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Story of Assam’s contribution to India’s Freedom Struggle | North East India Info

Assam, situated in the North-Eastern frontier of the Indian Republic, and long known as the Cinderella State of India, came into prominence during World War II when Japanese troops invaded India through Burma and set foot on the Indian soil at Kohima. Till then the world knew little about her and hardly took any interest in knowing the people that inhabit this State.

Simple and unsophisticated by nature, the Assamese people have always evinced keen interest in any matter that affects them and are always sincere in whatever they do. So, when the call for sacrifice in the freedom’s struggle of 1942 reached their ears, even village women- from sixteen to sixty – jumped headlong into the thick of the battle and laid down their lives for the freedom of their country. 

Moniram Dewan photo
Moniram Dewan

The names of Bhogeswari Phookanani and Kanaklata will ever remain written in letters of gold in the history of Assam’s part in the freedom struggle. Assam’s contribution to the freedom struggle was evident from the days of Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Maniram Dewan, the first Assamese tea planter was interested in establishing private tea plantations in Assam. Due to the opposition faced by the British in establishing private tea plantations, he became hostile to the British and revolted by opposing their policies. 

When the Indian sepoys started an uprising against the British, he could see an opportunity, and together with other activists like Piyali Baruah, he conspired against the British. Unfortunately, their conspiracy came to light and he along with other leaders was arrested. Maniram Dewan and Piyali Baruah were publicly hanged by the British for conspiring against them during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. 

Their death was widely mourned in Assam and resulted in an open uprising, which was suppressed brutally. At the turn of the century (1920), Assam joined the freedom movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. Assamese patriots like Tarun Ram Phukan, Nabin Chandra Bordoloi, Hem Baruah and others joined the National struggle for Independence. 

Even in the 1942 Quit India Movement, a number of martyrs laid down their lives, of which special mention may be made of Kanaklata, a teenaged girl who died in police firing while trying to hoist the National Flag at the police station of Gohpur. Kushal Konwar, another young freedom fighter, was falsely implicated in a train derailment case by the Britishers and was executed. Besides these, other incidents like the destruction of a military airstrip at Sorbhog by local villagers took place. In this way, people of different ethnic groups residing in Assam jointly participated in the freedom struggle. After Independence, Gopinath Bordoloi was elected the first Chief Minister of Assam.

Some of the incidences

The tale of Gohpur in the Darrang district was sadder still. Here, a girl, in the prime of her life, was at the forefront of a procession heading towards Gohpur Police with the intention of hoisting the Congress Flag on the Police station building. Undaunted she proceeded and when the sentries at the Police station saw her paying no heed to orders, they fired at her and the brave girl with the flag in hand fell down dead. Similar tragedies were perpetrated in many other places. Bhogeswari Phookanani was also a victim of military firing. 

No amount of repression could subdue the ardent zeal of those martyrs We lost twenty-seven precious lives and as many as thirty seven people received injuries from gunshot wounds besides, quite a large number of persons were wounded by lathi charges which were made intensively in the localities of North-Lakhimpur, Bihpuria, Dikhowghat, Tezpur, Behali, Barpeta, Sibsagar, Nitaipukhurihat, Teok, Nowgong, Golaghat, Goalpara, Nowgong, Chatial, Sarbhog, Dhupdhara, Kharikatia, Roha, Chhaygaon, Panigaon, etc.

Kanaklata photo

Some persons were maimed and crippled for life as a result of injuries received from guns and lathi-charges. Sometimes even innocent persons became victims of repression. Kushal Konwar’s name will ever remain imprinted in the hearts of the people. This Ahom young man, it is truly believed, had to face the gallows for no fault of his. 

He was implicated in a train derailment case. Though there was no conclusive proof of his complicity in the incident, yet relying on the statement of an approver, Kushal Konwar was charged. As Sarupathar, where the incident happened, was at that time included administratively in the partially Excluded Areas, the High court had no jurisdiction over it. 

The trial preferred by Kushal Konwar was heard by the Governor of Assam and he confirmed the judgment of the District Magistrate who had sentenced him to death by hanging. Another young man of the Plains Tribal Community whose name cannot be forgotten was Kamala Miri who went on a hunger strike in jail in sympathy with Mahatmaji’s historic fast in February 1943. He refused to obtain release by signing a bond of good conduct. All persuasions to make him desist from continuing the hunger strike failed and he died in jail on April 23, 1943. I mention only these two instances to show that people from all communities joined Assam’s struggle for freedom and made the supreme sacrifice for the country’s cause.

Another incident which would never be forgotten was the one which happened in Jorhat Jail. It was alleged that somebody attempted to set fire to a ward. Nobody knew who spread that unfounded rumor. But somebody had to be punished in order to strike awe in the minds of the people and the political prisoners and under-trials were made the scapegoats for the purpose. It was dusk and the political prisoners were indoors. All of a sudden the alarm bell was sounded and some policemen and warders entered the Wards and beat up the prisoners and undertrials indiscriminately with bamboo lathis and batons. It is still believed that the story of the attempt to set fire to a ward was a hoax and that the assault on the innocent prisoners and under-trials was premeditated. About 90 persons received severe injuries in that assault.

Gopinath Bordoloi, first Chief Minister of Assam
Gopinath Bordoloi
 The first Chief Minister of Assam

The students of Assam made common cause with the patriotic people and took a glorious part in the struggle. Hundreds of students were arrested and convicted. Sometimes the students were taken in batches in prison-vans and police-lorries too far off places and were released there. Forced labor was taken recourse to in those days as one of the methods to punish the participants in the freedom movement. 

Villagers residing near railway lines were compelled to guard the lines for more than a year. No honorarium was paid to the people for such work. Generally, persons of ages varying from 16 to 55 were forced to do this kind of work. It is easy to see how cultivation suffered, as the cultivators after the night vigil over railway tracks and bridges had not enough energy to work in the field during the day. Those who refused to do that kind of work were either fined or jailed (source- Assam’s Role in Freedom Movement By Shri BISHNURAM MEDHI Chief Minister, Assam)

To study more about the history of Assam's contribution to the India freedom struggle some books recommendation given below. These are also used as references for this article. So, I highly recommend you go through these books. For details click the book title.

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