“We just want justice and what is perforce our right.” These words are a part of a longer statement made by Karmavir Nabin Chandra Bordoloi in response to a speech by Sir Henry Cotton in 1900. Cotton was the Chief Commissioner of Assam then, and as a part of his speech, he had reinforced the idea of the province as ‘the Cinderella of India,’ a poor girl waiting for her prince charming. Bordoloi, offended at this, insisted that the people of Assam were not waiting to be rescued and only wanted what was rightfully theirs.
Nabin Chandra Bordoloi was born in the Kamrup District of Assam in 1875. His father, Madhab Chandra Bordoloi, worked with the Assam administration and was able to provide his son with a life of comfort. In the late 19th century, Nabin Chandra Bordoloi went to Calcutta to pursue his education in Law and in the early 20th century, he started practising as a lawyer. However, Bordoloi wore many hats and went beyond the demands of his profession. His interest and devotion in developing Assam as an educational and cultural hub can be understood from his pioneering role in establishing the Earle Law College in Guwahati in the early 20th century. He is also said to have donated land for cultural purposes in the city, such as for the construction of the Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir. This structure was built in 1912 and developed as an important centre for theatre and other performing arts in Assam.
Bordoloi joined the Assam Association in the early 20th century, marking the beginning of his political journey. As part of a delegation on behalf of the Association, Bordoloi went to England in 1919, with the sole aim of arguing for the inclusion of Assam in the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, wherein a gradual introduction of self-government in India was being planned. The success of this visit and the inclusion of Assam in the new administrative scheme brought much prestige and accolades to Bordoloi.
Nabin Chandra Bordoloi’s association with the Indian National Congress started formally with its Nagpur session in 1920. Thereafter, Bordoloi took the initiative of furthering the activities of the Congress in Assam and mobilising people for the Non-Cooperation Movement. For his involvement and activism during this time and later again in the 1930s, Bordoloi was imprisoned and underwent harsh treatment by the British. Before his demise in 1936, Bordoloi held various important positions in the Indian National Congress. He was the General Secretary of the reception committee of the Pandu session of Congress in 1926, the General Secretary of the District Congress Committee and so on. Additionally, he served as a member of the Guwahati Local Board and the Indian Legislative Assembly. Besides his role as a political activist, Bordoloi was also a notable writer and translator. He has to his credit, songs, dramas, a novel Sewali, his translation of Shakespeare’s plays from English to Assamese, and many more. In most of his works, patriotism was the important underlying theme. His dedication, perseverance, and hard work earned him the popular title Karmavir.
Nabin Chandra Bordoloi led an illustrious life devoted to the cause of India’s independence. He strongly propagated the use of Khadi and advocated the principle of non-violence through his activism and lifestyle. His relentless fight for the freedom of the country and his love for the Assamese language made him a popular political and literary figure in Assam.