Unsung Lady of the Freedom Movement – Ka Phan Nonglait

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Unsung Lady

Discover the inspiring story of Ka Phan Nonglait, the unsung lady who is considered the first female freedom fighter from the Khasi Hills, whose bravery played a crucial role in India’s struggle for independence. Learn about her valiant acts, her association with U Tirot Sing, and her enduring legacy in this historical narrative.

Every story has a beginning, and it has its way of taking shape. This story perhaps has its beginning from a Whatsapp message forwarded to me by my dear friend Siddharth. Sid like me is passionate about history. The other similarity we share is the fact that both of us are feminists. So a blend of feminism and history is what comes out in the form of this story on an unsung lady who shaped India’s freedom struggle.

The message that I received from Sid is a news article published in ‘The Telegraph’ titled Remembering five women from Bengal who shaped India’s freedom struggle written by Ms. Shivangi Sen, where she highlights the role played by some ladies in India’s freedom struggle. I would like to thank Ms. Sen for the article where she spoke about these unsung legends.

When it comes to the freedom struggle of India we mostly speak about the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ as the first fight for Indian independence. However, many uprisings were initiated much earlier than 1857. For instance The Vellore Mutiny in the year 1806, or the Kutch Rebellion in 1816.

Similarly in the verdant hills of Meghalaya, far removed from the epicenter of India’s freedom struggle, emerged a courageous woman whose contributions remain largely unrecognized and she remains as an unsung lady in the annals of history. Ka Phan Nonglait, hailing from Rymmai village in Hima Nongkhlaw, is celebrated as the first female freedom fighter from the Khasi Hills. Born in 1799, her life is shrouded in mystery, with scant records documenting her remarkable role in the resistance against British colonial rule.

Ka Phan Nonglait’s involvement in India’s freedom struggle was closely linked with U Tirot Sing, the venerated hero of the Khasi Hills. U Tirot Sing, from the Syimileh (Chief) clan of the Nongkhlaw region, was renowned for his strategic prowess, bravery, and steadfast defence of the Khasi territory against British incursions. His guerrilla warfare tactics were instrumental in countering the technologically superior colonial forces, who wielded guns against the traditional swords and arrows of the Khasi warriors.

The Phan Nonglait Falls

One of the most captivating accounts of Ka Phan Nonglait’s bravery took place during an ambush at Langstiehrim. During a scorching summer, British troops moved from Mairang village towards Nongkhlaw, unwittingly walking into a trap set by U Tirot Sing’s men. Exhausted from the heat, the British soldiers paused to rest by a waterfall. Seizing the moment, Ka Phan Nonglait approached them with refreshments, a gesture that disarmed their suspicions. As the soldiers relaxed, she discreetly removed their weapons and concealed them under a rock hole by the waterfall. This act of bravery allowed U Tirot Sing’s forces to attack and capture the unarmed British troops. To this day, the weapons are believed to remain hidden beneath the rock, and the waterfall is named ‘The Phan Nonglait Falls’ in her honour.

Further accounts, though less documented, suggest Ka Phan Nonglait’s involvement in the killing of 32 British soldiers, highlighting her significant contribution to the Khasi resistance. Her actions not only exemplified her valour but also played a pivotal role in preserving the dignity and autonomy of the Khasi tribe.

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Ka Phan Nonglait’s legacy is a testament to the indomitable spirit of The Khasi people. She passed away on December 6, 1850, in her village of Nongrmai in Eastern West Khasi Hills after a prolonged illness. In homage to her courage and contributions, the Lyngdoh Nonglait clan has preserved her daily utensils and maintained her house as a historical site, ensuring that future generations can learn about this extraordinary woman.

In recent years, efforts to bring Ka Phan Nonglait’s story to light have gained momentum. A notable example is the book titled ‘Ka Phan Nonglait – A Lady Freedom Fighter of India,’ written by her descendant, Daniel Stone Lyngdoh. This work provides an intimate glimpse into her life and celebrates her role in India’s fight for independence.

Ka Phan Nonglait’s story, though often overshadowed, is a powerful reminder of the diverse and multifaceted nature of India’s freedom struggle. Her bravery and tactical acumen deserve recognition and reverence, ensuring that her legacy continues to inspire generations to come. I salute this unsung lady.

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