With Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, an unsung hero finally gets his due

Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy was a descendant of a disposed polygar family, who led a huge force to rebel against the British in 1846-1847 | Commons

Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, a Telugu biopic on Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy, a Rayalaseema freedom fighter, hit the screens on Wednesday (October 2). Ignored for long, the film has brought the spotlight back on the legend who was at the heart of a rebellion against the British, a decade before the Revolt of 1857.

A descendant of a disposed polygar family, who led a huge force to rebel against the British in 1846-1847 in the Rayalseema region, he deserves a special place in history, though seldom discussed in the same breath as the mainstream struggle for independence, say experts.

The system of polygars existed from the days of the Vijayanagara dynasty as they served as intermediaries– both socially and economically– between the dynasty and the people. However, in the turn of the 19th century, the British suppressed and curtailed their privileges. The newly implemented ryotwari system had meanwhile wreaked immense sufferings among the peasants and they joined Reddy in the rebellion he led, with over 5,000 people rallying behind him.

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K Venugopal Reddy, professor, history, Pondicherry University, who has discussed the significance of Reddy’s rebellion in his work ‘Dominance and Resistance: A study of Narasimha Reddy’s Revolt in Andhra (1846-47)’, calls him anti-colonial and valiant. “He suffered a lot when his pension of ₹11 was curtailed, and he mobilized a whole lot of people who were suffering due to the atrocities of the British and their policies, as he had the connect with the common people,” he said.

His paper notes that ‘although the polygars were actuated by the ambitions to revive and reestablish their authority with all their privileges and prerogatives, they also protested through their revolts against the fiscal oppression and deprivation that affected all classes of people.’

After the storming and looting of Koilkuntala treasury and plundering of Rudravaram, the military approached the rebels and captured the hills where Reddy had taken refuge. He was wounded and taken as prisoner. He was sentenced to death and was hanged in public at Koilkuntala on February 22, 1847. “The brutality of the British was evident from the fact that they left his corpse in the same spot. It remained hanging as a skeleton till 1877″, Reddy said.

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While many argue that the rebellion was not nationalist by nature, it can’t be overlooked as it was against the British. K Nageshwar, a political analyst said that there have been several such streams of struggle and rebellions in the past. “One cannot brand only the one led by Congress or Mahatma Gandhi as the struggle for independence. Subaltern movements like Reddy’s have to be acknowledged and taught in schools for everyone to know”, he said. Nageshwar adds that his living as a legend in folklores of the Rayalseema region, including in curriculum will fetch him his due.

“History of struggle for liberation is also about several such stories from across—like Komaram Bheem and Alluri Sitharama Raju. All their struggles had their uniqueness. Unfortunately, local heroes do not get a significant spot. We need unity, not uniformity. The government too has scant regard for their legacy, as they neglect the birthplaces of such heroes without caring to develop them as tourist spots,” Nageshwar observed.

It is surprising that Telugu cinema too has ignored Reddy for so long, said Telakapalli Ravi, writer and analyst. “Time and again filmmakers have picked plots focusing on the factionalism in Rayalseema, but never cared for the story of Reddy. It is good that the historical subject has been made with such a high production value and magnitude,” he said.

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