Short History of Democratic Movements in Tripura ( 1850 – 1978 )
The democratic movement in Tripura stems from the anti-feudal, anti-monarchy movement which was initiated by Tribal Revolts starting from mid 19th century followed by organized movements of the anti-feudal forces for transition from monarchy to democracy where tribal-non tribal people under the leadership of the communists took a lead role from late 40’s in the twentieth century.
After the merger of Tripura with the Indian Union the democratic movement that emerged was the struggle against the autocracy of the Congress rule which lasted for over 30 years.
A brief sketch of the major movements is being mentioned here which shows how the character of the movements changed from spontaneous to organized forms in transforming the political history of the state.
Major Revolts During Monarchy
Though the monarchy faced revolt but its militia constituted of poor peasants from the Reang, Tripuri, Jamatia, Kuki and other tribal ethic groups. Moreover the headmen of such groups were accorded with special powers to collect tax from the people and to act as local zamindars. These headmen were equally oppressive and worked as agents of the monarchy.
The 1st revolt was the Tipra Revolt of 1850 during the monarchy of Chandra Manikya led by two young tribal youths named Parikhit and Kirti against the repression of the dewans or tax collectors of the king. Within a decade the onslaught on the poor peasants was increased by many folds leading to unrest among the peasantry. The Reang and Kuki tribes were affected to a greater extent. Within a decade in 1860 Ratan Puia led another revolt. The then king Ishanchandra sought the help of the British Army of the then Bengal Province but could not control the revolt and ultimately were forced to go for a truce with the leaders of the revolt. This is for the first time the people understood that the strength of the king in spite of its machineries can be defeated.
Just after 3 years, in 1863 the Jamatia Revolt took place with Parikhit Sardar as its leader. The then king Bir Chandra sent his army to suppress the revolt but was defeated in the battle. Subsequently the king changed his strategy and sent his specially recruited Kuki people in his army. In this battle the Jamatia Revolt were ruthlessly massacred and the slaughtered heads of 200 people were exhibited on the trees of the capital to terrorise the people at large. The different tribal ethnic groups were being oppressed throughout the period in various forms by the monarchy but they were leading a lavish life in collaboration of the British colonialists and keeping the supply line of food grains and taxes to the British Government.
The increased oppression and heavy taxes compounded along with black marketing of the collected food grains from the peasants led to a famine like situation in many parts of southern Tripura .
The misery of the tribal people and the tyranny of the monarchy was a chronic feature of the state.
As the crisis increased during the 2nd World War, the amount of taxes increased and need for man power for the British Army increased too. To help the British army the monarchy gave a call to recruit youth from the ethnic groups. As the Jamatia and the Reangs were bitterly against the monarchy so they refrained from joining the army of the king which invited the wrath of the monarchy.
A Reang headman , Khagendra Choudhury who was a stooge of the king forcibly tried to recruit youths from the Reangs. This resulted in large scale resentment among the people. Ratan Mani Thakur was a sort of a religious person who came up to resist this recruitment drive of the king. He organized the Reang people to oppose the recruitment tactics of the monarchy. Around 22 thousand people joined him and he was declared “king of the Reangs”. This turned into a massive revolt against the monarchy. The common people stopped taxes and burnt the residences of “ Choudhuris” and other stooges of the king. This glorious revolt was termed as the Reang Revolt of 1942. The then king Bir Bikram sent a huge army and suppressed the revolt and killed Ratan Mani the messiah of the revolt.
The Janasiksha Movement
As the state population were comprised of different tribal and non-tribal ethnic groups, all of them were inspired by the revolts. Within this period some of the middle-class tribals came into the arena of education along with the more advanced Bengali population. The ongoing freedom movement was an added inspiration to break the monarchy rule. Though the Communist movement in rest of the country was building up rapidly but its presence in the state was very little.
