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Assamese women in India’s freedom movement
International Women’s Day is being observed globally on March 8 every year, since the year 1910. This day was proposed by Clara Jetkin at the second International Women’s Conference and accepted unanimously by the participants.
IN INDIA, this day is observed with much enthusiasm and fanfare. The state of Assam has seen women enjoy equal rights with men since ancient times. In this part of the country women have proved to be a symbol of strength. They have proved their strength by participating in the freedom movement. Women power exhibited by the likes of Kanaklata Barua, Bhogeswari Phukanani and Khahuli Nath are the best examples in the history of Assam.

During the first part of the 20th century when popular uprising picked up momentum in the country and Mahatma Gandhi launched the Non-Co-operation Movement against the British rule, women from Assam took a leading part in the movement. Gandhi opined that in the Non-Cooperation Movement, women’s participation was more important than that of the men, because they were the symbol of strength. His message encouraged the womenfolk of Assam to come out of the four walls of their homes and participate in social and political activities. After independence, much importance was given to women’s education, with an eye on ushering in a social change in the country.

The Indian National Congress, resolved on August 9, 1942 in Mumbai to ‘Do or Die’ for the Independence of the country and launched the Quit India Movement against the British. The young and the old, men and women, boys and girls, all fearlessly and wholeheartedly joined the movement. Among them was Kanaklata Barua. She got an opportunity to fulfil her dream of serving the country. As soon as the Quit India Movement was launched, the British rulers started arresting Congress leaders. Under the leadership of the revolutionary Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, in the district of Darrang, a resolution was adopted unanimously to hoist the national flag at the court and police station, seen as symbols of the British Empire. Aware of the importance of women’s participation in the nation’s freedom struggle, Kanaklata enrolled herself in the suicide squad. September 20 was chosen as the day for the peaceful and non-violent action.

According to the programme, freedom fighters holding national flags had to capture a local police station. 4,000 people from Kalabari side and an equal number from Barangabari moved towards Gohpur police station. Leading from the front was Kanaklata Barua holding the national flag in her hands. She requested the officer in charge of the police station to allow her to hoist the flag at the western gate peacefully. The officer in charge declined her request and threatened to shoot her, if she dared to proceed further. But Kanaklata marched ahead and had to face the bullets of the strong police force. She had laid down her life for the freedom of the country.

Another instance of martyrdom was witnessed in the district of Nagaon. Berhampur in the district was also afire with the Quit India Movement. Among the residents of this place was a brave woman freedom fighter, Bhogeswari Phukanani. Born in 1885, she had a family of six sons and two daughters, besides her husband, Bhogeswar Phukan. The Berhampur Congress Office was under siege by the military and police during the freedom movement. Police and military atrocities had increased in the western part of Nagaon district. The revolutionaries regained control of the office and celebrated their victory. But it was short-lived. To take revenge, the British army had sent a military force under Capt Finish. The place turned into a battlefield all of a sudden. The echo of ‘Vande Mataram’ pervaded the place. People from nearby villages came out with national flags in their hands. Ratnamala and Bhogeswari Phukanani led the mob. As soon as they came face to face with Capt Finish, he snatched the flag from Ratnamala’s hand. Ratnamala stumbled and fell. Noticing the insult inflicted on the national flag, Bhogeswari got upset and immediately hit the Captain on the head with the flagpole. A furious Captain Finish pulled out his revolver and fired at Bhogeswari. She succumbed to the injury. The day was September 20, 1942.

Khahuli Nath of Dumdumia village under Dhing area of Nagaon district also laid down her life while trying to capture Dhekiajuli police station along with her husband Ponaram Nath. She fell victim to police firing. In another event, people from Dhekiajuli came out of their homes to protest against the British rule and hoisted the national flag at the police station. Among them was a suicide squad member Golok Chandra Neog. Observing the fall of co-activist Manbar Nath after being shot by the police, Golok moved ahead with the national flag in his hand. Realising that Golok Chandra was face to face with the police, his mother Kumali Neog interposed herself between the two and the bullet claimed her instead.

In addition to the martyrdom of these womenfolk, a large number of women activists were seriously injured, while confronting the police and military forces. Around 500 women freedom fighters had to bear the brunt of British atrocities in Assam in the country’s freedom movement. They will always be remembered by the people of the country.
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