Assam has been at the forefront of India’s freedom struggle. Heroic narratives of courage, perseverance, resilience, and passion for the Motherland are found in the annals of the history of India’s freedom struggle in Assam. One such story is about Krishna Nath Sarmah, a freedom fighter and social reformer of the early 20th century.
He was known for his selflessness, compassion, and spirit of sacrifice. He joined renowned freedom fighters like Gopinath Bordoloi, Nabin Chandra Bordoloi, and Tarun Ram Phukan in the freedom struggle in Assam.
Krishna Nath was born in 1887, in a town called Jorhat in Assam, in an orthodox family. After graduating in both Science and Law, he started his legal practice in 1917. Interestingly, he was referred to as Krishna Mama (uncle), as, right from his student days his thoughts, words, and actions reflected a lot of maturity and clarity.
He was a true Gandhian at heart as he was deeply inspired by Gandhiji’s work. Krishna Nath was witness to the depravities of the British regime. An issue that plagued him was the widespread addiction to opium across Assam. In the late 18th and 19th centuries, the sepoys of the East India Company introduced opium in order to popularise the cultivation of poppy in the region. With opium addiction ravaging the state, Krishna Nath worked alongside other freedom fighters and politicians like Kuladhar Chaliha and Rohini Kumar to stem the spread of opium consumption. They relentlessly fought for the total prohibition of its usage. Ultimately his perseverance paid off, and he won this battle.
Gandhiji’s call to remove untouchability motivated Krishna Nath to take up their cause. A namghar is a prayer house found all over Assam. On 18 April 1934, Gandhiji visited the Jorhat town in Upper Assam and opened Krishna Nath’s family namghar for the Harijans to eat and pray. After this noble gesture of allowing the Harijans access, the common man referred to him as Harijan Bandhu. Though Krishna Nath’s family was ostracized by society for more than a decade for this act, it never really affected him. Gandhiji complimented him for his fearless attitude by saying, “Valiant soldiers like Krishna Nath never care to face any odds”. Gandhiji held him in very high regard. After this historic day, Krishna Nath went on to open 12 schools for the Harijans. His fight for India’s freedom did not end with this. He walked with Gandhiji during the historic Dandi March, and he also worked tirelessly to promote the usage of Khadi.
Krishna Nath never backed down from showing his resentment and courted arrest on numerous occasions for his anti-British stance. 02 October 1942 in Jorhat, was marked as ‘Soldier’s Day’. The day was uniquely commemorated with the garlanding of guns. Krishna Nath with a garland in his hand, led a huge procession through the town. Though they were stopped en route by military personnel, he calmly explained the purpose of their march and then took the soldiers unawares by garlanding the gun in their possession. Despite the non-violent nature of his protest, Krishna Nath was arrested for this act.
His unique methods of showing dissent resulted in his repeated arrests, which ultimately took a toll on his health. Krishna Nath Sarmah passed away a few months before India became an independent nation in 1947.