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The Tale of Valorous 17-year-old Kanaklata Barua

We choose our journey and destination unfurls itself. The journey of 17- year old Kanaklata Barua is one such gallant extraordinary course which took her down to history forever. Kanaklata Barua was not your regular teenager. The history reverberates her ultimate sacrifices. 

Kanaklata Barua was born on 22nd December 1924, in Barangabari village, in the present-day Sonitpur district of Assam. Her father was a farmer and the family was of humble background. Tragedy struck when Kanaklata’s mother died when she was just five. Kanaklata had two younger sisters to take care of and as she grew older, she took life head-on. If you happen to go down to read the history of women who participated in the freedom struggle, you would be able to draw a common trait in all of them — courage. All women from 14-year-old Suniti Chaudhary to 15-year-old Shanti Ghosh to 17-year-old Kanaklata to many like them were so resolute that there was anything that would pull them down. Every challenge, every hurdle was dealt valiantly. 

“You, young men and women — you the heroes and heroines, colour the earth with your red blood — beautify it with the strength of the promise in your heart, let your warm blood flow like sunshine onto the dark earth”

These words of the eminent Assamese writer and freedom fighter, Karambir Nabin Chandra Bordolai, invigorated many young freedom fighters.

In the wake of Mahatma Gandhi’s Do or Die call’ during the Quit India movement, people across all religions, regions, gender, social status and age responded massively across the country, and amongst them was 17-year-old Kanaklata.

Overcoming the hardship of childhood, Kanaklata was drawn towards the freedom movement and nurtured a deep-rooted resentment against foreign rule. The brutal persecution of prominent local leaders like Cheniram Das, Mahim Chandra, Jyoti Prasad Agerwal further infuriated her.

Although her grandfather was not supportive of Kanaklata attending meetings of freedom fighters, her step-mother Jonaki Devi Barua allowed her to attend them clandestinely.

In 1921, Gandhi’s arrival in Assam galvanised the people in the state to participate actively in the freedom movement. And when the Purna Swaraj (‘complete freedom from the British’) declaration was made by the Congress on 26th January 1930, it encouraged people to hoist the Indian national flag across Assam. People from across the social spectrum of Assam began participating in the Freedom movement. Assamese social activists like Kiran Bala Bora and Ambika Kakati Aidew, among others, led by example and inspired young Assamese girls to throw themselves into the freedom movement. Kanaklata Barua was thus primed for her heroic journey.

Shri Jyoti Prasad Agarwal was a prominent cultural figure, poet and freedom fighter of Assam and to gather support for the Quit India movement in the region, he had established Mrityu Vahini (Death Squad) in Tezpur. Kanaklata Barua, who is also known as Birbala, became an active member of Mrityu Vahini.

The raging protest in a different part of the country led to the arrest of all national leaders. As the protest continued, the Mrityu Vahini decided to hoist the national flag at Gohpur Police Station on 20th September 1942. Holding up the national flag, Kanaklata Barua led the procession raising the ‘Do or Die’ slogan.

The determined procession led by the 17-year old Kanaklata was unfazed by the warning of the heavy contingent of police forces which warned them not to proceed and tried to stop the protesters. But they marched ahead. 

The further course of action will leave you in goosebumps and contemplating what a 17-year-old girl must be thinking marching fearlessly amidst the heavy police force. The police took a shot at young Kanaklata, but she continued to hold the flag and did not allow it to fall to the ground until another freedom fighter, Mukunda Kakati, took it from her. He too was shot at by the police. Like this 17- year-old Kanaklata and her comrade laid down their lives at the altar of the motherland and left for the heavenly abode. 

However, their sacrifice did not go in vain and another freedom fighter, Rampati Rajkhowa ultimately succeeded in hoisting the national flag at the Police Station.

The dedication and allegiance of these young freedom fighters transcended all sorts of fear. The triumphant feats of the heroes of India’s freedom struggle like Birbala Kanaklata must be included in our history books. History without reverential mentions of these freedom fighters will be incomplete.

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