SV FACT FILE: The Forgotten Freedom Fighters of the North-East

Rita Gupta


Had the historians written fair history of India’s struggle for freedom, patriots of North East would have found a very high place in it. During Mughal invasions and British colonialism, North East was the last to be conquered. Mughals were defeated 17 times by Ahoms. The stories of bravery of people of North East are buried in oblivion. They never got the recognition and the credit due to them. Most historians of left leanings, have ignored them while writing the history of freedom struggle. Our kids are taught about only a few heroes, many others across the length and breadth of India who sacrificed their lives to make India free have not found a place in history books.

Even before British rule in India, North East remained mostly free from the control of any external power. Starting only in 1826, after the control of Burma over Assam for almost a decade, it fell into the hands of British. Earlier Assam, the gateway to North East, was attacked several times but it was able to thwart the attacks.

When British occupied Assam, they faced almost zero resistance as Ahom kingdom was starting to disintegrate. Under British occupation, many Ahom nobles became dissatisfied with the tax collection system. It resulted into a revolt in 1828, lead by Ahom prince, Gomdhar Konwar. He tried to organize Ahoms and re-establish Ahom authority with the help of other Ahom nobles. But their attempt failed and the revolt was suppressed. Many nobles were hanged and Gomdhar was given 7 years of exile.

After Assam, British started expansion to the hills but met fierce resistence by the hill tribes. The British had gained control over the Brahamputra Valley and was trying find ways to connect Guwahati with Sylhet. They started construction of road in the Khasi hills and made a pact with the chief of the Khasi hills tribe – U Tirot Sing. But as was the character of the British, they deceived U Tirot Sing. The Khasis led by U Tirot Sing waged a war against the British which lasted for 4 years from 1829 to 1833. On one side was the modern and sophisticated weapons and on the other traditional weapons like swords, spears and stones. The Khasis fought bravely but lost. U Tirot Sing was caught and deported to Dhaka jail where he remained till he died. Many other hill tribes such as the Singphos, Khamtis, Nagas, Garos etc challenged the British at every step and made it difficult for them to establish their rule.

Maniram Dewan was a private tea planter and was friendly with the British as he thought that the British would help the tea industry. He wanted to re-establish Ahom rule in Assam and realized soon that the British would never let that happen. He fought the British after realizing that only a free India would provide opportunity to the entrepreneurs. Unfortunately his plans to throw British out, got exposed and he was arrested. In 1858, he was hanged inside Jorhat prison along with his associate.

In 1890, the first Mizo leader, Shoorvir Pasaltha Khuangchera made the supreme sacrifice when he died fighting the British. They had invaded Lushai Hills and as they captured the Hills, they had to face Pasaltha. He fought till the last drop of his blood.

Around the same time, in Manipur, Paona Brajabashi made the supreme sacrifice in the battle of Khongjom. The British forces had started covering Imphal from three directions. Manipuris led by Paona Brajabashi, fought the fiercest battles in the History of India. Notwithstanding the final outcome of the war, the resistance of the Manipuris is a legend of patriotism and valour.

Born in Rongmei tribe of Manipur, Gaidinliu, a 13 year old teenager began her journey as a revolutionary in 1927. Along with her cousin, she participated in Heraka Movement. It was a movement to establish the self rule by the Nagas and to resist the conversions of Nagas to Christianity. She described the aim of the movement as,“To reform old religious practices in order to strengthen the movement aimed at ousting the British”. After the arrest of her cousin, she led the movement at the age of 17. She persuaded Zeliangrong people to not pay taxes and not cooperate with the British. In 1932, during a surprise attack by the British, Gaidinliu and her associates were arrested. Many were executed and Gaidnliu was sent for life imprisonment. She remained in jail till India got independence. Today Christian Nagas outnumber Heraka followers by a huge margin.

These are only a few stories. Every hill, village and tribe of North East has hundreds of such stories. Freedom from British was attained after a prolonged struggle and the sacrifice of hundreds of patriots. These nationalists must get the respect due to them. History must be rewritten as we owe it to the past as well as future generations.

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