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PA Sonaram Rongrokgre Sangma’s Life and Movement for the Establishment of the Garo Land

PA Sonaram Rongrokgre Sangma’s Life and Movement for  the Establishment of the Garo Land

Tonmoy Chiran

“You can shoot me by a gun and kill me and throw my dead body in the Manda River, but where to a place my body reaches you must sign in an agreement that tills to that place should be the Garo Land.” PA Sonaram, the first political leader among the Garos, replied when he was threatened with death by the British soldiers.

Birth, Education and Career
PA Sonaram Rongrokgre Sangma was the second son of Mr. Klang G. Momin and Mrs. Chamre R. Sangma. He had five siblings, named in order by birth

  1. Wilne R. Sangma
  2. Medini R. Sangma
  3. Matrang R. Sangma
  4. Roche R. Sangma
  5. Somorsing R. Sangma.

The exact birth date of PA Sonaram was not known but by the time of his marriage in 1889, he was 22 as mentioned in the registry.  He was born at Rongrokgre a small hamlet of Nachirongdik in the north-eastern corner of Garo Hills.

He studied upto class IV which was the highest class that could be provided at that time first at Lower Primary school which was implanted by Rev. Ramke W. Momin in Nishagram which was 25 k.m. away from his home and then at American Baptist Mission School in Tura.

He married Thokje G. Momin on the 7th June 1889 at Tura and their marriage was ordained by Rev. E. G. Phillips of the American Baptist Mission, Tura. Sonaram was the nephew of Tokje’s father. He’s wife also studied at American Baptist Mission Girls’ School and they were blessed with six children. They were:

  1. Nome G. Momin
  2. Silman G. Momin
  3. Roton G. Momin
  4. Sunalsing G. Momin
  5. Premi G. Momin
  6. Eme G. Momin.

After completing his studies, he joined in the PWD (Public Works Department) as a Mohurer and worked there for 10 years. He left the PWD in 1899. He was ordered to go to Kaunia but he did not go there and got dismissed from the job. Then he was taken up as an Inspector of vaccination by the Deputy Commissioner of Garo Hills.

During his service as PWD Mohurer and a vaccinator, he traveled to the many parts of the Garo areas and noticed the Garos were forced to carry bag and baggage of the British authorities. Moreover, the lands which were indigenously belonged to Garo people were encroached upon by Bijni Zamindars. 

Background of Sonaram’s Movement

From time immemorial, the Garos were in continual conflicts with the plainsmen living in the foot of the hills and the Zamindars. When the British domination started the Garos also came into conflict with them. Garo people suffered injustice and oppression by Zamindars and the British Govt. But only the victim areas people were managing the struggles on their own, there was no mass move then. PA Sonaram was the one, who first united the tribe and launched a mass movement, but in a legal and constitutional way. The main subjects of the movement were:

1) Habraghat Case

 2) Nazarana Case

3) Forest reservation

 4) Forced Labour

Habraghat case and Nazarana case both were a conflict between Garos and Bijni about ill-defined lands in Habraghat Pargana and Nazarana lands. Garos had been living there by the time of their ancestors. Forests that were used to practice Jhum cultivation by Garo people were restricted by British authority. The independence Garo people used to enjoy in the forest was confined. As the British Administration was introduced in Garo areas a humiliating practice known as “beggar” required the villagers to clear the village paths before the tour of the Government officials and to carry their luggage free of charges from one village to another started. I hope I will be discussing these in particular in the future.

Sonaram R. Sangma Becomes the Leader

PA Sonaram Sangma
PA Sonaram Sangma

In 1900, the people of Bijni came to ascertain the boundaries of Dilma and Resu by putting pillars, but the Garos sent them back. After a year Bijni made another attempt to encroach lands in PA Sonaram’s wife’s village Rohumari and began to put pillars. The Garos again broke the pillars but there was no case. A year after some pillars found broken on another area and there was the case and some of the Garos were punished excluding PA Sonaram. The Nokmas, Laskars, and other Garo leaders whose land was encroached upon by the Zamindars used to came to him for his advice and guidance. Then they proposed him to lead the movement to demand justice.

The Movement

It was 11th April of 1900 when a united action was first showed up. Phongpong Laskars and six others excluding PA Sonaram submitted a Petition to the Chief Commissioner of Assam, then another Memorandum was submitted by Jontha Laskars and 14 others in 1902 to the Viceroy of India. These two was about complaining against the Bijni Rani’s actions on trying to encroach their lands.

