Contribution of Tea Tribe of Assam in Indian Freedom Struggle
The tea tribe of Assam famously known as ‘Adibashi’ is an important ethnic community of Assam.
They have imported into colonial Assam by Company rules, between 1860 to 1890, from the predominantly backward tribes and castes dominated regions of present day West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, to work in the tea estates of Assam as wage labourers.
Historically, we have seen that the tea tribe people of Assam have a properly unrecorded glorious history from different angles. The role of tea tribe people in the Indian Freedom Struggle is an important example of that glorious history.
Before independence of our country, as well as other communities of Assam, tea tribe people of Assam immensely participated in this freedom movement in different times from different areas. Therefore, except the discussion on the role of tea tribe people in Indian Freedom Struggle from Assam, the history of Assam is always incomplete.
Historical Background: After annexation of Assam by the British a new door was opened to the outsiders. Britishers were a trader class, they always gave the importance of trade and commerce. They searched for new colonies to make new markets, to get raw materials. After entering and discovering tea in Assam, they tremendously took to plant this commercial crop in the different regions of the state to their rapid profit.
But in the very beginning due to the lack of wage labourers in contemporary Assam to work in the tea garden, they had faced a serious problem. Therefore as soon as possible they imported tea labourers to Assam from north and central India like Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, U.P., West Bengal and also from Andhra Pradesh. Since the earliest times of those imported wage labourers, they have been exploited and dominated by their authorities.
But gradually those imported tea tribe people of Assam became conscious for their rights. Simultaneously, they were inspired by contemporary India’s various nationalist movements. Specifically through the inspirations of nationalist leaders and their heroic activities, tea tribe people of Assam gradually jumped into the Indain freedom struggle.
Participation in the Freedom Struggle: In the very beginning, in 1915 due to the ignite of a revolt against Planter Raj at Sonitpur’s Rangapara, Christion Munda was publicly hanged by Company government in 1916. Historically, he was the first male martyr of Indian freedom struggle, belonged to the tea tribe community of Assam. The year of 1921 was a turning point to the Indian freedom movement.
In that time, tremendously Gandhi’s non cooperation movement became popular in Assam as well as all over India. Simultaneously, Gandhi’s visit to Assam for first time in 1921, nationalism in Assam had became more powerful and effective. By the inspiration of Gandhi’s works and thoughts, tea tribe people of Assam came out from their huts, left their work and started strikes against planter raj.
In the different parts of Assam they started non cooperation activities against Company rules. In that period, tea labourers of Helem and tea labourers of Kacharigaon, Sonitpur district of Assam started this movement in their areas. In 1921 due to the active participation to non cooperation movement Malati Mem or Mangri Oran was killed by company authority, she was from Ghagara tea estate, Tezpur, she was the first female martyr of Assam as well as tea tribe of Assam; who sacrificed her life to the name of our country.
In the same year, another tea labourer was Pratap Garh was imprisoned due to take the membership of Congress. Again Sambhuram Garh along with his friend Jagamohan was arrested by police. Sambhu was thrown into jail for two months, Jagomohan had ordered to pay rs. 50 as fine due to participating in the freedom struggle.
Subsequently, during the time of Quit India Movement in 1942, at Darrang police station along with other patriots Dayalu Panikar, Mongol Kurmi, belonging to tea communities were killed due to their patriotic and heroic activities. They went to fly India’s National Flag at Darrang police station. At the same time, Ramcharan Garh along with others had been tortured by police at Helem.
At the same time, another two persons were tortured by police, one was Arjun Ghatowar; who actively participated in the freedom struggle and regularly visited Congress office at Dhekiajuli, Sonitpur.
On the south bank of Brahmaputra, specially in Golaghat district of Assam was an another important rebellion area of tea tribe people. Due to the participation in freedom movement, Bidesh Kumar threw into jail, Ansha Bhuyan also threw into jail for four months by the police, they were belonged to Garanga tea estate of Golaghat. Radha Muha and Gobind Tanti of Batiyani tea estate also threw into jail for six months.
In the same district, some another tea labourers were imprisoned for their nationalist activities. Those were Baliya Bhuyan, Atoya Bhuyan, Buhalikson of Batiyali village, Mahabir Gowala, Santara Tanti of Garanga tea estate, Karma Das, Panika Kour, Mohan Panika, Burma Garh, Sukura Nagbongshi of Sarupathar, Bhanu Kheria of Bengena khuwa village etc. Between 1937 – 1946 a problem arose among those tea communities of Assam.
Due to the lack of ration and salary, to obtain it they again immensely started a revolt against their authority. Besides they also arranged some secret societies within the tea estates to supplying secret messages against British raj.
Historical Problems of Tea tribe People in Assam: Historically we have seen that through the mass movement led by tea communities had played an important role to independent our country. But from the earliest time they have been exploiting and neglecting by their authority as well as other communities. Even, before pre-independent they were neglecting by some Congress leaders in Assam.
Although the role of tea tribe people in Assam to Indian freedom struggle is an undivided part of Assam or Indian History, but still their history is incomplete. Because their history, historic activities to the Indian freedom struggle have still been totally undiscovered. Simultaneously, people of tea tribe communities of Assam are still unaware about their bright history. They didn’t know about the heroic activities of their former generation.
Actually, the real fact is another, lack of abundant sources, study and interest of writers and researchers. Still this field is lying far from us. The tea tribe people of Assam are still facing and feeling the negligence and loneliness by others. Socially, Economically still they are exploited by the opportunist class. Politically they are only voters, tea estates of Assam still have been considered an important vote bank by political leaders.
Even their representatives still have failed to promote their different conditions. Lack of proper planning to promote them, lack of modern technical education, lack of health treatment are some other serious problems of this community. Bitter truth is that these are all historical problems of this community, because these problems of tea tribe people in Assam have been existing since the earliest time till today.
However, one good news is that, at present, some writers have been trying to rescue their glorious history, as well as researchers have come near to their fields and researched their past and present in terms of socio-cultural, religious and economic developments. They are also trying to study their problems and also try to recommend the solutions. Undoubtedly it is important news for us.
At Last : History repeats itself but it never ends. We can’t change our history, but we can progress it, by discovering and exploring new sources, new information. The history of the tea tribe people of Assam and their different activities in different periods, like their role in Indian freedom struggle is an important chapter of our History.
As well as other communities of Assam we should know, we should focus on this chapter properly. We hope, contributions of the tea tribe people of Assam in the Indian Freedom Struggle will always remain as a golden chapter of our history.
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Barua, S.L., (1995) A comprehensive history of Assam, M.M. Publication, New Delhi.
Gait, E.A., (1990) A history of Assam, L.B.S. publication.
Goswami, P., (1999) Assam in the Nineteen Century: Industrialisation and Colonial Penetration, Spectrum Publication.
Goswami, P., (2012) The history of Assam from yandabo to partition, 1826-1947, Orient Blackswan Publication.
Guha, A., (1977) Planter-raj to Swaraj : Freedom Struggle and Electoral Politics in Assam, 1826 – 1947, ICHR Publication, New Delhi.
Saikia, R., (2000) Social and Economic History of Assam 1853-1921, Manohar Publication, New Delhi.
(Author : Faculty Member of History, Rabindranath Tagore University & PhD Scholar, Dibrugarh University.)
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