Friday, 13 April 2012

Language Movement in Barak Valley, 19 May 1961: An Era of Brave Bengali Revolution

  Language Movement in Barak Valley, 19 May 1961      

Bhasha Shahid Smarok, Karimganj  of 19th May, 1961 struggle
Geographically, linguistically, culturally and socially, the Barak Valley is an extension of the eastern Bengal. In 1874, when Assam was organised as a province by the British, two Bengali speaking districts of Sylhet and Cachar was carved out of the Bengal Presidency and incorporated in Assam to meet the revenue deficit of the newly formed province. The twin districts were then placed under a Commissionership and came to be known as Surma Valley division. In 1947, the major part of the Sylhet district was transferred to erstwhile East Pakistan. The remaining part of the Surma Valley division is now known as the Barak Valley which has since been organised into three districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi within the state of Assam. But, for all practical purpose, the Surma Barak Valley (i.e. the pre-independence districts of Sylhet and Cachar) forms a single cultural unit since time immemorial.’ This is how Dr. Sujit Choudhury, an eminent social scientist and activist from Barak Valley introduces the dichotomy between political boundary of present day and socio cultural legacy of the past. All kind of activities, from creative to historiography thus earns the status of activism in the context of above. While the forces in the power apparatus of the state of Assam till date seek to undermine and distort the linguistic character of Barak Valley, people in general and the activists in academics and performing art in particular, endeavour to uphold the cultural uniqueness of the land. Though Assamese-speaking people in Barak Valley form a microscopic section of the population and again the major section of them are basically temporary residents on postings in government jobs, the website of Government of Assam declares Assamese as the major language of Barak Valley despite Bengali being the official language of these districts. 
Hailakandi-Sahid Bedi-stands for Coward Act of Assamesse in  19th May, 1961 struggle

A study of history of Barak Valley, both of ancient and modern times, thus acquires importance in the light of the never ending saga of linguistic aggression.Barak Valley in Assam, consisting three districts, Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi, a geographical area of about 6922 sq., k.m., (according to the census of 2001) is situated between Longitude 92°15" and 93°15" East and Latitude 24°8" and 25°8" North. The valley constitutes 8.9 per cent of the geographical area of of Assam; contains 11.22 percent of the population (2001 census). The North Cachar Hills district and the state of Meghalaya in its north, Mizoram in the south, Manipur in the east, and the state of Tripura and the Sylhet district of Bangladesh in the west of the valley The valley has an undulating topography characterized by hills, hillocks, wide plains, and low-lying water bodies, locally known as beels, some of which, however, dry up in the winter, termed as howers. Most of the hills have a north-south spread interspersed by the strips of plains. The land is alluvial, and is naturally fertile.The principal river, Barak origins from Angami Naga Hills in Manipur, and travels in curved route cutting through the heart of Cachar district, reaches Haritikar in Kathigora revenue circle to be divided into two branches, Surma and Kushira to flow in Bangladesh in separate streams. Kushira, however, flows in Karimganj and forms the natural border of India and Bangladesh. Jiri, Chri, Madhura, Jatinga, Dhalesweri, Ghagra, Katakhal, Longai, Shingla, Sonai are the major rivers in Barak Valley.Barail, Bhuban, Panchgram, Chatacherra, Mohonpur, Saraspur are the major hills with numerous hillocks in their vicinities.
The climate of Barak valley is sub-tropical, warm and humid. The average rainfall is 3180 mm with average rainy days of 146 per annum (data furnished by the Regional Agricultural Research Station, Karimganj). The rainfall is caused by the South-west monsoon, which begins in the early June to continue up to October. The valley, however experience pre-monsoon rainfall in the month of March and April This plain track of Barak valley is a geographical extension of Gangetic Bengal. The valley is predominantly inhabited by the Indo-Aryan population, and the demography is formed in early times by integrating the Indo-Mongoloid, Austric and other non-Aryan ethnic groups in a long historical process.The Geo-political map of the valley has been subjected to changes at the whims of the colonial British. Prior to its annexation to the British territory (1832, 14 August), however, Cachar was an independent kingdom ruled by the royal family of the Dimasa (from 1745). Having the kingdom annexed the colonists had placed Cachar under Dacca Division of Bengal Presidency (1836). Initially Cachar (the core area of the present Barak Valley) emerged as a ‘province’ to be degraded to the status of a district under Bengal presidency. When Assam was constituted into a separate state in 1874 Cachar was transferred to it (along with Sylhet), although geographically, historically and culturally it represented a distinct region. At the dawn of independence the Sylhet portion was transferred to East Pakistan, and Cachar formed a part of the state of Assam separated form the mainland by the Barail Hill range. With the formation of two more districts truncating Cachar, the area in the south of Assam is collectively termed as Barak valley.

