A Hero of North East, Unsung
If you are a visitor to the Dima Hasao district of Assam (earlier known as North Cachar Hills) for tourism
If you are a visitor to the Dima Hasao district of Assam (earlier known as North Cachar Hills) for tourism, you will certainly choose Jatinga in the first place, as you have already known its reputation for a sinister event of mass bird suicide, completely unaware, probably, of its real fame of sweet oranges. Harangajao will attract you as well, for its juicy pineapples, if you are a fruit lover. Remember, the queen of hills is awaiting you yet. It is Haflong, the district head quarter, a town about 3,160 ft above sea level. If you are disinterested in the mess of concrete, you have the option to discover the beauties of the district. There are untrodden green forests, towering dark blue hills embraced by hanging clouds, rugged terrains, dancing falls, zigzag streams strewn with giant boulders, and above all, the people, happy, smiling, hospitable and not much aware of how to arrange the next meal. They live in villages at far-flung places, sometimes 30 to 40 kilometers away from the nearest town. Ten to twenty huts on a hilltop may comprise a village. From afar it looks as if a flock of birds have come down from the sky to rest on the hilltop. I must warn you that in many a case you won't find a defined road, even today, to reach the village and on the way, you have to cross fast-flowing rivers and terrains. But things are changing fast in recent years. Imagine, what would have been the situation in the seventies and eighties of the last century, where this account spreads.
Dr Shibsankar Chakraborty set foot in Haflong just after obtaining his MBBS degree from the prestigious Gauhati Medical College in the year 1973 to serve the people of the district, neither in the capacity of a Government servant, nor by setting a chamber in the town to practice privately for earning money. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had already set up a hostel there for the tribal students, in their benevolent gesture, so that the children might stay there free of cost and get education. Dr Shibsankar was provided board and lodging in the hostel, as like any other student, free of cost. Mr Ramanand Sharma, the in-charge of the hostel and a profound worker of VHP, welcomed the doctor in the hostel. Arrangements were simple, mainly due to paucity of fund and, of course because of the nature of lifestyle of the organization.
Dr Shibsankar was the son of Dr Khagendra Chandra Chakraborty, a medical graduate from Mitford Medical School of Dhaka, and Mrs Sushama Chakraborty. They hail from Bikrampur of Dhaka of undivided India. In early 1950, a riot broke out in East Pakistan, killing and torturing Hindus. The family of senior Dr Chakraborty, himself a member of 'Anushilan Samiti', the breeding place of freedom-fighting revolutionaries when it was active, being unable to bear the brunt anymore, crossed the border in the month of February, 1950, not to return again. Dr Shibsankar was his third son.
According to Ramanand Sharma, who passed away in early 2022, the original inhabitants of the district, comprising mainly of the Dimasas, Jemi Nagas and Rangkhols, had no affection for modern medicines in the period under concern. Instead, they relied on black magic, quack remedies, occult, exorcist, ghost, casting evil eye on someone etc. Poverty and illiteracy to an extent unimaginable to the maximum people of this country, forced the tribal people in the state to resort to occult belief for cure and away from modern medicines, unaffordable to them. In the scenario, the role of the Christian missionaries is worth mentioning. They were in tireless effort to lure the people with what not, in their sole agenda of conversion under the cover of social service. The tribal people did not like to change religion. Rather, they preferred to stay along with their exorcists and beliefs.
Dr Shibsankar's arrival was welcomed by the people when they saw that he had no hidden agenda. He used to walk to those villages 30/40 km away upon hearing of any serious patient there (really hard to believe) and it was a regular event. VHP had no car or fund to provide conveyance to the doctor, but it was no hurdle to him. Even he travelled in the goods train, rail engines, shuttle trains, up to Mahur, Maibang etc., to continue his next phase of journey on foot to different tribal bastees for his mission. In the event of spreading of epidemic, he rushed in a similar way and stayed in the bastees for several days. Only on his return from the epidemic spot could the account of his activity there be known from him. The villagers gradually started to accept medicines from him. His sweet behaviour made him very popular and they lovingly called him 'Reheu Babu' (man of medicine in Jemi Naga dialect) or Doctor Saab. They greeted him as a member of their own family, whereas, in general, they did not like to mix with outsiders.
Dr Shibsankar made a reputation with the pharmacies of Haflong as well as Silchar. He time and again visited them to collect physicians' samples and medicines that just crossed expiry dates, which they gladly preserved for him to be used in this noble cause. He felt the necessity of a microscope for pathological tests in the need of treatment and also a projector to conduct health awareness camps in the villages. He asked his younger brother Gourisankar for this purpose. Gourisankar Chakraborty was an RSS pracharak in Assam, who had a friend and classmate named Dr Anil Jain. They studied masters in nuclear physics in Kurukshetra University. Later, Dr Jain had started a company named Vaiseshika Electron Devices at Ambala Cantonment. On Gourisankar's request, he donated the instruments manufactured in his company to Vivekananda Medical Centre of the VHP hostel to cater the needs of Dr Shibsankar.
Whenever he had to stay in the distant bastees overnight, he remained content with the humble offerings by the villagers, like curry of boiled jungle leaves or that of dried animal meat. He accepted and devoured the same without hesitation like 'Neelkantha'. Dr Shibsankar is not much known to the people of Assam, but he was renowned among the elder tribal people of Dima Hasao. Till he breathed his last in November, 1987 he selflessly served the poor bastee-dwellers of Dima Hasao. They loved him like a man and respected like a god. He always tried to keep himself out of the spotlight and publicity and silently worked for the society of Assam. It is not surprising that he is unknown to the history of Assam as a silent and a very useful social servant of that day.
Each day he passed is a chapter and his activities are endless to fit in the space of present article. Only in any future episode can the glittering stories of his life, his way of handling the days of Emergency in 1975, his close acquaintance with Padma Bhushan Rani Gaidinliu, be presented before the readers.
It still rains in the hills, still the mountain rivers flow, the birds still chirp in the sunshine and murmuring wind whispers in the ears of the passersby saying that once a saintly doctor walked through the jungles to reach the hilltops, where the patients awaited his smiling appearance, to listen to his delightful assurances that it was not the end of life.
The writer is younger brother of Dr Shibsankar Chakraborty. He graduated from the Guwahati University and served in the finance department of the Govt of India. Acknowledgements: Writings of Ramanand Sharma, Dr Anil Jain, Uma Shankar Chakraborty, Partha Sarathi Deb and a book 'Alor Pothojatri'.