By Avinibesh Sharma
The phrase Manor Din or the days of the Burmese is reminiscent of the atrocities committed by the Burmese soldiers on the inhabitants of Assam during the years from 1819 to 1824. The stories of these people have been left untold and have quite often been overlooked in the dominant historical narrative. Few of them lie scattered in the memoirs and reports while others have faded from public memory. Here are a few anecdotes and stories that I have heard and read about.
The district of Nagaon became the scene of many horrors perpetrated by the invaders. A few of the eye-witnesses had survived till the first decade of the twentieth century. Most of them were ninety to hundred years old. In the year 1900 Dr. Suryya Kumar Bhuyan, a reputed Assamese historian came across a gentleman named Kalicharan Sarma and two ladies Tipou Bai and Tikirani Burhi who had first-hand knowledge of Manor Din.
Bhuyan met Tipou Bai in the residence of Kalinath Barua of Sutargaon. She was then hundred years old. She was a daughter of a retainer of the family, and she stuck to her masters even after they had lost their influence owing to the change of Government. She said that during the Burmese occupation, mothers besmeared the faces of their daughters with ashes to make them look ugly so that they might escape the attention of the Burmese, and that the girls used to be shut up in big wooden chests in order to put them out of the sight of the marauders.
There was another woman in Bhuyan’s locality Fauzadar Patti. She was generally known as Tikirani Burhi, as she sold tikiras, or charcoal cakes burnt for smoking tobacco in conical cups known as chilims. She was about ninety-five, and she said that she had seen the three invasions of the Burmese. The invaders, she said, erected huge bamboo platforms to which they invited men and women promising to give them presents of gold and silver and when a sufficient number had gathered they would set fire to the platforms and their enclosures and burn the whole lot. This she called jaki-dia.
Bhuyan also met an old gentleman from Kaliabor named Kalicharan Sarma. Sarma said that he was hundred and twenty years old and that he had walked on foot all the thirty-two miles from Kaliabor, he had seen batch of Burmese raiders marching on the road with swords in their hands robbing and pillaging villages on the way. He also reproduced several Burmese words and phrases uttered by them to express their joy when they saw an attractive object – a beautiful house, a beautiful tree or a beautiful woman.
During the first and the second Burmese invasions several families migrated from areas in Upper Assam and sought refuge in places like Guwahati and Cachar. Thukubil (presently in the Golaghat district) was one such place from where a number of families migrated. They settled in the area between the Uzaan Bazar Ghat and the north-western side of the Kharguli Hill which later came to be known as Thukubiliya. During a recent conversation with noted historian Kumudeshwar Hazarika, I was told that after the Treaty of Yandaboo was signed and peace was restored, all other refugees returned to their original habitations except the families hailing from Thukubeli. A Namghar was built by them in the aftermath of the Anglo-Burmese war on a full moon day which came to be known as Thukubiliya Bor Namghar which still exists.
Noted freedom fighter and former member of Assam Vidhan Sabha, Debeshwar Sarmah in his autobiography, Herai Juwa Dinbur (The Days of Yore) narrates the story of his great grandparents who became victims of the Burmese onslaught. I later spoke to a nephew of Debeshwar Sarmah – Anil Sarmah who spoke at length about the incident. The Burmese soldiers had by then ravaged most of the villages around Kenduguri (in present day Jorhat district). Many young men were slaughtered and women were raped and set to fire. Sishuram, Debeshwar Sarma’s great grandfather on seeing that a group of Burmese soldiers was approaching their dwelling, hid in the granary. The soldiers came and set the granary on fire. But to their surprise, it did not catch fire the way they wanted. They then peed on the fire. Sishuram tried to escape from the granary and ran towards the fields but the soldiers chased him down and hacked him to death. The place where this incident took place came to be known as ‘Kota Mati’. Kondevi, Sishuram’s wife was also killed but their son Damodar managed to escape to a nearby forest. He was later rescued by his elder sister.
Acclaimed Sanskritist and civil servant Anundorum Barooah in the year 1881 had undertaken the compilation of his magnum opus (to quote Mr. Romesh Chandra Dutt’s words, “A Sanskrit grammar of formidable size and erudition) – “A Comprehensive Grammar of the Sanskrit Language, Critical, Analytical and Historical” in twelve volumes of one thousand pages each. He took a furlough and bought a house at Barhampur (in the modern day Murshidabad district of West Bengal) from a Marwari gentleman named Danpat Singh Bahadur. Thereafter, he set up a printing press in the house under the supervision of Kamakhya Prasad Ganguly. Interestingly, this was the same house where more than five decades ago the Burmese Commander-in-chief Maha Bandula (Maung Yit) was kept as a captive. It was later bought by renowned philanthropist Bholanath Barooah.