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Unsung Freedom Fighters of India’s North-East


Phirmi Bodo


A people sans knowledge of their past are like trees without roots

The contribution of the North-East to the Indian freedom movement is gradually getting universal recognition.Many warriors were born in this region and they laid down their lives for their motherland. Heroes like Bir Tikendrajit Singh, Rani Gaindinliu, Haipou Jadunang, U Tirot Singh, etc., immediately come to mind. Tragically, their stories were never recognised or taught in history lessons. Veer Sambudhan Phonglo is one such name. Hailing from Assam, he inspired many youths of his community and formed anarmy of his own to wage war against the British. His is a story of how ethnic communities like the Dimasa Kacharisplayed a vital role in the independence movement. Jaya Thaosen was another valorous freedom fighter from the Kachari community. The Kachari region was once the seat of the Cachar kingdom, a flourishing ‘rajvansh' before the British destroyed it. Jaya had grown-up listening to the stories of the glorious past of her region. When she heard about the Indian Army and its Rani Jhansi regiment, she could not wait to join the army. In 1944, Jaya formed an organisation of young patriots including Arjun Langthasa and Jowte Dao Kemprai. However, they encountered the British force at the Khiren Khowai Range (near Kohima). This encounter soon turned into a battle ground in which Jaya Thaosen and her compatriots fought valiantly and injured many of the Britishers. But Jaya Thaosen was martyred.The Ruzazho village of Nagaland was the first village administered by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in 1944. Netaji come to the village and established the Azad Hind Government with the active support of the Naga people. He appointed several Gaon Bura Dobashi and area administrator Gaindinliu, famously known as Rani Gaidinliu, joined the struggle against the British at the young age of 13. Acknowledging her role in the struggle against the British, Jawaharlal Nehru called her the “Daughter of the Hills” and gave her the title “Rani” or queen. She passed away on February 17, 1993 at her native village. The people of Manipur resisted the British as well. In 1891, Maharaja Kulchandra Singh refused to accept any form of British authority. This led to war. Singhs's army was led by Tikendrajit and General Thangal. They drove the British out and the latter could never establish direct control over Manipur.

Tirot Sing is a celebrated freedom fighter of the Khasi Hills. The Tirot Sing Cave is an important memorial of this vivid, brutal, and often-ignored chapter of sub-continental history. An early 19th-century chief, Tirot Sing belonged to the faction of Khasi leaders who did not support the growing influence of the British in these eastern frontiers. The Anglo-Khasi war was fought and Tirot and his band of faithful followers used guerilla tactics to evade and strike the militarily superior colonial forces – a battle between guns on one side, and swords and arrows on the other. Patriots like Moje Riba,Matmur Jamoh, Lomlo Darang and Bapok Jerangare venerated to this day.  Assam's Kanaklata Barua was the youngest freedom fighter from Assam. Inspired by Gandhi's Quit Movement, the 17-year-old joined the struggle. A rebellious young Assamese girl, Kanaklata Barua, embraced death at the peak of the Quit India Movement in 1942. There are many more such warriors but unfortunately, the North-East is viewed from the prism of the ‘other'. Their history was rarely a significant section of Indian history. This indifference percolated down to native scholars too and the region came to be viewed for a long time as an isolated frontier with no connection to the cultural continuum of India. It is time the region's past gets its voice heard.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, Centre for Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.)

The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.


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