On January 28, a few months beforeIndia became independent, the then (princely) state government of Sonepur let loose a reign of terror at Binika town. The people rose in revolt against the king for his pro-British stance.
Nearly 20,000 freedom fighters, led by a brave woman, organized a mass movement against the king. Police resorted to baton charge and the woman leader of the movement was shot dead by the police. The woman, Gurubari Meher, became a martyr in India’s freedom struggle.
But while the names of many other freedom fighters of the state have made it to the hall of fame, hardly anyone remembers this valiant woman. The story of Gurubari is one that has never been retold to the residents of Independent India, and, strangely, neither do many historians know of her.
She laid down her life for India’s sake but remained unsung. Except for a small mention of her participation in the Praja Mandal Movement, she has not been portrayed as the brave soldier of western Orissa that she was.
Some historians, however, who are of the opinion that her contribution was exemplary, expressed dissatisfaction about the fact that little is known about her in the public domain. They say that Gurubari, among others women fighters, was a unique personality and the least she deserves is to be remembered by the locals.
A senior lecturer of history at Bhawanipatna Government College, Dr Siba Prasad Nanda, said after the people of Binika destroyed the pro-royalist regime under the leadership of Gurubari, a news item had been published in ‘Dainik Asha’ from Sambalpur on 23 January 1947. One Sarangadhar Dash wrote the news report, with the headline ‘Victory For the People Of Sonepur’.
This newspaper report is the only evidence about Gurubari’s contribution to the fight for freedom. Nanda said the movement Gurubari was spearheading was an offshoot of the Praja Mandal Movement, which was inaugurated at Cuttack in 1938. This branch was launched for the first time at Sonepur under the leadership of Laxman Satpathy.
Gurubari joined the movement because she was of the opinion that the fight for freedom was not only for men and women should also join it.
However, revolutionary ideas stemming from the feeling of exploitation had already impacted her. She took the plunge and led a protest against the extra cess charged on various goods. As she led the protesters, she was shot dead by the police, following which her anti-royal followers destroyed the royal regime.
Historian Sadhu Panda feels Gurubari played as important a role in the freedom struggle as three other famous women fighters of western Orissa — Jambubati Debi, Prabhabati Debi, and Parbati Giri.
“Gurubari’s story of valour should be made popular to inspire modern Indian women. In her case, domestic issues and the problem of livelihood prompted her to join the struggle, which later took the shape of a freedom struggle.