Suryakant Jena

The story of India's long way to achieving freedom from British oppression has many protagonists but there is probably none more valiant and inspiring than Baji Rout's. It is not the heroics of a 12-year-old boy from Odisha but truly the embodiment of the country's fight to unshackle the chains of colonization. 

Born on this very day in 1926 to Hari Rout and Rania Devi in Nilakanthapur of Dhenkanal, Baji was the youngest in his family. After losing his father quite young, far from the comfort of childhood, it was misery that followed the kid all his life. 

Witness to many atrocities against the people by the princely ruler Shankar Pratap Singhdeo and superior British administrators, Baji's life was inspired by the call for 'andolan' against the evil rule from his early childhood. 

During the period, Odisha too was boiling with the Prajamandal Movement, a wave of mass public agitation, in most of the princely states with Bhuban being the epicenter of the movement in Dhenkanal where Baji's destiny to greatness was to be laid.

In few eventful hours in the intervening night of October 11 and 12, 1938, Baji along with his brother and a handful of his co-villagers staged a defence against an armed troop led by magistrate Binay Ghosh from crossing river Brahmani on a boat near his village with many arrested Prajamandal protesters.

During the clash that followed, six persons including Baji were killed by the police. The light of the 12-year-old boy perished before he could see his light in the world. The valiant act of this young boy in showing little hesitation from taking bullets in his chest in the face of British terror triggered a wave of anger in the then Odisha and outside. 

The inhuman killing of this boy for refusing to ferry British police in his boat across Brahmani created ruckus in British Parliament at that time and was strongly condemned as it tarnished the image of imperialism.

Now 75 years after the Indian Independence, as the country celebrates the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, it is the most opportune time to reflect on the inspiring tale of this youngest martyr of the nation's freedom struggle. 

In this line, it is worthwhile also to note that of late, Centre and Odisha governments have started taking steps to recognise Baji's contribution. The Ministry of Culture also released the story of Baji Rout in its history corner earlier this year. 

While it remains a question to what extent Baji's death created a profound effect on the freedom struggle of the country, experts argue that Indian history, not always fair and inclusive, has not given Baji his due recognition and it due to which the 12-year-old's heroics remains unsung.

People from all walks of life offered their tributes to the great soul on his birth anniversary on Wednesday.