(This article was first published on 5 October 2016. It is being reposted from the archives of The Quint to mark the death anniversary of Baji Rout.)
On this day, 82 years ago, the youngest martyr in the history of the freedom movement of India was killed by British army in Dhenkanal, Odisha.
But today, when everybody talks about the martyrs across the country in an atmosphere charged with hyper-nationalism, perhaps we have failed to give his due to Baji Rout, who lost his life to the bullet of a British soldier at the age of 12.
The Fateful Night of 10 October 1938
Around 8 pm on 10 October 1938, the Prajamandal (Peoples’ Movement) activists started a protest outside the Bhuban police station in Dhenkanal following the arrest of a few innocent villagers who were fighting against the oppression of the king.
The British police men opened fire at the protesting activists killing two. Contrary to the belief of the policemen, undeterred by the killing of the two of their fellow men, the crowd swelled, outnumbering the police force.
The small troupe of British policemen realised they won’t be able to control the angry members of the Prajamandal movement and planned to flee. The Nilkanthpur Ghat on the banks of the river Brahmani was the shortest route for them to reach the Dhenkanal city.
Exemplary Courage Of A Twelve-year-Old Boy
The British troupe reached the Nilkanthpur Ghat at the dead of the night.
Baji Rout, a member of the Banar Sena (Children wing) of the Prajamandal Andolan was sleeping in his boat on the ghats of Brahmani river. He was asked by the Prajamandal activists to keep a vigil on the ghats to ensure that the British policemen won’t be able to ferry through the river.
The British troupe ordered Baji Rout to ferry them across the river.
This boat of mine belongs to the Praja Mandal. It cannot be hired out to you — the enemy of the people.Baji Rout
(Source: The Boatman Boy and Fourty Poems translated into English by Harindranath Chattopadhyay from Odia by poet Sachi Routray)
The 12-year-old was courageous enough to face the rifles of the British force. Furious at the audacity to disobey the order of the powerful police force, a policeman opened fire. Two other boatmen Laxman Mallik and Fagu Sahoo were also shot dead.
The youngest martyr in the history of the freedom movement of India lay dead on the wee hours of 11 October 1938.