As Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived at Dhekiajuli town, about 150 kms northwest of Guwahati, to unveil a slew of development projects worth over Rs 10,000 crore 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 said.
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.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said that some forces sitting abroad are conspiring against India, but the people of the country would not allow them to succeed.
Addressing a massive public gathering, the Prime Minister without naming any person and organisation said that the conspirators sitting abroad not only conspiring against India but also maligning the world famous Indian and the Assam tea.
He said: “Some documents have revealed such conspiracies plotted abroad. Despite the conspiracy, Assam and India would go forward. Let them do their conspiracy, but the people of India would not make them succeed.”
“I want to tell you about the conspiracy hatched to defame the country. They are saying the image of Indian tea has to be defamed worldwide, systematically.”
Modi said that in this year’s Budget major thrusts were given in infrastructure development in India and the northeast region.
“With the development of the connectivities, trade and business would further flourish. New India would be Aatmanirbhar Bharat. The new India would take Assam to a new height of development.”
The Prime Minister said that the Northeastern region has left behind communal tension, terrorism, crisis, hatred, and conflicts and is now surging ahead after waiting for long years.
The Central government is taking forward the region with all sincerity. The region was backward as the people earlier stayed far away from the region.
The recent Bodoland accord and subsequent elections to the Bodoland Territorial Council are the example of “bikash and viskwas” (growth and trust) to work together, he added.
“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 martyred to protect the nation and to respect the tricolour.
“Every drop of martyrs’ blood makes our resolve stronger, thus this rich history makes me take pride on Assam.”
Referring to the song of great singer and composer Bhupen Hazarika, Modi said that the sun rises first in Northeast, but the morning of development had to wait long for Assam and Northeast.
In his 31-minute speech in Hindi, the Prime Minister said that since independence for seven decades Assam has six medical colleges, but in last five years building of six more medical collages had started resulting 1,600 MBBS doctors would come out every year in Assam.
The Prime Minister announced that one medical college and one technical institution in each state to be taught in the mother tongue of the local people.
He said that th under construction AIIMS in Guwahati would be ready within one-and-a-half years making Guwahati a hub of the modern medical treatment not only for Assam it would cater all the eight Northeastern states.
Modi said that the Ayushman Bharat Yojana has been incorporated in Assam 350 hospitals benefiting 1.50 crore people in getting free treatment while huge numbers of people also benefited under the Atal Amrit Abhiyan scheme.
“Entire world is now praising the way India undertook its Covid vaccination drives. In this year’s Budget unprecedented allocation has been made for the health sector as this sector is now our priority sector. In 600 districts we would set up integrated labs so that the people can not go far away for various testing.”
Modi said that nobody knows better than him about the flavour of Sonitpur’s red tea.
“Assam is also developing its world famous tea. Only yesterday (Saturday), crores of rupees were given directly to the bank account of 7.50 lakh tea garden workers. Rs 1,000 crore special package has been earmarked for the welfare of the tea garden workers in Assam and West Bengal,” he said.
Under the Assam government flagship scheme “Cha Bagichhar Dhan Puraskar Mela” (cash award fair for tea workers) the state government transferred Rs 3,000 each to the bank accounts of 7,46,667 lakh tea plantation workers. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was the chief guest in the Saturday’s function.
From the Dhekiajuli public meeting, Modi laid the foundation stone for two medical colleges in Biswanath Charali and Charaideo and launched the ‘Assam Mala’ project to upgrade the state highways.
The two medical colleges and hospitals are being set up at a total estimated project cost of over Rs 1,120 crore. Each hospital will have a 500-bed capacity and 100 MBBS seat capacity.
Under the ‘Assam Mala’ scheme, the state Public Works Department would upgrade 2,500 km state highways at a cost of Rs 5,000 crore in 15 years.
Sunday’s visit is the Prime Minister’s second visit in the poll bound Assam in a fortnight.
On January 23, Modi had launched the allotment of land “pattas” (land allotment permit) to 1,06,940 landless indigenous people at the historic Jerenga Pothar in Sivasagar district.
Elections for the 126-member Assam Assembly are expected to be held along with the Assembly polls in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry in April-May.