PUSHPA LATA DAS - A DARING SATYAGRAHI


For the present generation, freedom struggle is but a glorious chapter in the annals of the Nation's history. A struggle which was non violent, pitted the moral strength of a subjugated nation against the might of a colonial power to emerge victorious as a free land. In this 50th year of our independence we are fortunate to have, amidst us, a few individuals who made the dream of a free India come true. This is an opportune moment to recreate the past and learn from the experience of these living legends.

Puspa Lata Das, a veteran freedom fighter and former parliamentarian is an eminent social worker. She has strong faith in power of women. Independent in nature from her childhood, at the age of six, she joined 'Banar Sena' and never looked back since then. Born on March 27, 1915 at North Lakhimpur, Smt.Puspalata Das is one of the surviving freedom fighters from Assam. Daughter of late Rameswar Saikia and Smt.Swaranalata Saikia of Jorhat, Puspalata was thrown out of her school at a tender age of fourteen from Panbazar Girls High School, Guwahati. Her fault was that she was the Secretary of the Mukti Sangha and she alongwith her inmates tried to record a protest in the school against Bhagat Singh's hanging order.

Early Years

Smt.Puspalata Das was an extrovert and independent in nature from her childhood. At the age of only six, she joined "Banar Sena" to popularise Khadi among the people and organised Charkha Sangha. Even her father, a Government employee at that time in Barpeta, was also compelled by his wife and his little daughter to wear only Khadi. Being inspired by her mother, she took the pledge for freedom and never looked back since then. Remembering her early days she said "I, as a teenager was influenced by the revolutionary literatures of Bengal and one day we (Jyotsna Majumdar, Punya Prabha Barua - later Rajkhowa, Sarala Saxena) assembled in the office of Kamrup Mahila Samiti and formed an organisation called Mukti Sangha and took pledge with a few drops of blood to die for the country. I was the secretary of the organisation". "In February 1930, when I was expelled from my school, my school ecuation ended and my education of life and struggle started" - says Smt.Puspalata Das. That was the beginning the eventful life of Smt.Puspalata Das, a social worker, former Parliamentarian and a veteran freedom fighter. In 1934, Puspalata Das passed Matriculation examination as a private candidate and joined the Banaras Hindu University from where she passed Intermediate. After Intermediate, she enrolled her name with Andhra University for Graduation. She got her M.A. Degree in Political Science in 1938 from the same University. Afterwards, she joined Earle Law College, Guwahati and was elected as Secretary of the College Union in 1940. But her study in law came to an end when she was jailed for joining 'Individual Satyagraha'.

Member of Planning Committee

From 1940 to 1942, Smt.Puspalata Das was in Bombay as a member of the Women Sub-Committee of the National Planning Committee. During this period, she worked with Smt.Mridula Sarabhai and Smt.Vijay Laxmi Pandit, "when I saw the wonderful work done by Smt.Sarabhai's 'Jyoti Singha' and other institutions of Gujarat and Maharashtra for the first time, I could realise the strength of constructive works" - Smt.Das recalls.

Intrepid Organiser

In 1942, she married a true Gandhian and social worker Shri Omeo Kumar Das despite strong opposition from some of her relatives and changed her place of activities from Guwahati to Tezpur. Here Smt.Das along with Shri Joyti Prasad Agarwalla and others prepared a team of workers for organising people. Her husband was seriously ill at that time. But Smt.Das could not sit idle. She organised Shanti Bahini (Peace Force) and Mrityu Bahini (Death Squad) with her co-workers at

Tezpur and was supposed to lead the procession to put the National Tri Colour on the compound of Gohpur Police Station. But fate intervened and Kanaklata took over the charge of the procession from Puspalata Das and got bullets from British rulers.

Saviour of Assam

Smt.Puspalata Das vehemently opposed Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on the question of dragging Assam into grouping. As a member of the AICC and the convenor of the women's wing of Assam Congress Committee, Smt.Das delivered a remarkable speech on that special session and succeeded in getting an amendment moved by Shri Purushottam Das Tandon, Gandhiji's statement also helped Assam remaining out of grouping with erstwhile East Pakistan.

After Independence

Smt.Puspalata Das was elected a member of Rajya Sabha in 1951 and retained it for the next term till 1961. In 1958, she was a member of the All India Congress Working Committee. In 1959, she visited a numer of East European countries as a member of Parliamentary delegation. She was also a member of Assam Legislative Assembly. Besides these, the versatile lady was associated with a number of organisations and institutions in various capacities. Among these, All India Khadi Board (Chairperson, Assam Branch), Planning Committee of Congress (Women Section), Central Social Welfare Board, East India Motion Pictures Censor Board are worth mentioning. She was also the Chairperson of the State Bhudan and Gramdan Board. At present, she is the Chairperson of the Kasturba Memorial Trust, Assam Branch. Moreover, her interest in reading, gardening and in fine arts is well known. During her college days, she acquired proficiency in singing and dancing. One of her demonstrations of dance in Madras and Visakhapatnam was highly praised by the audience and then earned laurels from stalwarts like Rajgopalachari, the then Governor of Madras, through the two famous dance dramas - 'Amrit Prava' and 'Chitralekha'. For sometime, she was also the editor of the historically well-known Assamese magazine "Jayanti" (Women Section).

Refusal to Accept Tamrapatra

Smt.Puspalata Das was offered Tamrapatra by the Government for her services rendered during freedom movement. But she refused to accept it and wrote to the then Chief Minister of Assam, Shri Sarat Chandra Sinha, "with all my profound sense of gratitude to the well-wishes of the Government, I would like to say humbly that I did not take part in India's freedom movement with an intention to get something in return. That was complete by itself with joy. So, I feel hesitant to accept your generous offer and with utmost humility, I say let the beauty of service remains untarnished with its own serenity. Hope I would not be misunderstood". These words rightly reflect her feelings and thoughts. Now at the age of 83, she is still active and attends to various meetings and functions with a smile of joy and satisfaction. The dedicated lady still says "For the world apparently, India has got its freedom in exchange of the supreme sacrifice of innumerable brave Indians but now the time has come to assess whether we are true inheritor of those great souls who sacrificed everything at the altar of their motherland and added a golden chapter in the history of the world. Today, self-analysis could be the only answer".