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, I recorded the lives of several of the last living freedom fighters. Here you’ll find the stories of five of them:

When ‘Salihan’ took on the Raj
P. Sainath • Nuapada, Odisha

When Salihan took on the Raj

Demathi Dei Sabar and her friends took on gun-toting British officers with lathis in Nuapada, Odisha

August 14, 2015 | P. Sainath
Panimara's foot soldiers of freedom - 1
P. Sainath • Sambalpur, Odisha

Panimara's foot soldiers of freedom – 1 

When poor Odiya villagers took over and tried to run the Sambalpur court

July 22, 2014 | P. Sainath
Panimara's foot soldiers of freedom - 2
P. Sainath • Sambalpur, Odisha

Panimara's foot soldiers of freedom – 2 

The little settlement in Odisha that earned the name ‘Freedom Village’

July 22, 2014 | P. Sainath
The last battle of Laxmi Panda
P. Sainath • Koraput, Odisha

The last battle of Laxmi Panda

The impoverished INA freedom fighter whose only demand of her nation was recognition. And so the ageing soldier's fight continued even six years after Independence

August 5, 2015 | P. Sainath
Nine decades of non-violence
P. Sainath • Nabarangapur, Odisha

Nine decades of non-violence

Baji Mohammed, the man whose non-violent struggles continued 60 years after Independence

August 14, 2015 | P. Sainath

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 for these stories:

Sherpur: big sacrifice, short memory
P. Sainath • Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh

Sherpur: big sacrifice, short memory

The Uttar Pradesh village that raised the flag in 1942 and paid the price for it

August 14, 2015 | P. Sainath
Godavari: and the police still await an attack
P. Sainath • East Godavari, Andhra Pradesh

Godavari: and the police still await an attack

From Rampa in Andhra, Alluri Sitaramaraju led one of the greatest anti-colonial revolts

August 14, 2015 | P. Sainath

Sonakhan: when Veer Narayan died twice
P. Sainath • Raipur, Chhattisgarh

Sonakhan: when Veer Narayan Singh died twice

In Chhattisgarh, Veer Narayan Singh sought no charity, but gave his life fighting for justice

August 14, 2015 | P. Sainath
Kalliasseri: in search of Sumukan
P. Sainath • Kannur district, Kerala

Kalliasseri: in search of Sumukan

The village that battled on all fronts, fighting the British, local landlords, and caste

August 14, 2015 | P. Sainath
Kalliasseri: still fighting at 50
P. Sainath • Kannur district, Kerala

Kalliasseri: still fighting at 50

When the God of the Hunters sheltered the communists in Kerala from the Raj

August 14, 2015 | P. Sainath

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

P. Sainath is 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