Context: The North East Regional Centre (NERC) of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (INGCA) staged Malati Mem, a multilingual play based on the life and the revolutionary zeal of Mangri Orang, an Adivasi with roots in central India. The theatrical production, was an initiative to showcase the life and contributions of the icons of the northeast on the national stage.
About Mangri Orang:
- Mangri Orang (Malati Mem) is said to be the first female martyr of India’s freedom movement.
- She was a tea plantation worker and became one of the leading members of the anti-opium campaign in tea gardens and in 1921, while participating in the non-cooperation movement.
- She was killed by government supporters for supporting Congress Volunteers in prohibition campaign against foreign liquor and opium.
Non cooperation movement in the region:
- The erstwhile district of Darang formed an integral part of Assam during the colonial period. It has a long history of freedom struggle and has a larger share to the success of India’s national war of independence.
- The Non-Cooperation movement (NCM), was the first organized mass movement that the district had ever seen and thus laid the ground for strong mass agitation in the subsequent period.
- About NCM:
- Great unrest prevailed in India during the closing year of World War I.
- The Rowlat Act, the Jalianwala Bagh massacre, the Martial Law clamped in the Punjab, failure of the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms which were announced towards the end of 1918 and the dismemberment of Turkey by the British following the Treaty of Severs in May 1920, created widespread resentment among all the sections of the people of India.
- A resolution supporting the programme of non-violent non-cooperation was passed in the special session the Congress at Calcutta and same was adopted in the plenary session at Nagpur (1920).
- The most remarkable feature of the Non-Cooperation Movement in Assam was its intense mass appeal.
- Following the decision of the All-India Students’ Conference held at Nagpur, 1920, the students of Assam launched a strong movement for boycott of educational institutions and of foreign goods, propagation of khaddar and swadeshi and picketing of liquor and opium shops.
- Students and teachers moved from village to village propagating the message of non – cooperation and explaining to the people the evil effects of opium-eating.
- In Darrang district the movement was led by Chandranath Sarma and Lakshmidhar Sarma who organized several meetings in places like Orang. Lakshmidhar Sarma helped some students to picket a shop dealing in liquors.
- Mangri alias Malati Mam of tea garden community was initially angry for being prevented from buying liquors, but soon she realised to know about the harmful effect of liquor, and that the buying of foreign liquor meant perpetuation of slavery. She gave up the habit of consumption of liquor forever. The incident had a deep impact on her which inspired her to participate actively in the movement with the result that she later lost her life at the hands of police.
- Non-Cooperation movement prepared the ground for protesting against the British rule in an organized way. Peasants, laborers, women and all other sections of the society started to express their agony. The strategy of ‘not to cooperate’ the British Government, which was the main principle of the Non-Cooperation Movement, continued to be adopted by the people of Assam.
About Tea Garden Community:
- They are officially referred to as Tea-tribes by the government of Assam and notified as Other Backward Classes (OBC).
- They are the descendants of peoples from multiple tribal and caste groups brought by the British colonial planters as indentured labourers from the regions of present-day Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh into colonial Assam during the 1860-90s in multiple phases to work in tea gardens.
- They speak multiple languages including Sadri, Sambalpuri, Kurmali, Gondi and Mundari.
- Assam Sadri, distinguished from the Sadri language, serves as lingua franca among the community.
- A sizeable section of the community, particularly those having Scheduled Tribe status in other states of India and living mainly in the village areas other than tea gardens, prefers to call themselves “Adivasi” and are known by that term in Assam, whereas the Scheduled Tribes of Assam are known as Tribe.
- They have been demanding Scheduled Tribe status in Assam, but the tribal organization of Assam is against it.
British Rule in Assam (1826-1947), refers to the period in the history of Assam between the signing of the Treaty of Yandabo and the Independence of India when Assam was under British colonial rule.
British annexation of Assam:
- The region that came to be known as undivided Goalpara district came under British rule after the transfer of the Diwani from the Mughal Emperor, Shah Alam II in 1765.
- The First Anglo-Burmese War commenced in 1824, the British occupied Guwahati, when the Raja of Darrang (a tributary of the Ahom kingdom) and some petty chieftains submitted themselves to the British, who made rudimentary administrative by 1824.
- In the war against the Burmese the Ahoms did not help the British.
- In 1828, the Kachari kingdom was annexed under the Doctrine of Lapse after the king Govinda Chandra was killed.
- By 1832, the British increased their influence over and in 1833, upper Assam became a British protectorate under the erstwhile ruler of the Ahom kingdom, Purandhar Singha, and in 1838 the region was formally annexed into the British empire.
Bengal Presidency (1826–1873):
Assam was included as a part of the Bengal Presidency. The annexation of upper Assam is attributed to the successful manufacture of tea in 1837, and the beginning of the Assam Company in 1839.
Chief Commissioner’s Province (1874–1905):
- In 1874 Assam proper, Cachar, Goalpara and the Hill districts were instituted as a separate province, primarily on a long-standing demand from the tea planters.
- Also known as North-East Frontier, its status was upgraded to a Chief Commissioner’s Province, a non-regulation province, with the capital at Shillong.
- Assamese, which had been replaced in 1837 by Bengali, was reinstated alongside Bengali as the official language.
- Sylhet was separated from the Bengal Presidency and added to the new province.
- The people of Sylhet submitted a memorandum to the Viceroy protesting the inclusion in Assam.
- The protests subsided when the Viceroy, Lord Northbrook, visited Sylhet to reassure the people that education and justice would be administered from Bengal, and when the people in Sylhet saw the opportunity of employment in tea estates in Assam and a market for their produce.
- The new administration effected a policy of migrations: tea laborers into tea estates and agriculturalists from East Bengal into Assam ignoring history and culture of peoples.
Eastern Bengal and Assam under Lt. Governor (1906–19):
- Bengal was partitioned and East Bengal was added to the Chief Commissioner’s Province of Eastern Bengal and Assam.
- The new region under Lt. Governor, had its capital at Dhaka.
- This province had a 15-member legislative council in which Assam had two seats.
- The members for these seats were recommended (not elected) by rotating groups of public bodies.
- The Partition of Bengal was strongly protested in Bengal, and the people of Assam were not in support of partition either.
- The partition was finally annulled by an imperial decree in 1911, announced by the King-Emperor at the Delhi Durbar.
Assam Legislative Council (1912–1920):
- The administrative unit was once again made in to a Chief Commissioner’s Province (Assam plus Sylhet), with a Legislative Council added and Assam Province was created.
- As Assam became involved in the Non-cooperation movement, the Assam Association slowly transformed itself into the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee.
- Under the Government of India Act 1919 the Assam Legislative Council membership was increased to 53, of which 33 were elected by special constituencies.
- The powers of the council were increased too; but in effect, the official group, consisting of the Europeans, the nominated members etc. had the most influence.
Assam Legislative Assembly (1937–1947):
- Under the Government of India Act 1935, the council was expanded into an assembly of 108 members, with even more powers.