From 1940’s there was a small unit of the Communist Party at Agartala functioning under the District Committee of Commilla. Comrade Biren Datta was its organizer and leader. Com. Datta used to maintain a regular touch with the students of Umakanta Academy at Agartala. It was at his inspiration that 11 educated youths of the time, namely Com. Hemanta Debbarma, Com.Sudhanwa Debbarma, Com. Aghore Debbarma, Com. Nilmani Debbarma and the legendary leader Com. Dasarath Deb formed the 'Tripura Janasiksha Samity' on 27th December 1945, with Com. Sudhanwa Debbarma as its President Com. Dasharath Deb as Vice-President and Com. Hemanta Debbarma as the General Secretary of the Samity. Within a few months of its inception, it established 480 schools in tribal-dominated hills and villages. The educated and moderately educated tribal youths were appointed as teachers. The villagers constructed school buildings, provided accommodation and food, and paid minimal allowance to the teachers. Subsequently, the tribal people in their large numbers came out in support of Janashiksha Samity. Alongside establishment of news schools, the leaders of Janashiksha Samity raised demand for recognition of these schools by the royal administration. They submitted a deputation to Mr Brown, a retired British Army Officer who was the then education minister of the king’s administration. After visiting many schools founded by the Samity, Mr Brown accorded recognition to 300 of these schools. Naturally, the then king Bir Bikram Kishore Debbarman got much annoyed with his education minister for according recognition to these schools and Mr Brown had to resign and leave the state.
In 1946, the king passed a secret order to the police to book Janashiksha Samity leaders. On the other hand, the king convened a conference of tribals sarders (village chiefs) with a view to form a parallel organisation to Janashiksha Samity in the name of ‘Tripur Sangha’ but it failed to counter the Janasikha Samity.
Formation of Tripura Rajya Gana Mukti Parishad & Arms Struggle
The landlords, the money lenders and the Dewani Administration let loose brutal repression in order to subdue that farmers resentment in Tripura. Taking advantage of the simplicity of the rural poor the money lenders were exploiting the farmers. They were buying the produce of the farm at cheaper rates and selling them in the market on one hand and lending money to the poor at enormous rate of interest. One such person was Hari Charan Saha of Bisalgarh who invited the poor people to assemble at Golaghati, presently in Sepahijala District to collect food grains as the local farm produce and the crops of jhum cultivation was poor in that year. So learning that food grains will be disbursed the people from all adjoining places assembled in the area. But before the people assembled, the Dewani Police set in for an ambush. With the arrival of the boats on the river Burima as the commotion increased, the police fired from all directions killing 12 people on the spot. This incident in Golaghati on 9th October 1948 was an eye opener of the crookedness of money lenders , police officials ,landlords and the dewani regency which publicly united to suppress the developing farmers’ movement in the state. The communists who were actively involved with the Jana Sikha Samity and formed the Tripura Rajya Mukti Parishad went for curing the wounded as there were no physicians to treat the wounded people. Later the communist leader Dr. Bijoy Bose came to Golaghati from Kolkata to treat the wounded. To cope with this most adverse situation, the leaders of Janashiksha Samity felt it necessary to form an armed organisation to combat this state terror and for self- defense. Comrade Dasaratha Debbarma discussed the situation with the Communist leaders of the state. In March, 1948, Tripura Rajya Mukti Parishad, headed by Dasaratha Deb, was formed. The Mukti Parishad had two wings -- political and armed. Comrade Dasaratha Debbarma and his colleagues worked hard to form Mukti Parishad units in every village to combat the police and army atrocities.
After the death of King Bir Bikram on17 May 1947 , Kanchan Prabha Devi, the then Queen of Tripura, was appointed as the President of Regency Council(Dewani Administration ) and B.K. Debbarma and Bankimbihari Debbarma from the monarchial family as Vice-President and Member of the Council and Satyabrata Mukhopadhyay as Prime Minister of the Regency Council. This Council was empowered to rule Tripura by the British Government. The newly formed Janasikha Samity was building opinion to resist all types of exploitation of the monarchy and to build resistance against such oppression. Soon Regency Council understood the fact that the political situation was moving out of their control. The Queen on the advice of the Government of India had to dissolve the Council of Regency and became herself as the sole Regent on 12th January 1948, and after about more than a year she signed the Tripura Merger Agreement on 9th September 1949 along with 2060 sq.mile of area as Tribal Reserve.