My Sylheti Bengali ,My People Uproated from Their  Native Land, still is the only race or
 community in India to  “Fight for Their Own Mother Tounge”. Barak Valley is a rather newish christening for erstwhile Cachar district. This tract of land in the southern periphery of Assam is home to around 4 million populations a massive eighty percent of whom are Bengali speaking spread over the three districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi.Language, it is a known fact, is the Achilles’ Hill in the whole of the North-East India where the process of building sub-nationality has, for the last one hundred years or so, veered around language apart from ethnicity. The historical sequence started with the assertion of Assamese nationalism during the dawn of the twentieth century which was pitted against the Bengali speaking community out of paranoia. The British colonial design was the mastermind behind sowing the seeds of anti-Bengali sentiments among the Assamese middle class. Economic factors further aggravated the deprivation theory which continued through out the remaining part of the pre-colonial and also well into the post-colonial Assam.
The fear psychosis that the Bengali domination would not only close the avenues of employment for the Assamese youth, but, more than that, would surely destroy the Assamese language and culture drove the political rulers of Assam to take anti-Bengali steps on numerous occasions. And the worst of it happened in 1960 when the Assam Government passed the nefarious Official Language Act making Assamese the only official State language other than English. The people of the then Cachar district went all out in protest against this Act the provisions of which they rightly felt would deprive them of their legitimate linguistic right. It was a mass upsurge and the chauvinist Assam Government came down heavily on the democratic movement in a violent way. Situation went to a grave pass when on 19 May 1961 police resorted to firing on unarmed Satyagrahis in Silchar Railway Station that left eleven people dead one among them being a woman, Kamala Bhattacharjee. Incidentally, she was the first woman language martyr of the world. In the face of more intensified democratic agitation aided by popular support from all over the country the Assam Government finally yielded. In that year itself suitable amendment was brought in to the Official Language Act 1960 accommodating Bengali as the official language for the whole of Cachar district.
But, unfortunately, the xenophobic mindset of the State Government did not change and, as a result, clandestine designs of infringing on the linguistic right of the Bengali of Assam have remained unabated in the State. On 17 August 1972, one more language activist laid down life in Karimganj in protest against the circular of Gauhati University which sought to make Assamese the only medium of instruction in the State colleges.On 21 July 1986 two more brave souls sacrificed their lives in Karimganj during an agitation programme protesting against the draconian Board of Secondary Education of Assam circular which struck down Bengali as one of the media of instruction in the State school education.On 16 March 1996, one woman activist embraced martyrdom in the Valley for the cause of her mother tongue, Bishnupriya Manipuri.This holy territory of Barak Valley thus has a glorious tradition of language movement spanning a half-a-century period. This protest culture is perhaps the only way to cherish the plural and multi-cultural fabric of the State of Assam.

The martyrs of 19th May, 1961 First Ever Language struggle in India-Shoot Dead on Spot:

Birendra Sutadhar-Great Martyard in Language Movement in Barak Valley, 19 May 1961

Chadicharan Sutradhar-a martyr of 19th May, 1961 struggle

Heetesh Biswas -a martyr of 19th May, 1961 struggle

Hijom Irabot Singh, a Nationalist turned Communist -a martyr of 19th May, 1961 struggle

Kamala Bhattacharjee-Great Martyard in Language Movement in Barak Valley, 19 May 1961

Kanailal Neogi -a martyr of 19th May, 1961 struggle

Kumud Ranjan Das -a martyr of 19th May, 1961 struggle

Sachinrda Paul -a martyr of 19th May, 1961 struggle

Sattenrda Deb -a martyr of 19th May, 1961 struggle

Sukomol Purkayastha, a martyr of 19th May, 1961 struggle

Sunil Sarkar -a martyr of 19th May, 1961 struggle

-by  MRIDUL NANDY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 


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