Is freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose? Mahdevappa, a freedom fighter in the Bhagat Singh and Netajimould did not think so. He thought it was something worth fighting for. And he fought till the end, laying down his life for what we enjoy today. Basavaraj S narrates his extraordinary tale of courage and sacrifice in the cause of Indian Independence.
Often called the Bhagat Singh of Karnataka, Mailara Mahadevappa (or Mahadeva) of Haveri district was a towering revolutionary figure during the Indian Independence movement. Born into a family of freedom fighters, he was the only representative from the then Mysore state who participated in the Dandi March led by Mahatma Gandhi on March 12, 1930. Mahadeva was only 18-years-old when he took part in the historic march and was jailed for six months.
Born on June 8, 1911 in Motebennur village of Haveri, Mahadeva’s father, Martandappa, was a peasant who leaned towards revolutionary ideals. His mother, Basamma, was a nationalist who was also imprisoned for the cause. Following in the footsteps of his parents, Mahadeva and his wife Siddamma went on to take active part in the Non-cooperation, Quit India and Swadeshi movements.
Returning home from the Dandi March, he brought together a group of young people and launched a guerrilla war against the British administration. Together, they raided government properties, captured assets and burnt official records. Mahadeva also trained villagers to spin cotton on the charkha during the Swadeshi movement at the Gandhi Sevashrama in Koradur village of the district He went on to deliver hand spun khadi at several villages of Dharwad district as well. On September 15, 1942, Mahadeva and his troops attacked the Byadgi railway station in Haveri.
As the attacks grew in frequency and ferocity, the British police decided to announce a reward of Rs 300 to anyone who would help capture Mahadeva. On 1 April 1943, the freedom fighter and two of his close associates - TirukappaMadivalar and VeerayyaHiremath - lost their lives when they attempted to loot a British treasury at the Sri Veerabhadreshwara temple in Hosaritti village of Haveri. Mahadeva was shot in his chest from point blank range by two policemen who were hiding behind an idol inside the temple. All of 32 years at that time and a Gandhian till the end, he had instructed his comrades not to fire back at the police.“Mahadeva had organised as many as 74 different types of movements to topple the British rule in the state. His troop of around 50 youths was named ‘Kabir’ and I was one of its members. We traversed hill stations, forests and river banks for days on end without much food and water. At times, some villagers would secretly deliver food to us but we had to mostly depend on fruits available in the forested areas,” said HarakangiParamanna, a freedom fighter and resident of Negalur village in Haveri. To commemorate the sacrifices made by Mahadeva, the Karnataka government today observes his birth and death anniversary, in association with the MailarMahadeva National Memorial Trust (MMNMT), every year. There is also a MailarMahadeva Circle in memory of the renowned freedom fighter.
Carrying Mahadeva’s legacy forward
The MMNMT runs under the chairpersonship of the Haveri deputy commissioner. Mahadeva’s grandson, also his namesake, is a member of this trust. A businessman by profession, Mahadeva’s grandson said he was proud of being named after his grandfather. Growing up, he revealed, it was his grandmother who told him stories about Mahadeva. “Grandmother would give me first-hand accounts of my grandfather and their various activities together. As a young boy, I would observe how our neighbours and my classmates talked about grandfather with much love and admiration,” said the grandson, a resident of Bengaluru. C CKalkoti, a former MLA of Koradur, said, “My father would tell me stories about Mahadeva. He reminisced how the group of young men from the district, led by Mahadeva, had burned Byadagi and three other railway stations. Our entire family admired him and helped build the Gandhi Sevaashrama in Koradur.”
When asked about government assistance towards freedom fighters and their families, Mahadeva’s grandson said, “The authorities have recognised sacrifices that were made by the revolutionaries. But there should also be efforts to instil patriotism among the younger generations. My grandfather’s fame never spread beyond this state. Irrespective of parties that have come into power in Karnataka, Mahadeva’s tales of valour have been localized to the district.”
On its part, the MMNMT has been organising what it calls “awareness events” where eminent speakers from across the country are invited to speak about freedom fighters. Mahadeva’s grandson explained how the trust has successfully widened the ambit of the revolutionary’s fearless fight against the British rulers.
The trust also identifies surviving family members of freedom fighters and encourages them to take active participation in their campaign. They plan to set up a museum in Haveri district to honour the revolutionaries. The gallery will showcase detailed histories of various uprisings in Karnataka and its neighbouring areas.
“We have been in talks with the government authorities to include chapters on Mahadeva in school books. We have also asked authorities to open study centres in universities for research and documentation work on the freedom fighter,” the grandson added.
To propagate Mahadeva’s contributions nationally, the trust is in the process of digitising all available information about the freedom fighter. “For this project, we will be working in coordination with the state and central governments, as well as the Gandhi Bhavan in Bengaluru. We have also demanded renaming of the Haveri railway station to MailarMahadeva. Talks are in progress with central authorities to print Mahadeva postage stamps too,” his grandson further said.
When asked what he thought about patriotism in today’s globalized world, Mahadeva’s grandson said, “Patriotism is what I can do for my motherland and not what the country has done for me. Irrespective of any religion, caste or creed, we should live our lives to protect and love all fellow beings.”
(Basavaraj S is a Haveri-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)