congress organization in Odisha. Gandhiji visited Odisha in August 1925 and again in 1927 which provided boost to the Congress workers apart from popularizing his programme. A number of Congress Ashrams were established through the initiative Mahatab in different parts of the Balasore district. Gopabandhu met Lala Lajpat Roy at Calcutta in 1926. At his request Gopabandhu became a member of the servants of the People Society. Gopabandhu founded a branch of the Servants of the People Society at Cuttack and associated his news paper Samaj to it. At the Lahore meetingof the Society, Gopabandhu was elected as the vice-president of the Society in 1928. However, he met a premature death at the age of 52 on 17 June 1928 which was an irreparable loss to Odisha and Congress organization in Odisha.

1. Dr M. K. Das, History of Odisha Vol-III
1. A.C. Pradhan, A Study of History of Odisha, 2006.
2. K.C. Panigrahi, History of Odisha,2008.
3. H.H. Panda, History of Odisha, 2008.
4. D.B. Mishra, Concise History of Odisha,2009.