Monday, July 15, 2024

Kanaklata Barua: The Teenage Martyr of India’s Freedom Struggle

Priyal Dholakia (Assistant Editor)

“You do your duty, and I will do mine.”

With eyes lit with dreams of freedom, a young Kanaklata, barely 17 years old, resounded these powerful words as she marched unarmed to unfurl the Indian tricolour.

Great stories and enduring legacies from India’s past are indeed plentiful. The fight for freedom, in particular, was able to bring legends from all corners of the country to the fore. But the tales of many of these legends remain unsung and do not find their way into the popular narrative. Among them is the story of Kanaklata Barua, a teenage martyr who gave her life for the sake of India’s freedom.

Kanaklata, who was born in Assam in 1924, was not even out of her teens yet when martyrdom came calling. She did not think twice before laying down her life for the freedom of her motherland at the mere age of 17 years old. By doing so, Kanaklata emerged as one of the youngest freedom fighters on Indian soil. With her undying courage and bravery, she has carved her indelible name on the pages of history. And here is her story:

Kanaklata’s early life

Though her ancestry dates back to the erstwhile Ahom kingdom, her origins were humble. Her father worked as a farmer in a small village named Barangabari in the Sonitpur district of Assam. Kanaklata’s struggles started when she was a kid. She lost both of her parents when she was only five years old. Due to this, she had to fend for herself and look after her siblings without any family support. But her life’s initial setbacks planted the seed of responsibility in her at a very young age.

Kanaklata’s role in the freedom struggle

Kanaklata’s sense of responsibility soon blossomed into a strong patriotic spirit. She began participating in many freedom initiatives. She was keen to join the Azad Hind Fauj as well, but unfortunately could not do so due to her minor age. Later, she joined the Mrityu Bahini and rose to become the leader of the Bahini’s female cadres.

Kanaklata’s saga of martyrdom

Kanaklata joined a group of freedom fighters in 1942 and took an active part in the Quit India Movement. There was a resolution in the movement to hoist the national flag on all courts and police stations. That was because the public saw courts and police stations as symbols of British pride.

Kanaklata participated in various protests as part of this movement. In one such protest, she was leading the Mrityu Bahini members to the Gohpur Police Station. As she was surging ahead, holding the tricolour in her hand, fate took its turn. The British police opened fire on all the protesting freedom fighters. During the firing, one of the bullets hit Kanaklata, wounding her completely. She succumbed to her injuries soon after and breathed her last. As her final act of patriotism, she held the Indian tricolour in her dying hand and furled it with unflinching pride.

Kanaklata’s legacy lives on. 

To honour her selfless sacrifice, the Government of India named a coast guard ship after her in 2020. Her narrative was retold in Chandra Mudoi’s film, Epaah Phulil Epaah Xoril. In 2017, the Hindi version of the film, titled Purab Ki Awaz, was also released.

Kanaklata Baruah continues to be a source of pride, not only for the people of Assam but for the whole country. Her indomitable courage will serve as an inspiration for generations to come. We can say that legends like her do indeed give glory to death. She met death in the prime of her life and embraced it with grace. The annals of time will forever etch her name in golden ink.

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