Kushal Konwar was an Assamese freedom fighter and the only martyr of the Quit India movement in India. He was a true patriot and follower of Gandhian philosophy of non-violence. Though he was not directly involved, British hanged Kushal Konwar in relation to the famous Sarupathar derailment of October 10, 1942.
Kushal Konwar was born in 21 March 1905 at Balijan near Sarupathar in the modern District of Golaghat in Assam. His family descended from the royal family of Sutiya kingdom and used the surname “Boruah”, which was later abandoned.
The famous historian Surjyakanta Khanikar writes that, the ancestors of Kushal Konwar can be traced back to the last king of Sutiya kingdom, Dhirnarayan.
Dhirnarayan had three brothers of whom Kasitora was killed in battle. The other two brothers, Namsing and Kapurtara, managed to flee. Later, when the Ahom king found them, he settled them in Gojpur.
Namsing and Kapurtora had seven sons in total, out of which two died at an early age. The remaining ones were displaced to different regions within the kingdom so that they could not rebel in future.
The first one was settled in Tarajan, Jorhat, the second in Charingia, Jorhat, the third in Bosa Pathar, Titabar, the others in Amguri and Nagaon respectively.
The family which was settled in Bosa pathar later migrated to Gontho koroi village of Sarupathar in Golaghat district. Kushal konwar belonged to this line of the family.
Kushal attended the Bezbaruah School. In 1921, while still at school he was inspired by Gandhiji’s call for a non-cooperation movement and took an active part in it. Inspired by Gandhiji’s ideals of Swaraj, Truth and Ahimsa, Konwar set up a primary school at Bengmai and served as its honorary teacher.
Later, he joined the Balijan Tea Estate as a clerk where he worked for a while.However, the spirit of independence and call of Mahatma Gandhi inspired him to dedicate himself wholeheartedly in the Independence Movement. He organised the Congress party and lead the people of Sarupathar area in Satyagraha and non-cooperation movement against the British. He was elected the President of the Sarupathar Congress Committee.
On 8 August 1942 the Congress Working Committee in its meeting in Bombay passed the “Quit India” resolution. This resolution demanded complete withdrawal of the British from the India’s soil.
Mahatma Gandhi gave the call of “do or die” to the people of India. The British reacted by arresting Mahatma and all the Congress leaders and putting them in jails. Across India, this sparked a widespread mass movement against the British. Cutting across caste, creed, and religion people came out to the streets shouting the slogan of “Vande Mataram”.
Some people of Assam also spontaneously joined this historic movement of 1942. Two of the leaders of the Assam Pradesh Congress, Gopinath Bordoloi and Siddhinath Sarma were arrested by the British in Dhubri while returning from Bombay attending the Congress Working Committee meeting.
Other Congress leaders such as Bishnuram Medhi, Bimala Prasad Chaliha, Md. Tayebulla, Omeo Kumar Das, Debeswar Sarma, etc., were arrested from different parts of Assam and thrown into jails. Assam too burned like the rest of India and many people leaving the path of nonviolence, we’re forced to engage in violence.
On 10 October 1942, hidden in the thick fog of early morning, some people removed few sleepers of the railway line near Sarupathar in Golaghat district.
A Military train passing by derailed and many British and American soldiers lost their lives. The British army immediately cordoned the area and started an operation to catch the culprits.
Innocent people of the area were rounded up, beaten and harassed. The British police participated in this reign of terror in which people were beaten up and arrested.
Accusing Kushal Konwar as the chief conspirator of the train sabotage, the British police arrested him. An ardent follower of Gandhiji and his principle of nonviolence, Kushal was ignorant about the sabotage plan and action. He was innocent but the police charged him as the mastermind of the train sabotage. He was brought from Golaghat and was lodged in the Jorhat jail on 5 November 1942.
In the Court of CM Humphrey, Kushal Konwar was declared guilty, though there was not a single proof against him.
Kushal was sentenced to death by hanging. He accepted the verdict with dignity. When his wife, Prabhavati visited him in the Jorhat jail, he told her that he is proud that God has selected him to be the only one among the thousands of prisoners to give the supreme sacrifice for the country. Kushal spent his remaining days in the death row cell of Jorhat jail in prayers and reading the Gita.
At dawn on 15 June 1943 at 4:30 am, Kushal Konwar was hanged in Jorhat Jail.
Kushal Konwar married Prabhawati while young and had two sons, Khagen and Nagen. Both sons have died. His late elder son Khagen Konwar had a wife, five sons and five daughters who still live in Assam. The late Nagen Konwar’s family of wife and two sons are also live in Guwahati.
Dr Sindhu Prashanth