October 1, November 14, October 31, November 19…..
Any fifth grader will tell you the significance of these dates to India.
October 1, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi is a compulsory holiday.
November 14, is celebrated as Children’s day.
Depending on the state you are in, you will get a holiday for the other days and more on that list. However, no state in India gives you a holiday on March 16. Sadly, Potti Sreeramalu is not even remembered in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
In 1947, the states in India were Assam, Bihar, Bombay, Jammu & Kashmir, Travancore, Madhya Bharat, Vindhya Pradesh, Bhopal, Madras, Mysore, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Immediately after independence representatives of the people from various regions began to push the central government to reorganize the states along ethnic and linguistic lines. This had been a long-standing ask (since 1920) and now that the country was free, it was thought that the central leadership would act on this demand. Jawaharlal Nehru, however, saw the division of states along these lines as detrimental to building a unified India. So while the demands grew, Nehru kept ignoring the issue.
It was in this atmosphere that a relatively unknown freedom fighter began a fast demanding the state of Andhra Pradesh.
Sreeramalu was born into a Brahmin family on March 16, 1901. After completing his degree in Sanitary Engineering, he joined the railways. At the age of 26, he lost his wife and along with her his interest in worldly matters. Resigning his job, he distributed his wealth among his siblings. He went on to join Sabarmati ashram and became a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi.
He began working for the upliftment of the Harijans. On more than on occasion he would go on a fast at inopportune moments. Towards the end of his life, his main focus was on attaining statehood for Andhra Pradesh.
After Hindi, Telegu was the most commonly spoken language in India. However the Telegu people were divided between Madras Presidency and Hyderabad. Sreeramalu wanted Nehru to commit himself on a date by which this state would be formed. In the beginning Nehru ignored the fast in Madras. But soon the fast caught the imagination of the people and they rallied behind Sreeramalu, forcing Nehru to take notice of the fast. However, still Nehru did not commit a date and Sreeramalu continued the fast until he died. His death sent the people to the street. There were large scale demonstrations and the people took on the call for their state.
October 1, 1953, the state of Andhra Pradesh was born. Three years later a slew of states would be created, among them Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. The creation of these states meant that the ancient languages of these states were preserved and in the case of Telegu, Malayalam and Tamil even saw a spurt in new literature.
Unfortunately, in the midst of all this the man who made is possible, the one who stood up to the uncrowned king of India lies forgotten.