FOR TWO years now, Krishna Kanta Sarma has written to the district magistrate, municipal chairman and others for repairing the sewer outside his house. His letters have literally gone down the drain.
Sarma, 90, expected this. He had waited 10 years for a primary health centre at his birthplace Kendukona, 40km west of Guwahati, to come up despite facilitating land and ensuring funds. “If independence means inefficiency and corruption-corroded progress, maybe we shouldn’t have fought the British,” he says.
Sarma is among the last of the freedom fighters in a state that refuses to get out of the ‘quit India’ mode. The 1942 movement against the British evolved into a seemingly unending stir against another set of foreigners – Bangladeshis – running parallel to the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom’s struggle against ‘colonial India’.
“Checking illegal migrants is a bigger battle than removing the Raj. But something that is more dangerous is the evil in the system and the resultant rot that has set in. The way things are today, I just can’t help comparing the administrative acumen of the British and their post-1947 successors,” he says.
Rebellion ran in Sarma’s family. His father Umanath Sarma, a Congress worker, ran volunteer camps from Kendukona, arguably the hub of the freedom movement in Assam. His father also organised Mahatma Gandhi’s first visit to Assam in 1931. “His visit to our village was inspirational for so many of us,” Sarma says.
The peak period of Sarma’s rebellion was from 1939-1942 when he was in high school in Guwahati. “That was the time when our anti-War (WW2) campaign coincided with the students’ movement and culminated in Quit India days after we passed out. We resumed studies after a year because our leaders said we needed to focus on academics,” he says.
But the British would not allow the ‘sangrami’ students into colleges unless they gave an undertaking not to revolt ever. This made Gopinath Bardoloi, who went to become Assam’s first chief minister, establish B Barooah College in 1943 primarily for anti-British students. “I feel proud to have been among the first batch,” he says. Graduation in history came in the historic year – 1947.
Sarma, a Gandhian, recalls how moderates like him helped hardliners set fire to military camps, sabotage a British bid to build an air force base at Sorbhog (west Assam), blow up bridges and derail trains loaded with petroleum and vital minerals. “We also imprisoned traitors and informers of the British in schoolrooms, letting them out on condition that they would not turn against their own people,” he says.
Sarma, who retired as a chief personnel officer of a state-run fertiliser plant, attributes the discipline and simplicity in his life to the freedom struggle, and to his wife Hemalata Devi, 80, who bore him five daughters. “Strangely where nothing moves without bribe, I have never had problem with the freedom fighters’ pension,” he says.
But Sarma hopes those in a position to change things would show more respect to freedom fighters than lavishing attention on them for a few hours on two days – August 15 and January 26. “Perhaps they don’t have time for people who are as endangered as my (Assam type cottage, being fast replaced by multi-storeyed) house,” he says.
(A truncated version of this appeared in Hindustan Times)