Raja Rao’s Kanthapura is a novel dealing fictionally with the impact of the Gandhian freedom struggle on a remote South Indian village of that name and what happened in Kanthapura was happening all over India in those stirring years from 1919 to 1931 of the Gandhian non-violent, non-cooperation movement for the independence of the country.
In that novel as the Gandhian disciple the protagonist, Moorthy takes the helm of the village’s Gandhian movement, reminding the others about their obligation to speak Truth, reject caste hierarchy, and spin wool each morning. The villagers follow the news of Gandhi’s protest of the British salt tax, in which he marches to the sea and makes his own salt, and they bathe in the holy Himavathy River at the precise moment Gandhi reaches the ocean and the police start arresting his followers en masse.
Moorthy and Rangamma continue to lead the others in practice drills, waiting for orders from the national Gandhian Congress, but soon discover that the Mahatma has been arrested and decide to officially launch the “don’t-touch-the-Government campaign” by protesting toddy stands, refusing to pay taxes or abide by the colonial government’s orders, and setting up a “parallel government” for their village that keeps Rangè Gowda as Patel.
Two days later, 139 Kanthapura villagers march to the toddy grove near the Skeffington Coffee Estate and Moorthy refuses to honor the Police Inspector’s orders to back down. All these happened in Raja Rao’s imaginary fiction.
But it is strange to know that a similar struggle was organized in real in Central Assam’s Nagaon by Kiran Bala Bora who is regarded by many as one of the first few Gandhian disciples in the State and also among the first few female freedom fighters like Chandra Prabha Saikiani in the Kamrup district and Bhogeswari Phukanani from Nagaon.
Kiran Bala Bora the fighting teenager girl- the Saint Joan of Nagaon gave the whole village a new vibe, a bold motivation to follow Gandhiji and participate in the Civil Disobedience Movement. “I want freedom for the full expression of my personality,” said Mahatma Gandhi and Kiran Bala made this Gandhian message her motto of life. She committed her whole life to this motto which has social, spiritual and political significance for her.
As a woman of Assam of that period, it was a revolutionary deed on her part to join the non-violent protest to which Kiran Bala Bora provided leadership. Being the daughter of a teacher she tried to be honest in her commitment. She enthusiastically joined the social reforms movement in her village with her father and also organized a fundraising campaign for Indian National Congress and encouraged more and more peace-loving people of Nagaon to come out of their houses.
People of her village might have seen in her character the female counterpart of Raja Rao’s Moorthy who also in a similar way organized the villagers. Both male and female, working females along with the housewives and school-going students- all joined national protest movements against the British. During this time she met Chandraprabha Saikiani the freedom fighter of Kamrup district who was also a writer and social reformer of Assam.
Kiran Bala established a close relationship with her and worked for social causes under her direction. She boycotted foreign goods, one of the objectives of the Non-Cooperation Movement. She started spinning cotton and made her own cloth and protested also against the use of narcotic substances such as opium and bhang.
The other compatriot was Bhogeswari Phukanani of Nagaon who too took part in non-violent protest marches against the British Raj or British rule. But she was more active in the 1942 movements and was arrested also. In this way, Kiran Bala Bora and later Bhogeswari Phukanani of Nagaon scripted their glorious name in the history of freedom struggle for the first time in Assam along with Chandra Prabha Saikiani.
The summer of 1920 saw the insurgence of the idea that India should gain independence from British rule, especially after the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre. Led by Gandhiji, hundreds of people participated n non-violent protests across India. Kiran Bala started involving herself in the activities of the movement and gradually devoted all her time to it. She fundraised to help Indian National Congress gain momentum in the Northeastern part of India. She also worked alongside leaders like Purna Chandra Sharma, Mahidhar Bora, Haldhar Bhuyan and Devakanta Baruah.
Nagaon which was declared a separate district by the British in 1833, had a unique contribution and from many perspectives, this district can be called a glorious cultural hub of Pre-Independence Assam. After the Jaliwanwala Bagh massacre whole of India roared against the British colonizers and Nagaon along with other districts in Assam did not remain silent with young women like Kiran Bala Bora and Bhogeswari Phukunani coming forward to give lead to the movement against British in Assam.
At a time when women were supposed to take care of the family, Kiran Bala actively participated in the Indian Freedom struggle by playing an active role since 1919 and later her resistance grew stronger in the Civil Disobedience Movement of the 1930s and Quit India Movement of 1942’s. Other freedom fighters of the Nagaon district inspired by Kiran Bala actively participated in the struggle. Those who sacrificed their lives there included Lakshmikanta Hazarika, Thagiram Sut and Boloram Sut. At Bebejia, also were killed Kalai Koch and Hemkanta Barua, while two others Hemaram Keot and Gunabhiram Bordoloi laid down their lives at Jongalbalahu, followed by the martyrdom of Tilak Deka at Barapujiya.
Kiran Bala was born in Haiborgaon to Kamal Chandra Pandit and Saroj Aidew. Even after being a daughter of a school teacher and growing up in an enlightened ambiance she was not allowed to study beyond the 3rd standard. At an early age, she married Saki Ram Laskar of Paroli Guri who left her as a widow after a short time. But Kiran Bala Bora did not waste time in idleness and inspired all around her to engage in social activism and later accepted the commitment to the political movement against the British since 1919 and continued to be so till 1947.
Intellectuals, poets and religious reformers of Nagaon instilled a sense of pride for the Indian nationalism and cultural heritage of Assam notably poets like Madhav Kandoli who wrote the Assamese version of Valmiki Ramayana. And the teachings of the ever-great religious leader Srimanta Sankardeva. Alongside their literary and cultural contribution, the political fight by Kirna Bala Bora enriched the mindset of the Assamese people and prepared them for the larger struggle in the future.
Later Kiran Bala engaged herself in the social reform movements and women’s welfare projects in Nagaon. The incredible courage shown by the teenager Kiran Bala in joining the Civil Disobedience proved strongly what Martin Luther King Jr said, “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Her influence will be ever enduring on the mind of the bold Assamese females who love the country and its freedom.
Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee, a senior academician poet may be reached at email@example.com