Silchar is a place where you can always find a completely homely atmosphere. The people here are full of enthusiasm and the place itself is very rich in its own culture.
When every Bengali was celebrating the centennial birthday of Rabindranath Tagore, it was in this Barak valley that people were fighting for the right to speak their mother language.
To know the entire story, let’s take a glance at what made this happen.
It was in the year 1960 when the Assam Pradesh Committee decided to declare Assamese as the one and only official language of the state. This created an atmosphere of tension and mob violence broke out. The violence reached its peak in between July and September, during which around 50,000 Bengalis fled from the Brahmaputra valley and arrived in West Bengal. Another 90,000 fled to Barak valley and other regions of the state.
On 10th October 1960, Bimala Prasad Chalia, the then chief minister of Assam presented a bill in the Legislative Assembly that sought to legalize Assamese as the sole language of the state. Ranendra Mohan Das, the legislator from Karimganj assembly constituency and ethnic Bengali, protested against the bill on the ground that it sought to impose the language of one-third of the population of the state over the rest two-thirds. On 24th October, the bill was passed in the Assam legislative assembly thereby making Assamese as the one and only official language of the state.
On 5th February 1961, the Cachar Gana Sangram Parishad was formed to agitate against the new imposition made by the Assam Government. On 14th April, all the people of Silchar, Karimganj, Hailakandi observed the day as the Sankalpa Diwas in protest against the injustice of the Assam State Government. On 24th April, the Parishad raised a fortnight Padayatra to raise awareness among the people. The people who took part in this, walked over 200miles. After the Padayatra, Rathindranath Sen, the Parishad chief declared that if Bengali was not accorded the status of official language by 13th April’1961, a complete hartal would be observed on 19th may from dawn to dusk.
The Government did not pay much attention in this regard and hence the people had to observe the hartal. On 19th May, the dawn to dusk hartal started. Picketing was started in subdivisions towns of Silchar, Karimganj, Hailakandi from early in the morning.
In Silchar, the agitators picketed in the railway station. The last train from Silchar was at around 5 pm, after which the picketing would dissolve. Not a single ticket was sold for the first train at 5-40AM. The morning passed peacefully. However, the Assam Rifles arrived at the station.
At around 2.30pm a Bedford truck carrying nine satyagrahis from Katigorah passes by Tarapur rail station (present-day Silchar railway station). On witnessing that their fellow activists were being arrested and taken away, the Satyagrahis assembled at the railway station and broke out in loud protests. The driver and the policemen escorting the arrested, fled at that very moment. Immediately after they fled, an unidentified person set the truck on fire. A firefighting team rushed to the spot. In 5mins, the paramilitaries guarding the railway station started beating the protesters with rifle butts and batons even without any provocation from them. Within seven minutes, they fired 17rounds into the crowds. Twelve people were hit and were carried to the hospital. Nine of them died that very day. On 20th may, the people of Silchar took out a procession with the bodies of the martyrs in protest of the killing. Two people died later. Among the martyrs, there was a girl too. And the most surprising thing about her was that when she joined the agitation she was only a mere student of class 10 who appeared for her HLSC examination that year and her results were not yet declared then.
After this incident, the Assam Government had to withdraw the circular and Bangla was ultimately given the official status in the three districts of Barak valley. Section 5 of Assam Act XVIII, 1961, safeguards the use of Bangla in the Cachar district, it says, “Without prejudice to the provisions contained in Section 3, the Bangla language shall be used for administrative and other official purposes up to and including district level.”
Silchar is also referred to as UNISHER SHOHOR or THE LAND OF NINETEENTH.Hence, we can easily understand the importance of the 19th of May in the lives of each resident of Silchar. It is because of the sacrifice of this 11 people that we now have to right to speak in our language. But, this fight has not yet ended.