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Patharughat martyrs yet to get recognition

By Mayukh Goswami

JANUARY 28, 1894 is an inerasable dark spot in the history of British rule in India for the organised massacre at Patharughat, a sleepy village of Darrang district where as many as 140 innocent peasants took bullets on their chests while 150 others were injured. �In the Deccan the fury of ryots was directed against money-lenders, in Bengal against indigo-planters, in Pabna against zamindars, but in Assam, at this moment, it is open rebellion against the government. This was the point made in the editorial in The Amrit Bazar Patrika dated February 14, 1894 while differentiating the uprisings in Assam from the peasants-artisans� movements in other parts of India with reference to the historic peasants� uprising at Patharughat. The peasants (belonging to both Hindu and Muslim communities) were brutally killed by the oppressive British rulers when the former had assembled only to lodge their protest against the increase in land revenue in a peaceful manner.

This tragic yet glorious chapter of the freedom struggle of India, still neglected by the historians of the country, perhaps, is the first instance of passive and non-violent resistance to acts of oppression in entire India, which was the purest and most perfect form of philosophy of Satyagraha taken up much later by Mahatma Gandhi only in 1919. This is evident from the report submitted by then Deputy Commissioner of Darrang, JD Anderson, who ordered the firing upon the peasants, to the Commissioner of Assam Valley Districts on January 30, 1894. �I informed them of the orders passed by the Government of India as to the rates of revenue, and then directed them to disperse, going among them freely and talking to them of the inevitable consequences of a refusal to disperse. They remained firm, however, and without in any way assaulting or abusing me, simply refused to budge� � this was the point made by the Deputy Commissioner on the peasants assembled on that fateful day at Patharughat. All the pan-Indian incidents of resistance against the British throughout the 19th century had been armed uprisings. But the courageous peasants of Darrang district who had assembled at Patharughat on that day had defied the government using the weapon which Gandhiji decades later would project as a strong tool for bringing freedom to the country.

The saga of Patharughat is also an example of the traditional religious harmony and mutual cooperation of the Assamese society as peasants, both Hindus and Muslims, fought and died together for a common cause. The labelling of the peasants� uprising at Patharughat as �Patharughator Ron� or the �battle of Patharughat� is a blatant misnomer. The so-called �weapons� used by the peasants were bamboo sticks and clods of earth, as mentioned in the report of the Deputy Commissioner JD Anderson, which proves that the peasants had no intention of indulging in violence or attacking the officers and their armed personnel. Had there been any intention of violence, the peasants would have been armed with the easily available arms like daos and spears. Whatever retaliation might have been there from the peasants, was in spontaneous response to the arrogant refusal of the British officers simply to listen to their pleas.

The tragedy of Patharughat is a milestone in the history of freedom struggle of our motherland. Even today, Patharughat continues to be the source of inspiration to the people of Assam. But at the same time, this glorious chapter of our freedom struggle has been deprived of its place in history at the national level. Apart from the celebration of Krishak Swahid Divas at Patharughat on January 28 every year, in which the Chief Minister is a regular chief guest, the Red Horns Division of the Indian Army has been celebrating the Day in full military style on January 29 in which the GOC of the Red Horns Division is the regular chief guest since 2000. Mention may be made here that at the initiative of the then Assam Governor, Lt Gen SK Sinha, the Red Horns Division constructed a memorial structure at Patharughat, which is the only memorial in the country to be constructed by the Army, in memory of peasants or civilians.

As the Red Horns� Division of the Indian Army has been taking the initiative for the ceremonial celebration of the �Krishak Swahid Divas� every year at Patharughat, it would be much better if the Army Chief could spare a few moments from his busy schedule to attend the function in the future, if only to help the martyrs get national recognition.

During his tenure as the president of the All Assam Students� Union, Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, the AASU had celebrated the centenary celebration of the �Patharughatar Ron� at Patharughat, which was attended by eminent journalist and writer Kuldip Nayar as the chief guest. But for reasons best known to him, Nayar hardly used his pen to write a few words in the national newspapers on this historic event of India�s freedom struggle. Similarly, the people of Darrang particularly of Patharughat had a hope that Sonowal being a member of the Narendra Modi-led Union Ministry would take initiatives for a visit of the President of India or the Prime Minister to Patharughat, but he too failed to spare some time from his busy schedule for Patharughat.

Two years back, the then Governor of Assam, JB Patnaik visited Patharughat and offered floral tributes in memory of the 140 krishak swahids. On that day, while attending a State-level seminar on �Patharughat� organized by the Mangaldai Media Circle at the District Library Auditorium, the Governor gave an assurance in public to organize a national-level seminar in New Delhi for its national recognition. But unfortunately that assurance is yet to turn into a reality. Today, on the day exactly 122 years after the historical event, it remains to be seen as to how long it will take to accord national recognition! Will the State and the Union Governments cutting across political lines join hands and take the initiative in this regard.

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