By Sujit Chakraborty
Guwahati, Feb 7 (IANS) As Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived at Dhekiajuli town, about 150 kms northwest of Guwahati, to unveil a slew of development projects in Assam on Sunday, he also paid tributes to as many as 15 martyrs of India’s freedom movement, whose stories of supreme sacrifice have remained unrecognised and unheard of in the rest of the country for nearly eight decades.
These stories include that of Tileswari Barua, a 12-year-old girl from a remote village, who, on being moved by the patriotic songs that had moved thousands of rural folk in Assam, went ahead and took a bullet from the colonial police and died for the country.
Dhekiajuli in fact was the worst scene of police brutality during the Quit India phase of the freedom movement in 1942. As several hundred ‘Satyagrahis’ (protesters) had converged at the local police station to raise the tricolour following Gandhiji’s “Karenge ya Marenge” (do or die) call, the police opened indiscriminate fire on them, killing at least 15 persons, including 12-year-old Tileswari, as she became the youngest martyr of the freedom movement.
Equally heart-rending are the stories of sacrifice by Manbar Nath, Kumoli Devi, Mahiram Koch, Ratan Kachari, Sorunath Chutia, Maniram Kachari, Dayal Panika, Lerela Kachari, Khahuli Devi, Mangal Kurku, and two nameless persons, one of whom was a beggar, and the other a ‘sanyasi’ (monk).
The Prime Minister in his speech said: “Today is a special day for me. Today I got the opportunity to pay respect to this historic land of Dhekiajuli. In this land, people defeated the aggressors. In 1942, people here were martyred to protect the nation and to respect the tricolour. Every drop of the martyrs’ blood makes our resolve stronger, thus this rich history makes me take pride in Assam.”
While the story of Dhekiajuli has so long remained confined only to the state of Assam with insignificant and insufficient references in one or two books, it was only a few weeks ago that the saga of Dhekiajuli has come out in detail in a book called ‘Dhekiajuli 1942: The Untold Story’. Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap, a veteran Guwahati-based researcher, writer and journalist and presently a State Information Commissioner of Assam, the book for the first time takes this hitherto forgotten story to the outside world.
While the book was released by Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal recently, the Dhekiajuli police station where the worst incident of firing during the Quit India movement took place, was also declared a heritage structure by the Assam government.
The Dhekiajuli incident, claims Kashyap, was the worst incident of police brutality during the Quit India movement. “In no other place in the subcontinent had so many people attained martyrdom during 1942 as had happened in Dhekiajuli on that fateful day. While names of 14 martyrs, including four women, have been confirmed by local chroniclers, there are at least six more names of persons who had died in the subsequent weeks after having sustained grievous injuries because of police firing, lathi-charge and attack by the hired miscreants,” the author told IANS.
The only daughter of Bhabakanta Barua, a marginal farmer of village Nij Bargaon under Dhekiajuli police station, Tileswari Baruah was so much influenced by the patriotic songs composed by Jyotiprasad Agarwala which the ‘satyagrahis’ sang, that she voluntarily joined the procession that local Congress leaders had organised to hoist the tricolor atop the local police station on September 20, 1942. She had already learnt many of those patriotic songs by heart, and would often sing them with her friends.
“Carrying a small flag in her hand, Tileswari was in the crowd which had entered the Dhekiajuli police station compound immediately after Commander Kamalakanta Das had signalled by blowing a whistle. She saw Manbar Nath, Golok Neog and Chandrakanta Nath trying to hoist the flag amid the police firing. And even as she began to shout ‘Vande Mataram’, she saw from very close quarters Mahiram Koch falling to a bullet. This sight suddenly turned the little girl into a ferocious tigress and she began to rush forward showing ‘Vande Mataram’. A couple of steps forward, and she was thrown off balance by a bullet,” Kashyap said, picking up descriptions as documented by local historians.
Two ‘Mrityu Vahini’ volunteers immediately lifted the profusely bleeding Tileswari, carried her out of the police station and placed her on the verandah of a shop across the road. While some volunteers tried to give her some first aid, her maternal uncle Nandiram Bhuyan, on spotting her, picked her up on his back and began to run, only to reach a barricade on a bridge on the main road, where miscreants armed with sticks, allegedly hired by the police, began to attack them.
An injured Tileswari fell on the road, and Bhuyan managed to crawl away from the midst of the miscreants to take shelter behind some bushes in the nearby field. But even as he waited for an opportune moment to rescue his niece, Bhuyan after a couple of hours saw a police truck picking up Tileswari from the road after chasing away the miscreants.
“Whether Tileswari died on the road itself or elsewhere could not be ascertained because the police never returned her, alive or dead. Though yet to be officially recognised by the government, 12-year old Tileswari Barua is undoubtedly the youngest martyr of India’s freedom movement,” Kashyap has claimed.
“One of the several significant aspects of the Dhekiajuli incident is the huge participation of poor peasants, women and members of the tea tribe communities. Look at the names of the martyrs – Manbar Nath, Kumoli Devi, Mahiram Koch, Ratan Kachari, Sarunath Chutia, Maniram Kachari, Tileswari Barua, Lerela Kachari, Dayal Panika, Khahuli Devi, Mangal Kurku, Padumi Gogoi,” Kashyap has mentioned in the book. Dhekiajuli is also one incident in which a ‘sanyasi’ and a beggar had also lost their lives in police firing.
“The two may not have been part of the processions taken out by the satyagrahis. But then they were fired upon by policemen who chased the satyagrahis across the main road. There is no other instance in India where a sanyasi and a beggar had attained martyrdom during the freedom movement,” the author has said.
“But then, historians, researchers and chroniclers of the freedom movement have grossly neglected the Dhekiajuli incident in particular, and the role of Assam in India’s freedom struggle. This book is a small attempt to take one of the several significant episodes of the freedom movement in Assam to the outside world,” said Dhekiajuli MLA Ashok Singhal, for whom it is a big day as the Prime Minister is visiting his hometown.
“The Prime Minister’s visit will definitely make the people of India aware about the sacrifices made by the people of this area during the freedom movement,” said local social worker Ramesh Chandra Bora.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)