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Veer Surendra Sai

Veer Surendra Sai, an epitome of endless courage and determination fought against British raj with a handful of brave warriors such as Madho Singh, Kunjal Singh, Airi Singh, Bairi Sing, Uddant Sai, Ujjal Sai, Khageswar Dao, Salegram Bariha, Govind Singh, Pahar Singh, Rajee Ghasia, Kamal Singh, Hati Singh, Salik Ram Bariha, Loknath Panda/Gadtia, Mrutunjaya Panigrahi, Jagabandu Hota, Padmanave Guru, Trilochan Panigrahi and many more. He resisted the tyranny of British empire for longer than any other brave soul who fought for his motherland. He spent his time making strategies in the vicinity of Debrigarh which is very close to the present day Burla. On this background, in independent India, a medical college came into being in Western part of Odisha and the alumni, students, faculties are proud to have their college named after him.

Surendra Sai was born on 23 January 1809 in a Village called khinda near Lapanga on the way to jharsuguda about 40 km to the north of Sambalpur. His father was Dharma Singh and he was one of seven children. Surendra Sai was a direct descendant from Madhukar Sai, the fourth Chauhan king of Sambalpur and therefore was eligible as a candidate to be crowned as king of Sambalpur after demise of King Maharaja Sai in 1827.

Surendra Sai began protesting the British at age 18 in 1827, moved operations to the hilly tracts of Western Odisha in 1857 and continued until he surrendered in 1862 and went to Hazaribagh Jail Before his surrender he spent 17 years in prison and after his final arrest served a term of 20 years including his detention of 19 years in the remote Asirgarh hill fort until he died.

Surendra Sai tops the list of the countless martyr who has laid down their lives with a smile to free our motherland from the clutch of the British rule. Veer Surendra sai is better known as Veer Surendra Sai rechristined in the British tongue, the reason better known to them. The history of our nation is yet to pay the deserving tribute to this immortal hero who not only languished for a long 37 years in the jail but also died in the captivity.

As goes in the annals of British history Sambalpur was the last part in India won by the East India Company. In the year 1804. In those days of uncertainties and instabilities. Surendra Sai was born on January 23rd 1809 in the royal family as the eldest son of mother Rebati Devi and father Dharma Sai. He displayed his rare talent and extraordinary skill in horse riding and martial arts. He enjoyed the unconditional support of all of his six brother – Uddant, Dhrub, Uijjval, Chhabil, Jajel and Medini all along his life. He was hardly 18 years old when he took up the leadership of building up the force of resistance in and around Sambalpur.

Our hero Veer Surendra Sai rose as the leader of the masses as well as the chieftains (Zamindars). Under his able leadership the resented lot got united and posed a great threat to the British army. As a matter of fact British reached out to Sambalpur in 1804, the very previous year they found control over the coastal Orissa, but it took a long 15 years to lay hand on the reins of the throne here.

They could place Maharaja Sai as the ruler of Sambalpur in 1820, who was their stooge, after the demise of the then ruler Jayant Singh. Such a move was not acceptable to the then Gountias (village chieftains), Zamindars and even the common men. Then all of a sudden Maharaja Sai died in 1827 and as per the tradition his queen Mohan Kumari took up the rein of the throne. That very year Surendra raised up as a local center of power with immense peoples’ support to stand up against the hegemony of the British interference. Obviously the local resentment extended the desired support LO him. Incidentally Mohan Kumari died issueless and it could provide the British a chance to place their yesman Narayan Singh, the Zamindar of Barpali, on the Sambalpur throne. And then Surendra came forward with strong objection to such a decision with claiming himself as the actual successor of the throne. By such a move he also became a personal enemy to Narayan Singh, who occupied the Sambalpur throne then. With his declaration of war against the king and his supporter British power, Surendra became vulnerable, but he was able to unite the local forces to form an army to face the challenge. He had to fight many a battles against the throne and the British forces but his army always placed him as the Winner. In 1840 the British force could lay its hands on him by arresting his alongwith his brother Udant and uncle Balram Sai at Rampur near Barpali. They were framed charges as the murderers and sentenced for imprisonment. It was a golden opportunity for the British forces, who were then in the verge of taking up the rein of Sambalpur throne. They sent Surendra and his two associates to a far off prison to Hazaribagh and kept under very tight security. The chance of getting free from that captivity was very remote But Surendra had something else in his luck. He remained in that prison for 17 years, from 1840 to 1857.

