Kanaklata Barua, the 17-year-old martyr of Assam
“You, young men and women – you the heroes and heroines, colour the earth with your red blood – beautify it with the strength of the promise in your heart, let your warm blood flow like sunshine onto the dark earth”
These words of eminent Assamese writer and freedom fighter, Karambir Nabin Chandra Bordolai, inspired many young freedom fighters.
As the country approaches 75th anniversary of our freedom, it has been my endeavour to write about lesser-known women freedom fighters through a series of Facebook posts. Indeed, it has been an engrossing journey into the past with the aim of recapturing the invaluable role played by many unsung heroes in India’s freedom struggle.
While millions across the length and breadth of the sub-continent had participated in the freedom struggle, the details about martyrdom and acts of bravery of many have remained obscure. Unfortunately, very little is recorded of the courage in the pages of history.
Today, I will be paying tribute to Assam’s 17-year-old KanaklataBarua, who bravely faced bullets and attained martyrdom while making a fiercely determined effort to hoist national flag on a police station. In the wake of Mahatma Gandhi ji’s ‘Do or Die call’ during the QuitIndiamovement, people cutting across religions, regions, gender, social status and age responded massively across the country.
Born on December 22nd, 1924, in Gohpur, in the family of Smt. Karneshwari and Shri Krishna Kant Barua, she lost both her parents by a rather early age of thirteen. Though she lived in a joint family, she had to drop out of her school after the third standard to look after her younger brother and sister. It is said that her ancestors were ministers in the court of Ahom Kings.
Ever since her childhood, she was drawn towards freedommovement and nurtured a deep-rooted resentment against foreign rule. Brutal persecution of prominent local leaders like Cheniram Das, Mahim Chandra, Jyoti Prasad Agerwal further enraged her. It is said that while her grandfather was not in favour of Kanaklata attending meetings of freedomfighters, her step-mother Jonaki Devi Barua allowed her to attend them clandestinely.
Shri Jyoti Prasad Agarwal was an eminent cultural figure, poet and freedom fighter of Assam. To gather support for Quit India movement in the region, he had established Mrityu Vahini (Death Squad) in Tezpur. Kanaklata Barua, who is also known as Birbala, became an active member of Mrityu Vahini.
Following the arrest of all national leaders and raging protests in different parts of the country, the Mrityu Vahini decided to hoist the national flag at Gohpur Police Station on 20th September 1942. Holding aloft the national flag, Kanaklata Barua led the procession raising ‘Do or Die’ slogan.
A heavy contingent of police forces warned them not to proceed and tried to stop the protesters. Unfazed by the warning, they marched ahead. As the police shot at young Kanaklata, she continued to hold the flag and did not allow it to fall to the ground until another freedom fighter, Mukunda Kakati took it from her. He too was shot at by the police and both of them laid down their lives at the altar of the motherland. However, their sacrifice did not go in vain and another freedom fighter, Rampati Rajkhowa ultimately succeeded in hoisting the national flag at the Police Station.
So intense was the dedication of these young men and women that in their protest they even transcended the fear of death. The struggles and triumphant feats of the heroes and veeranganas of India’s freedom struggle like Birbala Kanaklata must be included in our history books. History written without reverential references to them will be incomplete.