Historic Anti-Titun Movement
Tripura had a peculiar system of “ free-labour” imposed on the farmers and villagers by the monarchy to carry the luggage of the officers of the administration and other products from one village to another without any form of labour cost or wages. This system was made mandatory by the monarchy . This system was known as “Titun”. Inspired by the movement of Mukti Parishad the people of Padmabill, particularly the women refused to render “Titun”. Apprehending the resistance may lead to a political revolt martial law was imposed in Khowai Division. The police tried to arrest the leaders of the mukti Parishad, particularly Com. Dasarath Debbarma .they raided Padmabill village to arrest Com. Dasarath, but the village men-folk moved out of the village before the police arrived. So the police and army of the administration forced the tribal women to carry their baggage but met with stiff resistance. On 28th March , 1949, the army opened fire killing three women, Kumari, Madhuti and Rupashri Debbarma at point blank distance. They were the first women martyrs of Tripura’s mass movement. Mukti Parishad decided to form cultural squads to highlight the tales of heroic martyrdom of these three tribal women through folk songs and folk dances. Even today, 26th March is being observed as “Martyrs’ Day” in remembrance of these three young women of Padmabill, the first women martyrs of the state in the movement for democracy.This resistance movement at Padmabill was not only an armed resistance against the Titun System but was against the tyranny of the monarchy and for establishing democracy and eliminating feudalism. This movement marked the initiation for transition from monarchy to democracy.
After merger with India , the administration became a part of Indian Union from 15th October 1949 thus ending the ‘regency council’ and ‘Dewani’ rule.
The central government led by Congress party appointed civil service officer V Nanjappa as the chief commissioner of the state. With the help of Congress leader Sachindra Lal Singha, Nanjappa revived ‘Tripur Sangha’ to counter Mukti Parishad. Nanjappa first declared ‘military rule’ in whole of the state. But his boastful utterances were soon proved to be a hoax by the guerrilla fighters of the Mukti Parishad. Most of the tribal dominated areas of the state turned ‘free-land’ where the leadership of the Mukti Parishad established a parallel administration.
Movement Against Land Hoarders
When the Mukti Parishad was resisting the police – military of the state administration one Rajani Vidyaratna of Dharmanagar acquired a lease of land around 500 Dron ( 1 Dron = 606 Acres) in Dasda-Kanchanpur area to form a land cooperative in the name of ‘Swasti Samity.’ After partition of India when refugees flooded from East Pakistan, he took a lead to settle the refugees in the acquired land as tenants from the Samiti’s grant. He would not give them any papers. They would have to live there as his tenants and pay him tax. And the area of the land was not properly defined. Vidyaratna’s area seemed to expand limitlessly accommodating any numbers of people who wanted to live there. Now, in that part where Reangs, Chakmas and Halams lived from time immemorial, no one had ever realized the need of having papers for their lands. As Rajani’s tenants increased in number, his area of land also continued to expand to the extent of one thousand Dron into the habitats of the paperless owners. The inhabitants comprising the Reangs and Chakma people, now had to part with their lands to accommodate Rajani’s tenants. They had no documentary evidence to counter Vidyaratna’s claims. Vidyaratna would flaunt the king’s order of Tribal Reserve to silence the murmurs of protestation. The administration was on the side of Vidyaratna, too. Most people, mostly the Reangs, lost their land to Vidyaratna’s expanding empire and migrated over to the Mayani Reserve Forest of present-day Bangladesh. But the Chakma people resisted under the leadership of Phorakinkar Chakma in 1952. During that period mukti Parishad did not have much organizational presence in the area but the movement of the mukti Parishad had influence on the people so much so that after the people captured Vidyaratna and two other person of the Swasti Samity , they were handed over to the leaders of the Mukti Parishad as there was a standing order of mukti Parishad that no enemy should be killed and should be brought to the leadership of the Parishad. After the arrest of Vidyaratna the police repression increased many folds and Phorakinkar and more than 30 of his comrades were arrested and jailed. Soon after Phorakinkar joined the communist party and remained its member till his death.
Another landlord of the time was Jiban Banerjee of Barkathal-Nobadi area of Jirania. The tribal people were squeezed and oppressed as his rate of levy on agricultural production increased day by day. The mukti Parishad and the people demanded to lessen the rate of levy and that too in money not by kind, record the names of tenants and immediate withdrawal of evicting farmers from their land, failing which they stopped paying the levy in 1952. Ultimately the landlord had to succumb to the demands of the people.
Ramkumar Talukdar and Shashikumar Sarkar of Khowai were not willing to yield to the demands of Mukti Parishad. Soa prolonged movement was launched against Sashikumar , who ultimately had to yield to the demands of the Mukti Parishad. Hence one after another the villages were being controlled by the Mukti Parishad and the land hoarders were forced to yield to the demands. In Sabroom division another landlord Haribhushan Das was evicting peasants of the Mog tribe at Baisnabpur in Sabroom area. Initially the peasants could not resist the onslaught of the police and administration but after the intervention of the Mukti Parishad the scenario changed in favour of the peasantry in spite of hooliganism by the landlord.
