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Dhaka Tribune

Kumudini Hajong: The last of the Mohicans

  • With the recent demise of Kumudini Hajong, we lost the last living member of that generation of the Tanka movement
  • Tanka was a local land tenure term for rent paid in produce
Update : 07 Apr 2024, 12:39 PM

The Tanka rebellion of the 1940s epitomized the rich rebellious heritage of the Hajong community in then British India. The history of Hajong rebellion dates back to the late 18th century when many community members were forced into taming wild elephants for the benefit of the wealthy zamindars in the region known today as the greater Mymensingh area. 

Imbued with the spirit of the rebellious heritage of the “Hatikheda Movement” (a movement waged against engaging in the dangerous act of taming wild elephants), Hajongs also played a significant role in the Tanka movement of the 1940s. This movement, along with the impacts of other rebellions, culminated in the abolition of zamindars through the passage of the East Bengal State Acquisition and Tenancy Act in 1950. Thanks to the Tanka movement, Hajong and Garo peasants were recognized as rightful proprietors of the lands they possessed after the passage of that legislation.

With the recent demise of Kumudini Hajong, we lost the last living member of that generation of the Tanka movement. The revolutionary Kumudini Hajong passed away due to complications from old age at the age of 94, at her home in Baheratoli, a bordering village in Netrokona's Durgapur upazila. She led a life of rebellion and, along with her co-revolutionary husband Lonkshwer Hajong, fought against the tyrannous system of zamindars exploiting poor peasants in the name of Tanka.

Tanka was a local land tenure term for rent paid in produce. The reason for its name remains unclear, but it was a tradition of the pre-money period when peasants paid their rent in paddy. The system of assured payment of agricultural land rent through paddy was called Tanka in the Mymensingh region. 

Kumudini Hajong along with some of her family members at her home in Netrakona. Photo: Anjoli Roy

Customarily, Tanka raiyats paid paddy rent at the rate of 10 to 15 maunds for every 1.25 acres of land. In monetary terms, this was more than double the rate of cash rent. Regardless of adverse weather conditions affecting harvests, the zamindars wouldn’t compromise on the agreed-upon share, thereby leaving peasants penniless at times.

The Tanka command area raiyats pressed for amendments to such an unjust sharecropping system, but the zamindars refused to recognize the Tanka raiyats’ legitimate demand. At that time, the Bengal Provincial Krishak Sabha (BPKS) launched a series of peasant struggles, including the Tebhaga, Nankar, and Nachole uprisings. Comrade Moni Singh, then a communist leader of BPKS in Mymensingh, who would eventually launch the Communist Party of East Pakistan, led the Tanka rebellion, with people like Rashimoni Hajong, Lonkshwer, Kumudini, and many other Hajongs joining.

Under the leadership of Moni Singh, the Tanka peasants drew up a six-point charter, demanding the abolition of the Tanka system; recognition of Tanka peasants’ rights in land; assessment of rent proportionate to the pargana rate of cash rent; waiving of the arrears of Tanka rent; abolition of the zamindari system; and annihilation of imperialism.

There were police raids in villages, which turned violent. On one occasion, in 1946, the British police raided Lonkshwer’s residence looking for him, but he was not there. As they did not find Lonkshwer, the police detained the newly-married Kumudini, then in her teens, and were about to take her to the Durgapur army barrack. That move triggered outrage among the community. 

At that time, Rashimoni Hajong of the same Baheratoli village, along with over a hundred men and women, intercepted the police force with local weapons. At one stage, Rashimoni, who hacked a policeman to death, was shot dead by the police, according to Mati Lal Hajong, president of Hajong Mata Rashimoni Kalyan Parishad. 

According to some historic accounts, that day policemen killed 22 other Hajong people but were eventually forced out of the village. Kumudini and her husband survived but had to stay in hiding from one place to another for some years. The village people and communist volunteers together built up strong resistance to such raids. 

Many were arrested and jailed. In the wake of the Partition of Bengal (1947), the peasant struggle came to a halt for the time being. However, the Tanka movement started again in 1948 and continued until the zamindari system was abolished in 1950.

Lonkshwer and Kumudini left a rich legacy 

Kumudini and her revolutionary husband Lonkshwer belonged to the Hajong community of the greater Mymensingh region, whose ancestors practiced traditional farming techniques like jhum (slash and burn). There was a time when the community was exempted from any fixed rent obligations to the landlords, the zamindars.

Just before the Tanka movement, the zamindars of the Susong Durgapur region thrived in the elephant trade. They forced Hajong raiyats to work without compensation, taming wild elephants by entrapping them with the assistance of previously tamed and trained elephants. The tribal jhum cultivating community felt exploited and waged the Hatikheda movement, marking the first peasant uprising in the region. In the context of this oppression, Kumudini Hajong’s father, Atith Chandra, emerged as a fervent activist.

Rashimoni Memorial in Netrokona

Anjoli Roy, the youngest of Kumudini’s five children, lives in Dhaka and works for a rights organization. In recent weeks, she spent some time with her mother during her last days at their village home. A few days after returning to her workplace, she received the news of her mother's death and immediately rushed back to join the last rites.

Reached over the phone, Anjoli told Dhaka Tribune how her mother’s health deteriorated during the last few years as her memories of the golden era of the Tanka movement gradually faded. Anjoli said her mother was a simple, ordinary woman like any other in the Hajong community, but her father’s revolutionary life eventually drew her into it too. 

She said her mother was still in her teens when she was married off to Lonkshwer Hajong. This was just the beginning. Kumudini embarked on a journey that intertwined her fate with the anti-colonial history of this region, forever linking her name with the Tanka rebellion. 

Apart from Tanka, Kumudini also bore witness to the enduring struggles of the language movement, the fight against oppression and discrimination in Pakistan, and Bangladesh’s struggle for independence. She received a Bangla Academy Fellowship in 2019 and an Ananya Top Ten Award in 2003. Kumudini was also a recipient of many other awards, including the Ahmad Sharif Memorial Award, the Comrade Moni Singh Memorial Award, and the Shidhu-Kanhu-Phulmoni Award.

Speaking of yesteryears, Anjoli said that due to the events of 1947, 1971, and many twists and turns in the subcontinental political history, many members of their community (Hajongs) had to leave their places of origin and resettle elsewhere, losing precious land properties in the process. 

She fondly remembered one of her father's pieces of advice to them: "There's no need to engage in arbitration or legal battles with others for our lost lands. Some people must have been living there; let them live in peace." 

Anjoli’s father, Lonkshwer Hajong, died in 2000.

Sujan Hajong is the Director of the Cultural Academy for Small Ethnic Groups in Netrokona’s Birishiri. He has seen Kumudini up close and fondly recollects her life and works. Sujan said she used to live with the family of one of her sons, Arjun Hajong, at their village home. Sujan believes that the state could honor itself by bestowing the Ekushey Padak or Independence Day Award to Kumudini during her lifetime.

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