There was an outbreak of large-scale resentments against the British rule allover the country in 1857. The British branded it as a mutiny, where as it was the first struggle for independence by Indian. As a matter of fact it was revolution, which spread all over the country, the local freedom seekers broke the Hazaribagh prison and let loose all its inmates. Obviously Surendra, his brother Udant got a new lease of life came back to Sambalpur. They were given a warm welcome here at, with choosing Surendra once more as their leader to challenge the British force. It was unique example of his immense popularity, as his followers could never forget him even after long 17 years, while he was kept in captivity at a far off place. In such a way the second round of his struggle against the British forces started with a new vigour. By the Surendra was wise enough to realize that to fight the British forces equipped with guns and cannon was not easy, while his local army has swords, spears and bows with arrow to take up the challenge. He adopted a new strategy of guerilla warfare and put the British forces to face large-scale casualties Surendra and his army were well aware of hilly and jungle terrains spreaded allover here. So it was easy for them to strike the enemy, while they were in trouble and uneasy to cross these terrain. In these fights Surendra enjoyed the most sought after supports of his six brothers and only son Mitrabhanu. They were able to arrange strategic supports of local Zamindars and chieftains, as and when required by Surendra. To name a few, the members of Ghenss Zamindar family Hatte Singh, Baeri Singh, Aeri Singh, Narain Singh & Gobind Singh were Surendra's hardcore supporters. Other names such as Dayal Sarda, Salegram Kharsal, Janardan Singh, Kma Gartia, Manohar Singh, Anant Singh, Pitambar Sing, Chandan Gartia, Ganesh Upadhaya, Mrutyunjay Panigraphi, Anjari Singh, Dhan Singh, Kamal Singh, Nilamber Singh, Khageswar Daw, Sharaddhakar, Dharanidhar, Nanhe Diwan, Jagbandhu Hota, Krupa Madhusudan & Karunakar are also very much mentionable in this context.

The second phase of struggle launched by Surendra virtually perturbed the British rulers and humbles them to come for a treaty with him. The them British administrator at Sambalpur, Major Impey could very well understand the critical situation built up against them, so he made his seniors agreeable to compromise with Surendra & his army. Thus there was a treaty on behalf of both the parties in 1862 and they started living in peace. But the situation took an ugly turn the next year, after the sudden demise of Major Impey at Sambalpur. Major A.B. Cumberlidge took up charge as the next administrator at Sambalpur and he discarded this treaty soon after assuming his post. He directed his administration as well the police force to conspire a plot against Surendra & his associates. The then Superintended of Police at Sambalpur, J.N. Berill took up the lead in this front. He deputed on of his subordinate Inspector Mohan Singh and informer Dayanidhi Meher to frame false charges against Surendra and prepare some witnesses to support it in the court of law. So his instructions were carried on and Surendra with his associated were arrested on some pretext. But the British rulers were very much aware of Surendra's popularity among the local people, I so they took away Surendra & associates to Raipur, a far off place, just to prevent any public repercussion in this matter. Thus the court trial on Surendra & his brothers Udant, Dhrub, and Madini with son Mitrabhanu and associates, Garjan, Mohan, Loknath, Khageswar, Minaketan, Dharnidhar and Shraddhakar took place at Raipur. The British court trial on these twelve freedom fighters was nothing but just a farce. The charge framed against them were so filmy, that even some British officers came forward to cast doubt on it. The whole court proceeding was so biased that the accused were given hardly any chance to defend themselves. They were sentenced for lifetime imprisonment at the end of this farcical trial in the court of law. The prisoners were shifted to Asirgarh, a very much secured prison in a fort on a hill top in 1864. So our hero was kept there as a prisoner till 1884, where he breathed his last. By then he was reduced to a feeble skeleton with blind eyes. The then rulers were so much afraid of him, even after his death, that they dared not provide him his due last rite to be carried on his motherland. So in this way he was also deprived justice even after his death. But the hero is still thriving in the hearts of his admirers in millions and will remain there in years to come.