Karnad Sadashiva Rao: Have We Forgotten The ‘Gandhi Of South India’?!

What do we know about Karnad Sadashiva Rao who spent his life and all his wealth to reduce caste and gender atrocities on his people?


K S Rao Road is one of the most famous landmarks in Mangalore. Similarly, Sadashiva Nagar is a highly prominent residential layout in Bangalore. Both are named after Karnad Sadashiva Rao, a veteran freedom fighter from Karnataka state.

Karnad Sadashiva Rao is behind the Congress party in the state. He sold all his property to serve the poor and died penniless. Sadly, people of the state have almost forgotten his legacy. He was known as Gandhi of South India. Rightfully, Gandhi visited his mother after Sadashiva Rao’s death and told her, “Blessed are you mother, for having borne a son such as he.”

Who was Karnad Sadashiva Rao?

Karnad Sadashiva Rao was born as the only son to his affluent parents Ramachandra Rao, a renowned lawyer and Radhabai in 1881. He was a philanthropist from his childhood and got rebuked from his strict father for gifting books, pencils and toys to his classmates. After his early education in Mangalore, he completed his graduation at Presidency college, Chennai and a degree in law from Mumbai. Afterwards, he came back to Mangalore to practice law. He was a good tennis player and a cricketer too.

He could have led a comfortable life with his professional success and family wealth, but he chose to serve the country. He saw a lot of human suffering around, especially among women and people marginalised by caste and class, and decided to do something to for society.

With the support of his service-oriented wife, Shantabai, he established the ‘Mahila Sabha’ for the upliftment of widows. He educated and supported them financially. Many women were professionally trained to become self-reliant. He successfully fought against the caste based restrictions that did not permit some people to enter temples.

He started a school called ‘Tilak Vidyalaya’ at his house, which was open to children from all castes and communities. There, children were trained in spinning, weaving and handicrafts, in addition to formal schooling. Gradually, he opened eighteen such schools in the proximity. Sadashiva Rao tried to unite various communities of the region and orient them to the national cause. Altogether, he initiated a social movement in Dakshina Kannada to abolish untouchability.

Karnad Sadashiva Rao joined the freedom movement in 1919

As an extension to already initiated social service, Sadashiva Rao got inspired to join national freedom movement in 1919. When Gandhi declared his first satyagraha, against Rowlatt Act and the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy, he was the first volunteer from Karnataka to join the drive for freedom struggle.

He was a frontline volunteer in Gandhi’s famous Salt March and campaign against tax payment. Then onwards, he built the congress party and expanded it in the state of Karnataka. He formed a group of volunteers to visit villages and create awareness about the need to participate in the country’s freedom struggle. During those days, his house became the center of political activities. As a result, national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba, Jawaharlal Nehru, C. Rajagopalachari, Sarojini Naidu, C R Das and others visited his house. He was jailed three times and altogether for five years. There, he refused any special amenities and stayed like other inmates in mosquito bitten cells.

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Personal tragedy

As he was actively participating in the struggle for freedom of his beloved country, tragedy struck home in 1921. His only son, his youngest daughter and his wife died one after the other due to illness.

Devasted by these personal setbacks, Sadashiva Rao tried to find some solace in the company of Gandhi in Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad. However, he couldn’t stay there for a long time, as he had to rush back to flood hit Mangalore and initiate relief work to the affected people. He spent all his inherited assets generously to provide food and shelter for the people in need. He exhausted all his wealth by this charity work and fell into deep debt.

In 1936, Sadashiva Rao chose to attend Faizpur Congress session in spite of high fever. There he got completely drenched in rain due to leakage in the hut where he was staying. In this bad condition, he travelled to Mumbai, not revealing his bad health to attend to some party related activities. On reaching Mumbai, he died on January 9, 1936 at the age of 56. He couldn’t see his beloved country getting freedom, to its cause he dedicated his life.

When he died, there was no money left to perform his last rites. His aged mother and his two daughters had to move to a rented house. When his two-floor house, where he was born and did all his charity works, went for auction to recover the debt, DCC Bank (now called as, South Canara District Central Cooperative Bank) founder Molahalli Shiva Rao bought it and built a huge building after demolition. Now, nothing remains to reminisce the great son of the soil in Mangalore, except a road and a central library named after him.

Renowned Kannada novelist Dr. Shivaram Karanth considered Sadashiva Rao as a hero and made him the protagonist of his novel, Oudaryada Urulalli (In The Web Of Generosity). However, people of the Karnataka state in general and Mangalore in particular have almost forgotten his selfless service to the people. So, let us celebrate his life at least now, as a part of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.

Published here first.

Image source: YouTube

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About the Author

Jyothi S

Dr. Jyothi, Assistant Professor of English, Tumkur University. Has been a teacher of English and also soft skills trainer, with special interest in writing poems, articles, short stories and translation both in Kannada and English. read more...

32 Posts | 74,266 Views

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