Tarun Ram Phukan was born on 22 January 1877 in Assam. He was popularly called Deshbhakta, as he was a patriot who wore his love for his country on his sleeve. After his schooling at the Cotton Collegiate School in Guwahati and his higher studies at the Presidency College in Calcutta, he went to London where he studied Law and earned a Bar-at-Law degree. Phukan then returned to India and served as a lecturer at Earle Law College in Guwahati. Inspired by Gandhiji, Phukan gave up his practice to join the national freedom movement.
In 1920, Phukan joined the Congress and played a prominent role in the formation of the Assam division of the party. In 1921, when Gandhiji first visited Assam, Phukan was his trusted companion. Phukan joined the Non-cooperation movement and travelled through the length and breadth of Assam, delivering Gandhiji’s message. He was eventually arrested and imprisoned for a year by the British authorities for his participation in the Non-cooperation movement. In 1926, Phukan played a big role in organising the All-India Congress Committee session at Pandu, Guwahati. All the prominent national leaders like Gandhiji, Motilal Nehru, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel, Madan Mohan Malaviya, and many others were a part of this session. Gandhi stayed at Phukan’s house in Bharalumukh and performed the bideshi bostro dah jagya (burning of foreign goods). Phukan became a prominent figure of the Swadeshi Movement in Assam, and he popularized the use of Khadi.
For Phukan, it was important to educate those around him about the independence movement. Being a staunch supporter of women’s empowerment, he encouraged them to come out of their homes and take up active roles in national activities. In 1921, when Gandhi held meetings at Phukan’s house, several women, including his wife took part in the meetings. Not just did they boycott made-in-Britain goods, several women began to spin and weave indigenous cloth. They also took the initiative to make 500 khadi caps for Congress workers to be worn during Gandhi’s visit. In other places, women from rural villages joined hands to spread the message of non-cooperation.
In 1921, the workers of the Assam-Bengal Railways and steam workers of East Bengal went on an indefinite strike to protest the British government's persecution of the Chandpur plantation labourers. Tarun Ram Phukan who, at that time, was very active politically tried his best to broaden the strike across the Assam-Bengal Railways' Brahmaputra Valley line. A group of young Congressmen, including Nabin Chandra Bardoloi and others, aided him in this endeavour. They maintained ties with Bengali nationalist leaders such as C R Das and J M Sengupta, who were the front liners in the Bengal strike. Despite the strike being riddled with obstacles in its course, Phukan and his acquaintances strived to inspire and ensure that the morale of the workers was always high.
Phukan was a visionary. However, he was not always perceived that way. Like most freedom fighters of his time, this deshbhataka did not get the recognition he deserved for the magnitude of work he did for the country. His efforts at consolidating and enforcing nationalistic fervour have not been widely mentioned in literature. To honour him, keep the memory of his selflessness and spirit of patriotism alive, and enlighten the younger generation, every year on 28 July the State Government of Assam commemorates his death anniversary as Deshbhakti Divas.