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World’s first female language martyr: Kamala Bhattacharya

11 March, 2022 15:48:49
 World’s first female language martyr: Kamala Bhattacharya

The Assam saga continues….

A general strike was called in the towns of Karimganj, Hailakandi, and Silchar in the Barak Valley from May 18 to demand restoration of the rights of Bengali language. Silent gatherings and picketing began. Numerous Bengali youths from all sections of the society joined the Satyagrah movement to press for their demands. Rail and road blockades at Silchar brought traffic to a standstill.

The Assam government took stern steps to curb the movement and deployed paramilitary forces across the Barak Valley to repress the agitators. People were arrested and imprisoned at random. Sixteen-year-old Kamala Bhattacharya’s matriculation exams had just gotten over and on May 19 she was all set to join the group of protesters who had organized picketing in Silchar railway station demanding Bangla as the medium of education. Kamala wanted to study further and complete her graduation. She was keen to learn typewriting as well, a professional skill that would ensure a good job for her in the future and guarantee a better life for the cash-strapped large family. Her eldest sister was a nursing trainee and another sister, Pratibha was a school teacher and shouldered the financial responsibility of the family.

On the day of the incident, that is, May 19, 1961, Kamala took her bath and draped her elder sister Pratibha’s saree, and prepared to go and join the picketers. Her elder sister warned her of possible dangers. In the meantime, a group of 20-22 girls came to their house on Public School Road in Silchar, to accompany her.  The girls eased her mother, Supravasini Devi's concerns and took Kamala along with them. Kamala's mother gave her a piece of cloth to defend herself from teargas. Kamala's younger sister Mangala, younger brother Bakul and her nephew Bappa too, accompanied the group.

The agitators continued their strike across Kachar district. They all shouted the same slogan 'Jaan Debo, Tabu Jaban Debo Na' (We will give our lives but not our language), 'Matribhasha Zindabad' (Long live mother Language). On May 19, the rail blockade programme passed off peacefully in the morning. In the afternoon, soldiers of Assam Rifles began to arrive at the railway station and started arresting the protesters. In retaliation, the agitated demonstrators set fire to a truck. Immediately, around 2:35 pm, the paramilitary police started beating the protesters with rifle butts and batons without any provocation from them. Hit by the police, Kamala's younger sister Mangala fell on the ground and began crying for help. The police had opened fire on the protesters by then. As Kamala rushed to the rescue of her sister, a bullet pierced through her eye and hit her head. Kamala was taken to hospital where she died.

In one day, 11 Bengali youths were killed in the firing and Kamala Bhattacharya was the first and the youngest girl in the world who became a martyr fighting for the right to recognition of Bengali as mother tongue.

Kamala was born to Ramraman Bhattacharya and Suprabasini Devi, the fifth of seven children in 1945 in the erstwhile Sylhet district. In their family, they were three sons and four daughters. She was the third of four daughters, having a younger sister and a younger brother. Their family had to struggle through many hardships after she lost her father early in her childhood. During Partition, the district of Sylhet acceded to Pakistan on the basis of Sylhet referendum. In the 1950 East Pakistan genocide, hundreds of Hindus were killed in Sylhet and the Bhattacharya family migrated to Silchar and Cachhar district. 

Kamala started schooling at Chhotelal Seth Institute in Silchar. Unable to afford books, she borrowed books from her peers and continued her studies. She was a spirited girl who was open to taking up challenges. She had dreams that remained elusive. Adolescent Kamala died in the Barak Valley Language Movement. Her name appears right on top of the language martyrs of Barak Valley along with Sachindra Mohan Pal, Kanailal Niyogi, Kumud Das, Tarani Debnath, Hitesh Biswas, Chandicharan Sutradhar, Sunil Sarkar, Sukomal Purkayastha, Birendra Sutradhar, and Satyendra Kumar Deb. 

Silchar Public School Road where the Bhattacharya family lived in a rented apartment has been changed to Kamala Bhattacharya Road. In 2011, a bronze bust of Kamala Bhattacharya was unveiled in the premises of Chhotelal Seth Institute under the aegis of Shahid Kamala Bhattacharya Murti Sthapan Committee.

(Translated by TTW)

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