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A war waged with Gandhi caps

Gandhiji on a march with Congress leaders during his visit to Visakhapatnam.

A unique battle against the British rulers was waged with Gandhi caps in the early 1920s by the students of the Victoria Diamond Jubilee Medical School, which later became the Andhra Medical College. It all started on September 19, 1921, with one of the students, impelled by patriotic fervour, came to the classroom sporting the khadi cap.

He was incensed like his compatriots of those days over the arrest of the freedom-fighter Maulana Mohammed Ali at the Waltair (now Visakhapatnam) railway station on September 14, 1921. Mohammed Ali, one of the famed Ali Brothers (the other was Maulana Shaukat Ali), was proceeding to Madras, along with Mahatma Gandhi, travelling by the Howrah-Madras Mail. Both the leaders alighted at the station, packed with a lot of people and also policemen. As soon as Mohammed Ali got down from the train, a shivering Superintendent of Police served the arrest warrant on Ali and whisked him away to the Central Jail. Gandhiji addressed the gathering and continued his journey to Madras.

While in the jail, Ali was visited by local Congress leaders like P.C. Venkatapathi Raju and Vasantarao Butchisundara Rao. In the evening that day a public meeting was held on the beach where loads of foreign clothes were burnt. Umar Alisha, a Telugu poet, made a fiery speech against the arrest of the Khilafat movement leader. On the morning of September 17, Ali was taken to the Waltair station from the jail with police escort for being sent to Karachi. People in large numbers cheered Ali all along the route from the jail to the station.

Being a witness to the entire incident, which rekindled the national spirit among the people, the medical school student decided to wear the Gandhi cap. As he entered the classroom, the school administration under the control of the British told him to leave. The next day, all the 142 the students attended the classes wearing the Gandhi cap. Enraged, the school authorities served suspension memos on them. Later, letters were issued to the students specifying a dress code. They were also asked to apologise.

As many as 39 students refused to tender an apology, and also wrote letters to the school administration condemning their suspension. Thereupon, they were served memos threatening to remove them from the school rolls if they failed to apologise. They did not, and so they were dismissed from the school. Some of them who wanted to leave for their native places were prevented by the authorities from doing so.

Butchisundara Rao wrote a letter to the 'Young India', edited by Gandhiji, about this incident, enclosing copies of the correspondence that the students had with the authorities, and it was published in its issue dated November 9, 1921, under the heading, ''War on khadi caps''.

Prominent among those students were K.L. Narasimha Rao who became a Rajya Sabha member later, Chennuri Venkata Sambasiva Rao of Ponnur who used to play the role of Gandhiji in the drama 'Gandhi Vijayamu' scripted by Damaraju Pundareekakshudu, G. Narayana Murthy who acted as Shaukat Ali in the same drama and A.B. Nageswara Rao of Rajahmundry who later became the Municipal Chairman and also a minister in the AP Government.


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