Before Mangal Pandey there was Gomadhar Konwar.
But historical oversight robbed the latter, an Ahom royal, of his rightful place as India’s first freedom hero. So claims a committee celebrating the birth bicentenary of Konwar, who was never heard of after the British exiled him to Kalapani in the Andaman Islands in 1828.
The claim, though, isn’t likely to amuse the United Liberation Front of Asom. The outfit asserts Assam was historically never a part of India, and its chairman Rajib Rajkonwar alias Arabinda Rajkhowa hails from the same village – Ujani Konwargaon in eastern Assam’s Sivasagar district – as Gomadhar Konwar did.
“After the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826, British annexed Assam. A year later, Konwar brought nine tribes together, declared himself king, established his fort at Nakachari Rajabari (25 km east of the central Assam town of Jorhat) and revolted against the British on January 29, 1857. He was caught and exiled around June 1828, but history ignored him barring a passing reference in a publication of the Assam government,” said Jintu Hazarika, secretary of Gomadhar Konwar Birth Bicentenary Celebration Committee.
The birth centenary celebration had begun in 2007. The concluding function starts on Thursday at Nakachari Rajabari, where Konwar’s fort is in ruins on a 323-acre land villagers have claimed over the years.
“Our basic objective is to undo the historical wrong. We have nothing against Mangal Pandey, but fact is he became a martyr in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, and that’s a good 30 years after Konwar’s sacrifice for the motherland,” said committee member Ripal Barchetia.
The committee has also undertaken a project to assign scholars to find out what happened to Konwar after he was made to sail on the river Brahmaputra from Neamatighat (14 km north of Jorhat) to Kalapani. Assamese historian KN Dutta’s Landmarks of Freedom Struggle in Assam, however, says Konwar was kept in a jail in Bengal.
According to Hazarika, a 33-page sanchipat (strips of wooden bark) diary maintained by Konwar’s cellmate Mokham Barua helped unearth some facts about the freedom hero. The diary, written in the Tai script, was recovered from Amguri Deodhai village near Rajabari in 2000. Translated into Assamese by Amguri Deodhai-based Tai language teacher Mridul Phukan, the diary has been digitized.
Gomadhar Konwar belonged to the Dihingiya royal clan of the Ahoms, who ruled Assam for over 600 years to record one of the longest dynastic rules in history. His father was Siddheswar Khenakowar, an Ahom military head.