Though promoted and patronized by the British for more than hundred years, the Nilgiris and its people responded spontaneously to the nationalistic call of the freedom movement from the beginning.
India sympathizers Dr. Anne Besant, George Arundale and B.P.Wadia were interred in a house in Ooty from June to September 1917 for their role in Indian Home Rule movement.
In Pandalur in the lower plateau of Nilgiris a police station was raided in 1930s as part of the Mopla revolt.
Freedom movement gathered momentum after Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to the hills from Jan 31 to Feb 4, 1934, though Gandhi was spoke more about untouchability during his stay. The sojourn of Gandhians like Rev. C.F.Andrews and Marjorie Sykes in Kotagiri after that further encouraged the movement among the locals. Deenabandhu Andrews completed his book The True India in Kotagiri which was a fitting reply to the notorious book Mother India by Katharine Mayo which derided India and the Hindus.
The house arrest of Sarat Chandra Bose, brother of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose for many years in Coonoor in the early 1940s and his address in public meetings influenced local inhabitants of all classes.
Youngsters and students across the district plunged into the movement participating in the non cooperation movement, civil disobedience movement and later quit India movement often leading to imprisonment for several years. The plantation workers in the district also formed into unions to oppose the British.
Congress Leaders S.R.Thangavelu Pillai and Govindasamy Chetti organized a procession in Coonoor on 7 August 1930. The police arrested 7 volunteers. On 27th August 1930 about 60 Congress volunteers conducted a picketing of toddy shop in Ooty. The police resorted to lathicharge to disperse the picketers. 13 volunteers were arrested and 4 convicted.
Except for the burning of a bridge near Thia Shola in 1942, the protests were peaceful and even courteous in some cases. ‘Please quit India’ was found written on the walls of an English Reverend’s house.
In response to quit India call, there were processions and hartals in Ooty on 16th July 1942. 12 were arrested. Students of Hubbathalai High School boycotted classes. On 17th August there was public meeting and procession in Ooty. The next day schools were picketed.
In all more than 150 persons from Nilgiris were arrested and jailed for participation in Salt sathyagraha, Individual sathyagraha, toddy shop picketing, foreign cloth boycott and Tirupur Kumaran Flag Sathyagraha. Of them, 30 were from Ooty and Coonoor each and 35 from various other places.
K.A.Bomman, K.B.Ajja Gowder, Bokke Gowder, K.M.Hirian, Raman Nair and Tiruvengadam were popular leaders who courted imprisonment.
Badagas led the agitation.
More than one third or 58 of the freedom fighters were from the Badaga community which was divided into two groups in the freedom movement. One was supporting the congress party and the other supporting the pro-British Justice Party. The showdown between the two factions came during annual Hette festival at Beragani in Kotagiri in 1930 after Gandhiji was arrested in the civil disobedience movement.
The devotes proceeding to the annual Hette festival traditionally chant, ‘Ho, Ho’ on the way. That year to show their support to Gandhiji, the congress faction who were the majority decided chant ‘Mahatma Gandhiji ki jai’. The Justice Party faction objected to this and insisted that the marchers should stick to the traditional chant of ‘Ho, Ho’. As the procession neared the sacred camping ground, ‘Madimane’, the ‘Ho’ faction with the support of the police stopped the ‘Jai’ faction. The Inspector of police even threatened to open fire if the ‘Jai’ faction advanced any further.
At that time a young, nationalistic young man who later became the first Badaga English journalist, called the bluff of the Inspector explaining to the marchers that the Inspector could not open fire without first getting the permission from the Collector who was in Ooty. The ‘Jai’ faction won the day and in the history of the Hette festival that was the only occasion a human was given preference over the Ancestress Goddess of the Badagas.
Nilgiri Documentation Centre
Photo: Nehru addressing a public meeting near Ooty soon after Independence in 1948
C.F.Andrews writing, ’True India’.