The Communist Party and the Democratic Movement
The relationship between Dasaratha Debbarma, his colleagues and the Communist Party became more cordial during this phase of armed struggle. The news of the armed struggle of the people of Telangana, the armed struggle of the farmers of Kakdwip of West Bengal or the armed struggle of the peasants of Hajong in East Pakistan highly inspired the leaders and followers of the Mukti Parishad. In early fifties, Dasarath Deb and his co-fighter Hemanta Debbarma deduced that the Communists were the only people who stood behind their movement from its beginning. After prolonged discussions, Dasrath Deb sent Hemanta Debbarma to Agartala to contact the leaders of the Communist Party. Some days later, during a meeting of the Mukti Parishad central committee at Chachu Bazar at Sadar, report came in that the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party had sent Comrade Pranesh Biswas of Assam to meet the leaders of Mukti Parishad. Dasarath Deb invited Comrade Biswas to the meeting. In the meeting, Comrade Biswas explained the aims and ideology of the Communist Party and requested the leaders of the Mukti Parishad to join the Communist Party. All the leaders of the then Mukti Parishad accepted the views expressed by Dasarath Deb in joining the CPI. All the 41 central committee members of the Mukti Parishad filled in the ‘form for membership’ on a white piece of paper and joined the Communist Party in the year 1950.
The 1st General Elections to Parliament was held in 1952 where Com. Dasarath Debbarma contested from underground and was elected to Indian Parliament. This was a milestone of democratic movement in Tripura. . In Lok Sabha, he forcefully raised the problems faced by the people of the state and the need for protecting the identity of the indigenous tribal people. He strongly raised the demands for formation of Autonomous Tribal District Council with the tribal inhabited areas of the state, protection of rights of the tribals on their land, and at the same time, proper and judicious rehabilitation of the Bengali refugees. He carried on relentless struggles in Parliament and outside for all-round development of the state.
Resistance against Congress Misrule
The resistance movement which by this time were led by the Communist Party soon became a political struggle against the exploitive revenue and levy imposed by the administration on the peasantry was as its peak during the decade of 1960.
The repression of the then Congress government was not restricted to rural areas. In 1966 a famine like situation was prevailing throughout the state. The Mukti Parishad and other democratic organization were demanding relief for the people. The students of M.B.B. College forced the Chief Minister out of the Assembly. The police intervened and opened fire to disperse the students. The student movement took a lead in the food-movement. Curfew was imposed in Agartala .Police force from Bihar , named as Bihar Military Police (BMP)was brought to the state to suppress all democratic movement The BMP killed Arabinda Datta Choudhury a student of Umakanta Academy, a five year old boy Dilip and a and Tarun Das a shop employee in the pretext that they defied the curfew. This incident ignited the wrath of the people against the repressive government. Again in 1967 when the students and youth of Udaipur were demanding food for the people and gheraoed the officials of the government, police fired again on them. Even other people were not spared. Gouranga Das a fisherman ,who was returning from the market was brutally killed stabbing with police bayonets . This unrest lead to the Food Movement with large participation of the people and the student and youth community in particular.
Movement against the ‘Bon-Rakshas’ ( Oppressive Forest Officials)
The other repression that was cried out against the people during the period are being carried out by the forest officials on the poor jhumias. The forest was the habitat and dwelling of many tribal groups who depend on its produces for their living and cultivation of their crops. The forest official were oppressing them with lame excuses and were restricted to enter the forest areas. The extent of exploitation and torture of forest officials were such that people called them as ‘Bon-Rakshas’. Often the people are jailed and tortured for collecting forest produces. Against such severe oppression resistance movement were mounting in different places. Hasmai Reang of Longtarai, Dasamoni Tripura of Motai , Belonia Brajamohon Jamatia of Manu were the leaders who pioneered the resistance movement against the oppressive forest officials. On 16th March, 1966 a group of women were engaged in clearing a place in the jungle for Jhum cultivation at Motai. The local forest official Dulal Pal came to the spot assisted with Bihar Military Police ( BMP) and tried to stop the women from preparing jhum land. The women protested with slogans for which the official ordered to open fire wounding Mohini Tripura , who later died on the way to hospital and was the 1st Martyr against forest repression. This incident was not only an eye opener to the people that the police-administration can even kill women for defying their vested interest but also led a mass movement against the oppression of the forest officials.
