Very few people know that freedom fighter Pani Ram Das with illustrious persolity was the first recognized jourlist of Darrang district who sent the first news report from Darrang in Sadiniya Asomiya edited by eminent jourlist Harendra th Barua in August, 1938 on the celebration of Janmastomi at Dipila in the district. Though he was also associated with The Assam Tribune, Assam Sevak, Saptahik Asomiya, Dainik Asomiya and Tinidiniya Asomiya as the first correspondent from Mangaldai, he received an amount Rs. 10 per month from tun Asomiya and Dainik Asomiya and telegraph bearing card. He was actively associated with the jourlism till 1956.
Born in a sleepy village of Jaljali famous for the historic Jaljali tank in Mangaldai civil subdivision on April 7, 1917 as the second son of village farmer Ratibor Saikia and Dobhagi Saikia, Pani Ram Das came out with the first division in the matriculation examition under Calcutta University in 1938, though he was rusticated from the school for boycotting the celebration of corotion of King George VI and joined the freedom struggle. Known for his eloquence and presence of mind since his school days during the British rule, khadi -clad student leader Pani Ram Das earned a high reputation of a fire brand youth for taking the key role in spreading the organizatiol activities of the Congress in the Mangaldai subdivision of erstwhile undivided Darrang with its headquarter at Tezpur. Within a very short period he, for his courageous, energetic and selfless service, came into close contact with senior and legendary Congress leaders mely Fakharuddin Ali Ahmed, Gopi th Bordoloi, Debeswar Sarma, Bishnu Ram Medhi, Mahendra Mohan Chowdhury, Bimala Prasad Chaliha, and many more. Even after spending two years of rigorous imprisonment in Tezpur, Guwahati and Jorhat jails in 1942, this ardent disciple of Gandhiji was also awarded with ‘shoot-at-sight’ order issued by the then Chief Secretary of Assam in Shillong on September 25, 1942. Significantly, his paterl uncle Dhanbar Pandit handed him over to prominent Congress leader ‘Tyagabeer’ Hem Chandra Barua saying that he would have to work as a servant of the motherland and therefore Dhanbar Pandit changed the title of the youth from Saikia to ‘Das’ in 1929. Uble to bear the colonial rule of the British, this ardent follower of Gandhiji however, in his youth during the Quit India Movement, lost his temper and highly motivated by the emotion of the highest degree of patriotism, set fire to the Sub Deputy Collector’s (now Circle Office) office at Mangaldai with the help of his trusted aides mely Khitin Das and Joy Chandra Das.
As a good organizer, he even organized a State-level exhibition on agro products single handedly at village Jaljali in 1946 which, at that time, was beyond the imagition of all and he proved his organizing capability. In 1946 he took a bold step to tackle the crisis arising out of the organized attack by a section of Muslim League followers raising the pro-Pakistani slogans favoring their leader Mohammed Ali Zinh even in Mangaldai town. He, accompanied by some of his close aides, organized a training camp at village Borbori on the outskirts of Mangaldai town to thwart the evil attempt of these pro-Pakistani attackers and was successful in his mission. Eminent Congress leader Deba Kanta Barua (who later became the president of All India Congress Committee) and several prominent leaders attended the camp to encourage Pani Ram Das and his team.
Recalling his rare sacrifice and his ‘simple living high thinking’ ideology with the highest degree of moral values, Shantanu Thakur, the Deputy Commissioner of Darrang in 2005, addressed him as ‘The General in Khadi’ while taking part in the historic celebration of the peasants’ uprising of Pothorughat of 1894 at Pothorughat while the then GOC of Gajaraj Corps Lt. Gen. AS Jamwal seconded it with a standing ovation.
In yet another important and significant contribution to the cultural field, particularly of Darang district, he took the initiative to give exposure to Deodhani Nritya and Ojapali -the two major yet lesser known components of Darrangi culture - in the tiol level as he arranged for the performance of Lalit Chandra th Oja (who later was conferred the Sangeet tak Academy award) and Deodhani dancer Radhika Devi outside the district for the first time in the Axam Xahitya Xabha session held in Shillong in 1953. It was the initiative of Pani Ram Das, who was a member of the audition committee of All India Radio, Guwahati, that All India Radio, Guwahati Kendra, arranged for the performance of the Ojapali and Deodhani Nritya for the first time through AIR, Guwahati in 1953.
He tied the nuptial knot with Kak Lata Das, daughter of a social worker-cum-freedom fighter, Bhakat Ram Saikia of village Gargari near Deomornoi in Darrang district on June 4, 1949.
During the Indo-Chi war in 1962 he led a strong procession of about 10,000 people on foot to Tangla covering a distance of 15 km only to encourage the Indian Army at Tangla railway station and also provided shelter to the refugees from erstwhile NEFA (now Aruchal Pradesh) in Kalaigaon. In 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi awarded him the Tamra Patra in recognition to his sacrifice and contribution in freedom struggle. In 1972, he formed Mangaldai District Educated Unemployed Youth Association to make the educated unemployed youths take up cultivation.
Reflecting the spirit of a true Gandhian, he always concentrated on maintence of peace and commul harmony- be it in during the language movement, Assam Movement, particularly in the violence of 1983, or during the Bodoland movement- and without caring for his life, he visited the trouble-torn areas taking the message of Mahatma Gandhi. Expressing his deep concern for the safety and security of the indigenous people, he raised the issue of the illegal migrants in the conference of All Assam Freedom Fighters’ Association in 1976 and in April, 1979 he convened a mass rally at Mangaldai. He also took an active role in the Assam Movement as the president of Darrang district Unit of AAGSP. During the Assam Movement, he was arrested under security acts several times and even was sent on exile in the thick jungles of Bhalukpong in Assam-Aruchal Pradesh border in 1982.
In 2005, the President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, in recognition to his selfless service to the tion, conferred a tiol honour on him at Rastrapati Bhavan on the historic celebration of August Kranti Divas (Quit India Movement) on August 9. The Indira Gandhi tiol Open University (IGNOU) also offered him special honour in New Delhi in 2007.
And this ‘General in Khadi’, a true Gandhian, renowned freedom fighter, dedicated social worker and an energetic youth till his death closed his illustrious and colourful chapter of life at the age of 94 on November 30, 2010.
On this auspicious moment of his birth centery, I offer my heartfelt homage to the departed freedom fighter whose life and works will always remain as a source of inspiration to the younger generation.