Potti Sreeramulu (16 March 1901 – 15 December 1952), was an Indian revolutionary. A devout follower of Mahatma Gandhi, he worked for much of his life for humanitarian causes, including support for the “Dalit community. Commenting on Sreeramulu’s dedication and fasting ability, Gandhi once said “If only I have eleven more followers like Sriramulu I will win freedom in a year.”
Sreeramulu is revered as Amarajeevi (“Immortal being”) in the Andhra region for his self-sacrifice for the Andhra cause. He became famous for undertaking a hunger strike in support of the formation of an Indian state for the Telugu-speaking population of Madras Presidency; he lost his life in the process. His death sparked public rioting, and Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru declared the intent to form Andhra State three days following.
Sreeramulu was born to Guravayya and Mahalakshmamma in 1901 at Padamatapalli in Pedacherlopalli Mandal of Prakasam district once which was a part of Nellore district.Later their family was shifted to Madras as famine conditions prevailed in this region. but later lived in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh.He completed his High school in Madras and joined the Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute in Bombay to study Sanitary Engineering.After his college education, Sreeramulu joined the Great Indian Peninsular Railway, Bombay. In 1928, Sreeramulu lost both his wife and his new born child. Two years later, he resigned from his job and joined Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram to get involved in service to mankind and the struggle for Indian independence.
Sreeramulu took part in the Indian Independence Movement and was imprisoned for participating in the 1930 Salt Satyagraha. Between 1941-1942, he participated in the individual satyagraha and the Quit India movement and was imprisoned on three occasions. He was involved in the village reconstruction programmes at Rajkot in Gujarat and Komaravolu in Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh. He joined the Gandhi ashram established by Yerneni Subrahmanyam in Komaravolu.
Between 1943 and 1944 he worked for the widespread adoption of charkha textile-spinning in Nellore district. He was known for taking food provided by all households, regardless of caste or creed. He undertook three fasts during 1946-1948 in support of Dalit (then called Harijan by supporters) rights to enter holy places, such as the temples of Nellore. He fasted in support of Dalit entry rights to the Venugopalaswamy temple in Moolapeta, Nellore, which were successfully gained. He again fasted to get favourable orders on Dalit upliftment passed by the Madras government.
As a result, the government instructed District Collectors to attend to measures of Dalit upliftment at least one day per week. During the last stages of his life, Sreeramulu stayed in Nellore and worked for Dalit upliftment, walking the city with slogan placards calling for Dalit upliftment barefoot and with no umbrella against the sun. Some locals thought him insane, and he was chastised by the upper castes and his own for his support of the Dalit cause.
In an effort to protect the interests of the Telugu people in Madras Presidency, and to preserve the culture of Andhra people, he attempted to force the government to listen to public demands for the separation of the Andhra region from the Madras Presidency, based on linguistic lines and with Madras as its capital. He went on a lengthy fast, stopping when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru promised to support creation of Andhra State. Despite this concession, little progress was made on the issue, largely due to the Telugu people’s insistence on retention of Madras as their future capital. The JVPcommittee, headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, would not accept that proposal.
With the Andhra State still not granted, Sreeramulu resumed his hunger strike, at the Madras house of Maharshi Bulusu Sambamurti on 19 October 1952, despite the entreaties of supporters who stated that retention of Madras was a futile cause.Despite the Andhra Congress committee’s disavowal of the fast, this action captured the public attention.
Despite strikes and demonstrations by the Andhra people, the government made no clear statement regarding the formation of the new state, and Sreeramulu died during the night of 15 December 1952. Only one person before him in modern Indian history, Jatin Das, actually fasted to death; all the others either gave up or were arrested and force fed or hospitalised.
In his death procession, people shouted slogans praising his sacrifice, with thousands more joining as the procession reached Mount Road,Madras. The procession broke into a riot and accompanying destruction of public property. As the news spread, disorder broke out in Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada, Bhimavaram, Rajahmundry, Eluru, Guntur, Tenali, Ongole and Nellore. Seven people were killed in police firing in Anakapalle and Vijayawada. The popular agitation continued for three to four days disrupting normal life in Madras and Andhra regions. On 19 December, Prime Minister Nehru announced that a separate Andhra state would be formed.