India’s freedom struggle would not have been quite the same without the involvement of women. There were numerous women who in their own unique way, contributed to the freedom movement. Twelve-year-old Tileswari Barua was one such, for she exemplified the belief that women are capable of standing up for themselves, fighting for their country's freedom, and are willing to pay any price for it. The eldest born child of Bhabhakanta Barua, a farmer of modest means, she was born in the village of Nij-Borgaon in the Dhekiajuli district in Assam. From a very young age, Tileswari was influenced by the patriotic songs sung by the leaders involved in the freedom struggle.
Tileswari Barua joined the 1942 Quit India Movement wholeheartedly. Gandhiji was one person who motivated women to participate in the Quit India Movement, for he believed their temperament made them ideal for the cause. Many of these women became members of what was then known as the Mrityu Bahini (a death/suicide squad), and were prepared to sacrifice their lives while attempting to hoist the national flag atop police stations. Just 12 years old, the fearless Tileswari Barua joined the Mrityu Bahini. As part of the Movement, processions of freedom fighters marched to hoist flags in the colonial police stations. Songs composed by Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, popularly called the Rupwonkar of Assamese culture, were sung by the ‘satyagrahis’.
On 20 September 1942, Monbor Nath led the Mrityu Bahini to the Dhekiajuli Police Station. He defied the orders of the police officer and attempted to hoist the flag by climbing atop the police station. He was immediately gunned down, and other volunteers in the squad too were attacked. Tileswari Barua was part of the procession, and in the indiscriminate firing, she was shot. The volunteers picked up her profusely bleeding body and placed her in the verandah of a nearby shop. While they attempted to give her first aid, her uncle Nandiram Bhuyam spotted her. However, he was unable to help her as the miscreants who allegedly had the backing of the police created a commotion and attacked them. Amidst the chaos, her uncle ran away to take refuge. Though he waited for an opportune moment to rescue his niece and take her to a health centre, it was in vain.
Amidst the chaos and carnage, he could only be witness to the police taking away the mangled body of Tileswari Barua. Hence, the exact cause and time of her death could not be ascertained. Other notable Assamese freedom fighters who were shot in the Dhekiajuli incident were Bhogeshwari Phukanani, Khahuli Devi, Kumali Devi, and Padumi Gogoi. It is said that a beggar and a monk were also killed in the firing. The indiscriminate firing by the police and the ambush incited by the hired miscreants led to numerous deaths and injuries.
20th September, the day on which Tileswari Barua attained martyrdom, is celebrated as Martyr’s Day in Assam. The Honorable Prime Minister, on a visit to the Dhekiajuli district, paid tribute to Tileswari Barua. The Government of India, in its nationwide Har Ghar Tiranga campaign, hailed Tileswari Barua as a martyr and acknowledged her sacrifice. She is said to have been the youngest girl to be martyred during India's freedom struggle.
In February 2021, the ambush at Dhekiajuli was published in a book, Dhekiajuli 1942: The Untold Story. Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap, for the first time, this forgotten incident had been brought to the notice of the public. After the publication of the book, the Dhekiajuli Police Station, the venue of the worst massacre during the Quit India Movement, was declared a heritage site by the Assam government.