A couple of days ago, an old journalist friend of mine called me from Assam. It has been ages since I last spoke with him.
The first thought that came to me on hearing his voice was, “He either wants to come to the US or needs money for his NGO!”
But he asked, “Do you know much about Gomdhar Konwar?”
My cynical mind presumed, “This Konwar must be his friend or a relative who needs help!”
He did not wait for my reply and ranted, “I know you don’t know about him. The sad part is that the majority of the people of Assam does not know about him.”
I was little irritated, hence replied rather harshly, “Yes, you are right. I don’t know him. But is there a reason that I should know him?”
He did not seem to mind my rebuke, and simple asked, “Do you know that the first revolt against the British in the Indian sub-continent happened in Assam? And it happened in 1828, much before the famous revolt of 1857. Are you aware of the fact that a person from Assam and not Mangal Pandey might soon be declared as the first martyr of Indian freedom struggle against the British?”
I was intrigued and was hooked, “Was your friend Gomdhar Konwar involved?”
With a light laugh, he responded, “Yeah, Gomdhar Konwar started the Revolt of 1828 against the British. As you know, the British annexed Assam after the treaty of Yandaboo. Earlier they had promised that they would let Assam regain freedom and would go away after chasing away the Burmese, but they later did an about-turn and brought Assam under their rule. They tried by money, power and force to bring everybody under them and succeeded to an extent. But a large number of freedom loving people refused to see them as their rulers. Under the leadership of Gomdhar Konwar, a family member of the deposed Ahom king, the disgruntled people formed a rebel force. The rebels declared him as the King of Assam and asked the British to leave Assam.”
He sighed and continued, “But the British were not the ones to be scared easily, and they unleashed their force to subdue the people of Assam. The rebel force led by Dhananjoy Borgohain met the larger and better-equipped British force at Mariani, Jorhat. The rebels were mercilessly massacred and many were arrested. Gomdhar Konwar was arrested too and was supposedly shipped off to the Andamans. But nobody really knows what happened to him, and many believe that he was killed immediately after being arrested.”
I was silent for some time and then added, “It’s really sad that a large majority of the people of Assam or India really does not know about this episode.”
“Yeah that’s right. But Gomadhar Konwar might finally get his much-deserved place in Indian History! All this might happen due to the efforts of the 200 Year Birth Centenary Committee of Gomadhar Konwar. There are plans to hold a national-level seminar to highlight the sacrifices and contributions of Konwar in particular and early freedom fighters from Assam. The rich history of freedom struggle that happened much before the revolt of 1857 might receive the attention that has eluded it for such a long time.”
“The committee is organizing a three-day program at Nakachari, the place where Gomadhar established his independent kingdom, starting March 20, 2009” he said excitedly.
“A manuscript written by Mokham Baruah in Tai language was recovered in 2006 from Deodhai Gaon, Amguri, Sibsagar. Baruah was a companion of Konwar and recorded everything that happened during the struggle. So we might know more about Gomdhar Konwar, as there are plans to publish the manuscript in three languages – Tai, English and Assamese.”
“I am happy about the fact that people will come to know about all these unsung heroes,” he added happily.
I was ashamed of my cynical thoughts about him and his act of phoning me after such a long time, but I still was not sure why he called me after ages.
So I asked hesitantly, “So how can I help? Do you want me to send some money to the committee or any other person involved in this endeavor? I can mail the money to you.”
“Oh, no; it’s not about money. People have contributed and the committee will get money from the government too. By the way, I am not involved with the endeavor,” he replied.
“So, how can I help?”
“Write about him. Tell people about him. Let everybody know that unsung heroes like him exist in our part of the world.”
Saying so he put his phone down.
Kaushik Phukan, Seattle