A fighting spirit

Umesh Chandra Dev Choudhury The INA represented people from all parts of India who came forward to fight for the independence of their motherland against the British domination.

It is now history that the soldiers of Netaji’s INA fought most gallantly in the hills and plains of the Indo-Burma (Myanmar) border to liberate the Indian soil from the clutches of the British empire. Imphal, Palel, Kohima, Bishenpur and many frontier areas, then parts of undivided Assam, witnessed great courage, patriotism and sacrifice of the INA soldiers which still inspire present generation of Indian youth. INA liberated Moirang on April 14, 1944 and hoisted National Tricolour there replacing the British Union Jack. Thus, it was a part of then Assam that was cleared off the British domination for the first time by Netaji’s army. The INA remained in possession of about 1,500 square miles of territory in erstwhile undivided Assam for about six months.

Happily, there were many from Assam as well as the rest of the Northeast who joined INA as soldiers and advanced towards their motherland fighting against the enemy. Fortunately, a few of them are still among us. One such hero is an Assamese nonagenarian Umesh Chandra Dev Choudhury who lives at Patacharkuchi in Barpeta district of Assam. A living legend of a glorious past, Dev Choudhury served the INA as a lieutenant. Presently he enjoys a freedom fighter’s pension from the Government of India. Dev Choudhury is also a good writer and has written an interesting book entitled Sei Ranangan (That Battlefield) which narrates his own experiences in the last battle of India’s independence.

Dev Choudhury was born and brought up at Patacharkuchi. After finishing his school education from Botali Higher Secondary School, he went to Manipur to stay for sometime with his elder brother Dr Homesh Chandra Dev Choudhury who was then the house physician of the King of Manipur. There, Dev Choudhury was highly praised and also awarded by the King for his sports talent. Later, he went to Rajshahi of the erstwhile East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and got an opportunity to meet many reputed political leaders.
After returning to his hometown he felt disgusted to see the British government collect money from the poor for the War fund and so, he took the leading role to organize the local people against this mean act of the government. As a result an arrest warrant was issued against him and he went back again to Rajshahi. There, he joined the Army for a living. In 1941, he was trained at the Fort William of Kolkata as a havildar clerk and then went to southeast Asia via Allahabad and Peshawar.

After the fall of Singapore on February 15, 1942 he joined the INA, initially organized by great Indian revolutionary Rashbehari Bose, Captain Mohan Singh, Giani Pritam Singh and others with Japanese military cooperation. In 1943 when Netaji Subhas took over the leadership of the INA, Dev Choudhury was promoted to the rank of a lieutenant and fought against the British in the Indo-Burma front, including the Battle of Arakan under a brave general like Major LS Mishra. After INA’s defeat in 1945, he was captured by the British and sent first to the Red Fort of Delhi and then to Multan jail as a prisoner before coming back to his home province following his release.

As a soldier of the INA, Dev Choudhury was attached to Netaji’s office at Rangoon (now Yangon) for some time and was also engaged in the preparation of maps, particularly to locate important places, forests and rivers on the map of Assam. At that time he had, according to his own words, great fortune to see Netaji closely and even have some conversations with the great leader.

In his nineties now, Dev Choudhury still recalls very fondly his first meeting with Netaji. It was while in Rangoon that he met Netaji for the first time. Netaji asked him about his past, his experiences and also about his family besides some other topics relating to Assam. The mild and gentle behaviour of Netaji to a common soldier in spite of his overwhelming command and authority, left in Dev Choudhury a deep mark of respect for the great Indian leader.

In his small but informative book Sei Ranagan, Dev Choudhury has given a first hand account of his war experiences in a simple and straightforward style and language of a soldier. From his book we come to know about many interesting facts and events.

In 1942, on the eve of the attack on Singapore the Japanese soldiers made a fool of the British army and outwitted them by placing steel helmets on thousands of coconuts and setting them afloat the sea at night. British bomber planes knowingly dropped bombs on the hospitals and massacred innocent peoples, INA’s Hindu, Muslim Sikh, Christian soldiers stood above communalism and took food from the same kitchen. While actual fighting was going on in the border areas, a group of INA jawans were paradropped into the heart of Assam with a mission to raise a revolutionary uprising inside Assam, especially in the Brahmaputra valley but unfortunately apprehended by the British Army and executed inside Jorhat jail without going through any legal trial. Dev Choudhury depicts inspiringly the scene when Netaji, with a brengun in hand, comforted and encouraged Col Shahnawaz Khan saying, “England has not yet made a bomb that can kill Subhas Bose.” Dev Choudhury’s book is a valuable addition to the field of Assamese non-fiction and those who are interested to know about that glorious chapter of the last war of India’s independence can go through this memoir.

by Rupam Baruah on The Assam Tribune