On one hand, the British annexation of Assam led to an economic and political restructuring of the region, on the other the introduction of English as a medium of education had a dual impact on the Indian society including Assam’s. While it helped the educated indigenous class to critically question their tradition, it also allowed the growth of national awareness. By the end of the 19th century, like other parts of the country, the voice of dissidence against the British began to stir the people of Assam. Here are 9 facts related to the Indian freedom movement and national awakening in Assam.
1. Language as a trademark of the Assamese nationalism
Assam saw the growth of an educated Assamese middle class by the middle of the 19th century and this resulted in a national awakening. Anandaram Dhekiyal Phukan, one of the pioneers of Assamese literature, during 1836 strongly resisted the introduction of the Bengali language in the schools, offices and courts instead of Assamese leading to a heated debate in the media relating to the independent status of the Assamese language. This movement eventually led to the growth of cultural revival in Assam. It was, however, only in the year 1873 that Assamese was re-established. Nevertheless, in the process language became a trademark of the Assamese nationalism.
2. The cultural and literary renaissance in Assam
Jonaki, the mouthpiece of the Asomiya Bhasa Unnati Sadhini Sabha played an important role in the literary and cultural revival of Assam. The cultural and literary renaissance caused by Orunodoi, the first Assamese-language magazine, reached its peak in the pages of Jonaki. One of the repeated themes of Jonaki was the decay of domestic commerce and industries of Assam after the British invasion and about restoring economic self-dependence. Jonaki was successful in reviving the cultural and social awareness in Assam.
3. The emergence and decline of the Ahom Sabha
The first session of the Ahom Sabha, which was formed in 1893 by Padmanath Gohain Baruah, was held at Sibsagar in 1893 and one of the first activities it carried out was running a campaign against opium. The main objective of the Sabha was to ask for rights for the Ahoms in the British administration as well as to restore the traditional religion, language arid social practices which could re-establish the cultural identity of the Ahoms. The Sabha further demanded opportunities for the Ahoms by counting them as a separate community in terms of economic and educational backwardness. In the year 1910, the Sabha was renamed as the Ahom Association. It, however, became overtly political and grew rather weak by 1950.
4. The partition of Bengal and the Swadeshi Movement
The position of the Jorhat Sarbajanik Sabha and the Assam Association was soft on the issue of the partition of Bengal. They supported the partition expecting certain advantages out of it, but leaders like Padmanath Gohain Barua, Ambikagiri Raychoudhury, Triguna Barua, Raktim Bora etc. had a completely different stand on it. They were absolutely against the partition and made publicity among the Assamese to protest the partition. During the same time, the effect of the Swadeshi movement reached Assam. Its influence was largely seen in Dhubri, Gauripur, Goalpara, Guwahati, Tezpur, Dibrugarh etc. Asom Keshari Ambikagiri Raychoudhury and Gobinda Lahiri established organizations among the students of Guwahati and called for a boycott of foreign goods in the districts of Assam. Responding to the call, the people began using local andi, muga, cotton and khadi cloths. A group of students in Guwahati even worked as labourers in dock twice a week and gave the money to the fund of Swadeshi Movement.
5. The formation of Assam Provincial Congress Committee
Just like the Indian National Congress, it was also a consequence of nationalist fervour against British rule that formed the Assam Provincial Congress Committee. The establishment of the Indian National Congress in the year 1885 marked the inception of a new age in the freedom movement of India. Afterwards, an ad hoc committee of Assam Provincial Congress Committee was created in the month of June of 1921. The committee had its headquarter in Guwahati with Kuladhar Chaliha as its president. Later, Tarun Ram Phookan was elected as its president. It was through the initiative of the Assam Provincial Congress Committee that Gandhiji was invited to Assam in 1921. His visit tremendously inspired the Congress workers to carry out the non-cooperation movement and realise the principles of Swadeshi.
6. The effect of Non-cooperation Movement in Assam
The Non-cooperation Movement was a significant event in the Indian struggle for independence. Started in 1920 and lasted through 1922, this movement was supported all along by the Indian National Congress. Under Gandhiji’s leadership, the movement tried to get rid of British rule through non-violence. The movement in Assam reached its peak with the visit of Gandhiji in August 1921 and in all the meetings which were addressed by Gandhiji, a large section of people attended. Responding to Gandhiji appeal made in these meetings, people organised huge bonfires of British goods. Under the leadership of Chandranath Sarma, Hemchandra Barua, Omeo Kumar Das, Muhibuddin Ahmed, the youths took part in the movement by boycotting educational institutions run by the British.
7. The movement of the tea garden labourers of Assam
The Non-cooperation movement in Assam witnessed unprecedented support, particularly from the tea garden labourers. The labourers took the opportunity to raise their voice against their colonial exploitation. In the month of May 1921, around 8,000 labourers belonging to thirteen tea gardens from the Chargola and Longai valley of Karimganj subdivision united themselves to protest against their colonial masters under the leadership of the Congress. The labourers came out of their gardens demanding an increase in wages raising the slogan ‘Gandhi Maharaj Ki Jai (glory to Gandhiji)’. Frightened by the flight of labourers, the planters started pressurising the district administration to exert power to bring them back. In this process, hundreds of labourers lost their lives.
8. The students’ protest against the arrest of Nehru and Gandhi
Joining the rest of the country, to protest against the arrest of Jawaharlal Nehru on 14 April and Mahatma Gandhi on 5 May 1930, students in the Brahmaputra valley resorted to boycotting of educational institutions. The situation further deteriorated when R. J. Cunningham, Director of Public Instruction, issued a circular directing the students and their parents to provide written undertaking that the students would not engage in any kind of political movement. It stated that those found guilty would be punished by imposing fines and denying of scholarships as well as expulsion in severe cases. The students sharply responded to such disgracing diktat and it further sparked off the Civil Disobedience movement in the region.
9. The ‘Quit India’ or ‘Bharat Choro ‘ resolution by the Congress
The All India Congress Committee on August 8, 1942, passed the famous ‘Quit India’ or ‘Bharat Choro ‘ resolution, following which, in an attempt to suppress the movement, the British government declared Congress illegal and put its leaders including Gandhiji in jail. In Assam too, the Congress leaders were arrested and the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee, the District Congress Committee and other subsidiary bodies were pronounced unlawful. Meeting, hartals, and gatherings were all banned. Though the movement in Assam started with non-violent methods, with the leaders jailed and in the midst of growing police atrocities, the movement consequently turned into a rebellion.
This article has been written using the information available in the textbook of SEBA Class 10 History Chapter 4: Indian Freedom Movement and National Awakening in Assam