The Forgotten Freedom Fighter

Zoom inbricks of history: The 19th century prison which now lies neglected; a member of AKUNKRS displays Naik’s weapon; the freedom fighter’s bust

Attempts to restore the lost glory of Umaji Naik.

Amidst the clatter of rickety typewriters and arguments about contracts, leases and wills, few notice the rusted signboard on a peepal tree at the Haveli Tehsil office in Pune. The signboard in Marathi reads, "Umaji Naik was hanged in this Tehsil office on February 3, 1832, by the British Government. His dead body was hanged on this peepal tree for three days to strike terror into the hearts of the public."

The Haveli Tehsil office, located in the old part of the city, suffers from a colonial hangover, apparent in the offices and the adjoining police station built in Georgian style and with a neighbouring 19th century prison evoking the British era. Tucked away from the hullabaloo, inside the office premises, is a modern monument dedicated to Naik, one of the earliest freedom fighters of the country. In an attempt to preserve his story, the Adya Krantiveer Umaji Naik Kshatriya Ramvanshi Sanghatna (AKUNKRS), an NGO dedicated to uplifting the Ramoshi community, has preserved various mementoes — from his weapons to the cell in which he was kept in solitary confinement — of the man who is also known as "the second Shivaji maharaj".

Freedom fighter and revolutionary leader Umaji Naik (born in 1791) belonged to the Ramoshi community, which was branded a tribe of thieves during the British rule. The tribe, which migrated from Telangana and settled down in Maharashtra during the Maratha period, was entrusted with night patrolling and policing by the Marathas. After the defeat of the Marathas in 1818, the British administration of the Bombay province found it difficult to restore order in the region and was unable to absorb the Ramoshis into the police. Consequently, many unemployed, able-bodied men were left disgruntled and were prepared to train those who wished to overthrow the British government.

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