Remembering Kengki Megu, an unsung hero of the freedom movement

[ RN Koley ]
The students of Arunachal Pradesh are taught about the glorious history of the freedom movement and of patriotism in other parts of our country. In the academic curriculum there is hardly any mention about what happened in this remote corner of the country, whereas the tribal people of Arunachal Pradesh fought against the British colonial power to uphold sovereignty, and resisted the British policy of expansion.
When the British penetrated into the interior of the Abor Hills of the Siang valley, the Adis fought tenaciously several times in several places and experienced vigorous torture by the foreign rulers. In the course of events, they sacrificed their lives for the motherland. They stamped their patriotism like real heroes of the country. It is ironical that their supreme sacrifice, bravery and patriotism have not been noticed or recognized even after 70 years of independence.
The forefathers of the state made contributions in defending the land, the people and the honour of the motherland as true patriots, which needs to be taught to the students to nurture a feeling of pride among them. We and our government would not have done justice if this history is not recognized with appropriate regard and reverence.
During the troubled days of the British rule in India, the people of the state also suffered the extremity of cruelty and atrocities meted out to them. Their territories were infiltrated into and plundered, which was totally unacceptable to the freedom-loving indigenous tribes. It is wrong to assume that the fights against the British for India’s freedom were fought in Britain or in the country’s mainland only. Every nook and corner of the land was ignited with revolutionary and patriotic fervour. Most of the martyrs fought in their respective places, which went unrecorded due to lack of proper communication network in those days, particularly in this remote corner of the country.
As far as the Adis (called Abors in those days) are concerned, they raised strong resistance since 1836 against the policy of the British rulers, who carried out many military operations/expeditions for colonial expansion. The Abor Expedition of 1893-1894 was one of them. The revolting Adis, who were naturally freedom-loving, were aggressive and non-submissive, and they could not be brought to easy subjugation.
The British officers stationed at Sadiya came to know that Damroh, the heartland of the Padam Adis, whom they called Bor Abors, was the remote controller of the revolting villages of Bomjir and Dambuk. So, a military expedition was decided to be carried out to punish the Bor Abors of Damroh village for their anti-British attitude.
On their way to Damroh, the British expeditionary forces had to face tough resistance at Bomjir, Dambuk and Mime Sipo (now Silluk). As per records available, they attacked Silluk on 28 January, 1894. With the help of trained elephants and sophisticated weapons like machine guns, the British forces got the upper hand and those villages were captured and burnt down.
One fighter, Lutnyung Megu, laid down his life while defending his people and land at Delang Yapgo, on the outskirt of Silluk. Thereafter, Mebo was destroyed, and then, through Ayeng, the forces marched towards Bodak, where the historic Bodak massacre later took place.
Silli and Padu deliberately did not offer any resistance and allowed the forces to cross their villages. The forces further advanced and pitched their camp at the bank of the Yamne-Sijon confluence, about 10 kms from Damroh. A full-fledged war took place on 25 February, 1894, at Pimpu dota, which is situated between the Yamne river and the present Pasighat-Mariyang road.
With the aim of chasing away the invaders, the people of Damroh and its neighbouring villages fought a heroic war. While defending their homeland in the unprecedented fierce fight, three fighters from Damroh, namely, Kengki Megu, Jongkeng Pertin and Toyi Lego, laid down their lives.
The popular oral history, supported by British records, reveals that among the three martyrs, Kengki Megu, who was a renowned archer, led from the front and laid down his life while displaying absolute bravery and patriotism. He shot down many sepoys and seriously wounded lieutenant East with a poisoned arrow. Although written records do not specifically mention the fate of lieutenant East, he is widely known to have succumbed to his injury while being carried back on a stretcher to Sadiya/Dibrugarh.
The expeditionary forces retreated without achieving any success. The killing/seriously wounding of lieutenant East, one of the leaders of the British forces, and the strong resistance mounted by the people of Damroh and neighbouring villages were undoubtedly the major factors behind the shameful retreat of the British forces from the upper land of the Bor Abors. Thereafter, no other attempt was made to suppress them militarily, except diplomatically, by means of allurement and economic blockade, till the attainment of independence.
Apart from Kengki Megu, Jongkeng Pertin and Toyi Lego, if researched properly, the state has martyrs like Tajong Tamuk, Lomlo Darang, Lotiyang Taloh and many more whose sacrifices are not inferior to those of other contemporary freedom fighters in other parts of the country. Since these fighters are unfortunately unsung in the history of India’s freedom struggle, the posterity is likely to forget them, unless the present state government acts responsibly and recognizes them, though posthumously.
It may be recalled that in memory of the heroic deeds of Kenki Megu, archery competitions were initiated after his name by the Solung festival committees in Pasighat as well as Itanagar in the past. Our celebration of independence would be more meaningful and complete if these heroes are remembered on the auspicious occasion.
In fact, the state needs to be proud of these freedom fighters. Today, the people of the state, particularly the descendants of these unsung heroes of India’s freedom movement, eagerly look forward to the present people-friendly government to look into the long pending issue and accord due recognition to Kengki Megu and all others who were martyred in the wars with the British military forces elsewhere in the state, under relevant act/rules of the government of India. This will not only make their supreme sacrifices immortal, but will also impress upon the people of the mainland of the country that the forefathers of Arunachal Pradesh had also fought and contributed a lot to the national freedom movement, which will definitely be a matter of great pride and honour to the people of the state. (The writer is retired assistant director, research, Itanagar)