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Rural Indians were both the foot soldiers of freedom and the leaders of some of the greatest anti-colonial uprisings ever seen. Countless thousands of them sacrificed their lives to rid India of British rule. And many who lived through great suffering to see a free India were mostly forgotten soon after. From the 1990s onwards, I recorded the lives of several of the last living freedom fighters. Here you’ll find the stories of five of them:

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When Salihan took on the Raj

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Panimara's foot soldiers of freedom – 1

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Panimara's foot soldiers of freedom – 2

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The last battle of Laxmi Panda

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Nine decades of non-violence

Together with these is a set of five stories first published in the Times of India and reproduced here with far more photographs. That ‘Forgotten Freedoms’ series was woven around the villages that were the cradles of great revolts. Indian Independence was not about a bunch of urban elites. Rural Indians fought in far greater numbers and for more than one kind of freedom. The many battles of 1857, for instance, unfolded in the villages at the same time the elites of Mumbai and Kolkata were holding meetings to pray for the success of the British. In 1997, 50 years into freedom, I returned to some of those villages – from where you’ll find these stories:

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Sherpur: big sacrifice, short memory

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Godavari: and the police still await an attack

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Sonakhan: when Veer Narayan Singh died twice

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Kalliasseri: in search of Sumukan

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Kalliasseri: still fighting at 50

Ten tales to recall on India’s 69th Independence Day.

Ten tales of freedom.

(PARI continues to trace and document the lives of the very last freedom fighters, now in their 90s).

P. Sainath is the founder editor of the People's Archive of Rural India. He has been a rural reporter for decades and is the author of 'Everybody Loves a Good Drought'.

Other stories by P. Sainath