At the end of December 1902, PA Sonaram led seven hundred Garos and they marched across Habraghat Pargana to Dolgoma Ghat on the Bramhaputra. They established camps of grass huts, posted some notices ordering the renter of the area not to pay rent to Bijni zamindars and proclaimed the area as Garo Raj. The Government authorities suddenly rushed there and the leaders including PA Sonaram were arrested. PA Sonaram contacted Jacob his counsel and lawyer to defend them but Jacob did not show up. When the cross-examination has begun, PA Sonaram was taken to Kharkutta. He again wired Jacob but failed for the second time. Then he sent a man to Calcutta, Jacob came but he was not allowed to defend PA Sonaram.
On 3rd February 1903, DC of Garo Hills District issued an order to protect PA Sonaram with two sureties of amount Rs. 10,000 each to be of good behavior for the next 3 years of time from that date. But PA Sonaram did not accept that, for which his case proceeded and he was convicted on 14th April 1903 for the offence of instating and being a member of an unlawful assembly of the Garos of the Garo Hills. Then, he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. The sentence was confirmed by the Sessions Judge of the Assam Valley district. They were in Dhubri Jail where his fellow Soleman died. Then PA Sonaram was transported to Tezpur jail and as his sureties’ amount was not being able to supply, the surety amount reduced to Rs. 500.

On 2nd of November 1903, in Brahmakund, Goalpara, the government after several attempts, successfully persuaded the fourteen Nokmas, who had been preparing to sue against Bijni for not only Nazarana lands but also the whole Habraghat Pargana, to sign an agreement by which they were to receive 25% of the Bijni Nazarana Mahal revenues in return they had to let off all claims on the Nazarana lands. At the time of the agreement, a general desire was expressed to free PA Sonaram. PA Sonaram expected the Nokmas not to accept the money. Though some of the Nokmas were interested in the money the Nokmas ultimately sent the money order back.

He was released from jail in 1904 under the orders of Chief Commissioner. By that time PA Sonaram was at Alipore in Calcutta. After being released, on 8th July 1904, he submitted a memorial to the Chief Commissioner requesting him for a neighborly settlement with Bijni and to investigate the circumstances under which he was sent to jail without having a fair trial. He further applied to cancel the order of the sureties 500 each. Again estimated four Memorials were submitted by PA Sonaram and others to Viceroy and Governor-General of India complaining about encroachments on their parts on Nazarana lands and Habraghat pargana and demanded an impartial inquiry.

It was the end of January 1905 PA Sonaram was informed about his wife’s illness. He proceeded to Salpara, Goalpara. On his way back to Calcutta, he was suddenly arrested for the second time on 4th February in 1905 by a warrant under section 110 of the Criminal Procedural Code and taken custody from Goalpara to Damra. He pleaded very bravely for the recovery of the whole of Habraghat Pargana. The British authority did not want him to be left free at large and ordered to execute a bail bond for Rs. 10,000 to be good behavior for three years or in jail for the same period. He was there for six months.

A military outpost was established at Dhepa near Demra to handle likely rebellion of the Garos. During that time, the agitation continued. Some Garo Nokmas withheld their revenue dues and instead paid to PA Sonaram’s representatives. Bridle paths and Government bungalows were not repaired at impressed labor at several places. The Deputy Commissioner of Garo Hills had to seize the guns of several Nokmas for defiance of the order of officials in respect of clearing roads. The authorities tried to rope PA Sonaram R.Sangma into legal strictures but he could escape several times. This made the native people believe in the ultimate victory of PA Sonaram. Many Nokmas sold their properties to provide PA Sonaram with more funds as otherwise they would be deprived of lands. Such had been the confidence of the people in their leader PA Sonaram R. Sangma. Mr. Jackson and Surendranath Ghosal represented the case in favor of PA Sonaram. On 15th July 1905 PA Sonaram was set free with due notice that if he ever enters the district of Garo Hills, he would be arrested.

On 23rd August 1905, PA Sonaram submitted another memorial regarding the questions of forest reservation and Nazarana lands. Again on 3rd October and 23rd of November, he submitted two memorials to the government, the first one was regarding to clarify about the in and outs of the agreement of 1903. The second one prayed for the deputation of an independent inquiry Commissioner to settle all the disputes arising out of the claims for the ownership of certain lands in the Goalpara and the Garo Hills districts by the Bijni Rani and the Garos. The memorial prayed for the abolition of the beggar system and dereservation of the forest.

On 9th February 1906, about one lakh Garos signed a Memorial which was submitted by PA Sonaram to Viceroy and Governor-General of India in the matter of reserved forests in the Garo Hills. Another Memorial was signed by one lakh Garos signed and submitted about the beggar system on the same day to the same address.

The Last Days of his Life

PA Sonaram rented a house in Goalpara town as his wife and her relatives were no longer gave him moral support of his movement due to his busied himself between Dhubri and Calcutta for consultations with his lawyers until his death on the 27th August 1916 and was buried at the Bakrapur Christian Cemetery. PA Sonaram R. Sangma devoted his life to the rights of the Garo land and Garo people. He always dreamed of integrated Garo inhabited areas under one administration.

Thus the great, intrepid, and patriotic Garo leader is lost forever without fulfilling his dream. After him, though some of his followers continued his unfinished works could not organize the Garo people as he could. We still remember him with great honor. Pa Sonaram R. Sangma is a household name among the Garo history. Every year on August 27th is celebrated as the death anniversary to the remembrance of the Garo Legend- Pa Sonaram R. Sangma.


Sonaram R. Sangma (A Study of His Life and Works as a Garo Nationalists) M. S. Sangma


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