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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 December 2004, 14:02 GMT
Villager's 'flame of freedom' burns on
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Funeral of Paduram Mahanta
Every day for 57 years, Indian villager Paduram Mahanta kept the flame of his nation's independence burning.

He would come out of his thatched hut in the country's north-eastern state of Assam and light a bundle of hay every evening to honour the independence won in 1947.

On Tuesday, the 83-year-old Paduram passed away, but his mission did not.

His fellow villagers have vowed to keep the tradition alive.

Separatists

Independence may have changed little of Paduram's way of life in the village of Dipila Kamargaon, 70km from Assam's capital, Guwahati, but it certainly left an indelible impression.

Village elder Arunim Sarmah said Paduram kept his passion for nationhood alive, even as Assam burned.

Since the 1980s, the state has been gripped by a violent separatist movement that has left thousands dead.

Thousands of young Assamese men left their homes to join the underground United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) to fight Indian security forces.

Mr Sarmah said many young men from the village had gone to join Ulfa.

But Paduram believed in India. For him, Assam was part of it.

Community elder, Bhabesh Talukdar, says the villagers of Dipila Kamargaon, have decided to keep Paduram's flame burning forever.

He said one villager would light a bundle of hay every day near the local temple, called Namghar, to keep Paduram's spirit alive.

Last year, Assam's Congress government, fighting separatist forces, claimed Paduram as an icon of Indian nationalism in Assam and rewarded him with 50,000 rupees ($1,100).

Paduram did not want to take the money but his villagers persuaded him to accept it.


SEE ALSO:
Q&A: India's violent north-east
04 Oct 04 |  South Asia
Assam rebels reject peace talks
10 Dec 04 |  South Asia
India premier in sovereignty vow
22 Nov 04 |  South Asia
Security vow for north-east India
04 Oct 04 |  South Asia
China to join Indian anniversary
13 Aug 04 |  South Asia


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