As a result the Parliament of India passed the Territorial Council Act, 1956 (Act. 104 0f 1956) providing for the setting up of the Tripura Territorial Council (TTC) consisting of 30 members. Tripura became a Union Territory without legislature with effect from November 1, 1956. The first and the second election to the TTC was held in 1957 and 1962 . Sachindralal Singh became the Chairman of the Council.
The Union Territories Act, 1963 provided for the promotion of the Territorial Council to the status of a Legislative Assembly. It came into effect from 1st July 1963. Sachindralal Singh was sworn in as Chief Minister of Union Territory of Tripura.
The first election to the Tripura Legislative Assembly was held in February 1967. Sachindralal Singh was again selected leader of the Congress Party and thus he again became the Chief Minister.
Like the rule of the monarchy, for continuously three decades, the Congress Government in Tripura continued the exploitation and torture against the tribal people in particular.
The newly formed bureaucrat–police-contractor-trader nexus with active support from the government bypassing all laws, transferred thousands of acres of land to the non-tribal money lenders and business class. The reservation of tribals in jobs were purposely ignored. Initiative to develop the tribal culture and language was absent.
But the peoples struggle that emerged in late 60s got an impetus when the Parliament passed the Tripura Land Revenue & Land Reform Act passed by the Parliament in 1960, where transfer of land belonging to the tribal people to non - tribal people was made illegal but the state administration flouted the Act and in 1974 the then Congress Government passed an ordinance of the said Act, whereby it acknowledged such illegal transfer of land as legal to those who had acquired tribal land till 31st December, 1968.
To protest against this ordinance Com. Nripen Chakraborty and Com Dasarath Deb met the then Governor Shri L.P. Singh to withdraw the said ordinance. A convention was organized at Agartala Children Park on 6th and 7th April comprising of different tribal political and mass organizations as a broad-based platform. But a group questioned the involvement of Bengalee community in the movement and left the movement. On the other hand the Communist Party and other left mass organizations decided to continue the struggle and held a mass convention again at the community hall on 27th August which decided to March for the Assembly on 4th October. The historic March was led by Com. Biren Dutta , Com Nripen Chakraborty, Com Dasarath Deb and Com Bhanu Ghosh.
It was the 1st major rally of more than 20,000 people , both from the Tribal and Bengalee community which inspired the people at large and was led by the Left forces in the state.
After this programme it was decided that there would be peaceful Civil Disobedience Movement in Tehsil of the state.
On 3rd March,1975 police fired on the people during such a movement at Jolaibari where Dhananjoy Tripura was killed. Com Dhananjoy Tripura became the 1st Martyr of the language movement in the state.
The Historic Four – Point Charter of Demands and Mass Movements
As a preparatory part of this convention, the Communist Party (Marxist), Tripura State Ganamukti Parishad, Tripura State Krishak Sabha, Tribal Youth Federation developed united struggle and organized a massive rally in front of the Tripura Assembly on 25th March, 1974.
On 28th August 1974, Tripura State Ganamukti Parishad organized a massive convention at Agartala and adopted a 4-point charter of demand for restoration of constitutional rights of the Tribal people. The 4 point charter of demands were:
1. To withdraw the ordinance of the Governor on the 2nd Amendment of Tripura Land Revenue & Land Reform Act.
2. To create Autonomous District comprising the Tribal people dominated areas of the State.
3. Extension of mother-tongue based education in Kokborok language and to give Kokborok the status of a State Language.
4. To restore all land to the tribal people that has been illegally transferred to non –tribal people from 1960 onwards.
This movement spread throughout Tripura bridging the Tribal-Non Tribal unity as its core component which consolidated the communist movement in the state. The Liberation Movement of Bangladesh helped the people to understand that the movement for liberty is a movement of the people where Tribal - Non Tribal unity is of immense importance. The experience of Bangladesh Movement further strengthened the unity of the people to fight authoritarian rule prevailing in the state. Soon in 1975 the Central Government declared Emergency and most of the leaders and many cadres of the democratic movement was arrested including leaders of the student – youth – women – teachers were put behind bars.
The atrocities of the emergency throughout the country became known to all and soon the left and democratic forces consolidated their struggle after the emergency. The third election to the Tripura Legislative Assembly was held on 31st December 1977. The Left Front captured 56 seats, while the TUJS got 4 seats; and the Congress did not get even a single seat. Nripen Chakrabarti became the Chief Minister of the State and the political history of the state entered in the modern phase – the phase of transition from autocracy to democracy.
To be constructed…