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Assamese-Bengalee bonhomie alive till 1930s

By Ajit Patowary

GUWAHATI, Dec 23 - Till the mid-1930s, that is around 1935, both Assamese and Bengalee communities were living in peace and amity in Gauhati. Both the communities fought the infamous Cunningham Circular, which had made it mandatory for the students to give undertakings that they would refrain from political activities. The circular was aimed at preventing students� participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement and it was issued in 1930. But after 1935, relations between the two communities went haywire, said noted writer Kumudeswar Hazarika.

The first public meeting against the Cunningham Circular at Gauhati was held at the Curzon Hall. It was presided over by late Upen Sen, a prominent Bengalee citizen of Gauhati. The meeting was addressed by Karmabir Nabin Chandra Bardoloi and Deshabhakta Tarun Ram Phookun as appointed speakers.

The participants at the meeting urged the students to boycott the government schools and it was also decided to establish a new school for those boycotting the government schools. Accordingly, Kamrup Academy was established in 1930 itself.

Rai Bahadur Kalicharan Sen, a prominent Bengalee pleader, was the founder president of the managing committee of this school, while noted freedom fighter Gauri Kanta Talukdar, who was also a former MLA from Nalbari, was its founder secretary.

Till then, both Assamese and Bengalee communities used to send their wards to Cotton Collegiate School and Sonaram High School. But in 1936, during the silver jubilee celebration of King George V, the Bengalees of Gauhati opted for a separate high school for their boys. And accordingly, the Silver Jubilee Anglo-Bengalee Boys� High School (present-day Bengalee Boys' Higher Secondary School) was established at Paltanbazar in 1936. Not only the Bengalee students, but also the founder Bengalee teachers of Kamrup Academy instantly joined this school.

This led to a rift between the two communities. The situation reached such a pass that the Hari Sabha, which was set up as a joint socio-religious institution by both the communities in 1915, was reduced to a mere Bengalee institution. Similarly, people started recognising the Panbazar Arya Natya Mancha, another joint institution of the two communities, also as a Bengalee institution.

With the passage of time, this emotional rift led to mutual disbelief, mistrust and on occasions, some angry outbursts against the Bengalees were noticed. However, due to the initiatives taken by a group of artistes led by late Hemanga Biswas and comprising Dr Bhupen Hazarika, late Dilip Sarma and Indian People�s Theatre Association (IPTA) members, the situation improved a lot during the 1960 Language Movement turmoil.

This effort was continued by personalities like Dr Amalendu Guha, who died recently, late Nava Kanta Barua, Dr Hiren Gohain, late Keshab Mahanta, Nirupama Bargohain, Homen Bargohain, Anil Das, Kulada Bhattacharyya, Ajoy Dutta, late Saroj (Mona) Sen, Pulak Banerjee, late Pulak Lahiri, Arun Sarma, among others.

In recent years, a group of people, who include Dr Prasanta Chakraborty, Mitali Dey and Dr Dilip Ghosal, among others, has been observing Bangla Naba Barsha and Rongali Bihu simultaneously on the same platform under the banner of Naba Barsha Baran. It is a very positive development, said Hazarika.

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