20 Unsung heroes from Bengal

20 Unsung heroes from Bengal

November 21, 2013

Bengal has always been on the forefront of any movement in India – be it politics, social causes, art or science. Once upon a time the province housed India’s capital and produced many stalwarts who contributed to the cause of nation building. Sadly, the rich past of Bengal is largely unknown to people at large. Although administrations at various points of time have taken initiatives to make people familiar with the unsung heroes – by naming metro stations after them, for example – many great names still lie in oblivion.

Khudiram Bose (1889-1908) was one of the earliest revolutionaries in the Indian independence movement. At the time of his death he was just 18 years 8 months old. Khudiram was inspired from a young age to become a revolutionary. Aurobindo Ghose (later Sri Aurobindo) and Sister Nivedita inspired him. Khudiram and his accomplice, Prafulla Chaki planned to murder Kingsford, the magistrate of Muzaffarpur, Bihar. However, they missed him.

The carriage at which they threw the bombs on April 30, 1908, instead of containing Kingsford, contained the wife and daughter of another lawyer. They both died. The attackers tried to escape but were eventually caught. Prafulla Chaki committed suicide while being caught, whereas Khudiram was put on trial. Despite the best efforts of a host of Indian lawyers, who fought for him free at cost, he was given the death sentence. He was hung on August 11, 1908, one of the youngest revolutionaries of India.

Botukeshwar Dutt (1910-1965) was an Indian revolutionary in the early 1900s. He is best known for having exploded a few bombs, along with Bhagat Singh, in the Central Legislative Assembly in New Delhi on 8 April 1929 to register protest against the Trade dispute bill and raised the slogan “Inquilab Zindabad".

He was a close associate of freedom fighters Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh. He met Bhagat Singh in Kanpur in 1924. Working for the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association in Kanpur, he learned how to make bombs. Batukeshwar Dutt outlived all his comrades and died on 20 July 1965 in the AIIMS in Delhi after a long illness.

West Bengal government had taken initiative to restore his ancestral home last year on his birth anniversary.

Prafulla Chaki (1888–1908) was a Bengali revolutionary associated with the Jugantar group of revolutionaries who carried out assassinations against British colonial officials in an attempt to secure Indian independence. Barin Ghosh brought Prafulla to Kolkata and he was enlisted in Jugantar party. His first assignment was to kill Sir Joseph Bampfylde Fuller, the first Lieutenant Governor of the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam. However, the plan did not materialise. Next, Prafulla, along with Khudiram Bose, was chosen for the murdering of Kingsford, the magistrate of Muzaffarpur, Bihar.

Kingsford during his previous tenure as the Chief the Presidency Magistrate of Calcutta was unpopular for passing heavy sentences on young political workers of Bengal. He was also noted for inflicting corporal punishments on such workers. However, the plan misfired. The carriage they threw the bomb at to kill Kingsford contained two women. They escaped. Prafulla was eventually caught at a railway station. But instead of surrendering, he committed suicide by shooting himself.

Bagha Jatin (1879-1915) – Jatindranath Mukherjee, better known as Bagha Jatin, was a revolutionary philosopher against British rule. He was the principal leader of the Yugantar party that was the central association of revolutionaries in Bengal. He was also among the founders of the Anushilan Samiti in 1900, and as a pioneer in creating its branches in the districts.

He had sought arms from the Germans to overthrow the British. Unfortunately, the British got to know about this plan. They sent a large contingent of troops in pursuit of him and his accomplices. After an open gunfight in Balasore in Odisha, in September 1915, four of his others died on the field, while he died later at Balasore hospital.

Benoy Bose (1908-1930) and his peer revolutionaries joined Bengal Volunteers – a group organised by Subhas Chandra Bose - in 1928. Soon, it became a more active revolutionary association and prepared a plan called 'Operation Freedom' against the police repression in Bengal, especially against the inhuman conduct with the political prisoners in different jails. In 1930, the revolutionary group planned to kill Col NS Simpson, the Inspector General of Prisons, who was infamous for the brutal oppression on the prisoners in the jails.

The revolutionaries decided not only to murder him, but also to strike a terror in the British official circles by launching an attack on the Secretariat Building - the Writers' Building in the Dalhousie square in Kolkata. On December 8, 1930, Benoy, along with Badal Gupta and Dinesh Gupta, dressed in European costume, made good their plan by entering Writers and shooting Simpson dead. A brief firefight ensued with the British police, who overpowered them soon after. Benoy, not wishing to be arrested, shot himself.

Badal Gupta (1912-1930) – Like Benoy, influenced by Subhas Chandra Bose, Badal Gupta joined Bengal Volunteers at a young age. Badal was also influenced by the revolutionary activities of his two paternal uncles, Dharani Nath Gupta and Nagendra Nath Gupta, who were victims of the famous Alipore Bomb Case and were imprisoned along with Aurobindo Ghose.

Along with Benoy Bose and Badal, he decided to kill Col Simpson, the Inspector General of Prisons, for his use and encouragement of the use of torture on prisoners, especially Indian revolutionaries. Wishing to die rather than be arrested by the Britihs Indian police, all three decided to commit suicide. Badal took potassium cyanide and died on the spot. After independence, Dalhousie Square was renamed BBD Bagh in the trio's honour.

Dinesh Gupta (1911-1931) – Like Benoy and Badal mentioned above, Dinesh Gupta was also inspired to join the Bengal Volunteers. For a short while, Dinesh was in Midnapore training local revolutionaries in the use of firearms. Revolutionaries trained by him were responsible for the assassination of three district magistrates in succession, Douglas, Burge, and Peddy. He shot himself but survived the near fatal injury and was tried for the attack; he was hanged to death on 7 July, 1931.

Jatin Das (1904-1929) was an Indian freedom fighter and revolutionary. The death of Jatin Das in Lahore jail after 63 days of hunger strike shocked the whole of India. Jatindra Nath Das was born in Kolkata. He joined Anushilan Samiti - a revolutionary outfit in Bengal. Jatindra participated in Gandhi's Non-Cooperation movement in 1921.

His memorable hunger strike started on 13 July 1929 and lasted 63 days. The jail authority took many measures to feed Jatin, including attempts to feed forcefully. However, Jatindra did not eat. He died hunger strike unbroken, on 13 September.

As his body was carried from Lahore to Kolkata by train, thousands of people rushed to every station to pay their homage to the martyr.

Barindra Kumar Ghose (1880-1959), the younger brother of Aurobindo Ghose, was one of the founders of the revolutionary outfit of Bengal, Jugantar. While in college, Barin was influenced by Aurobindo and drawn towards the revolutionary movement. Barin and Bagha Jatin were instrumental in the recruitment of many young revolutionaries from across Bengal. Following the attempted killing of Kingsford by Khudiram and Prafulla on April 30, 1908, the police intensified its investigation which led to the arrest of Barin Ghosh on May 2, 1908 along with many of his comrades.

The trial (known as the Alipore Bomb Case) initially sentenced Barin Ghosh to death. However, the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment, and Barin was deported to the Cellular Jail in Andaman in 1909. Barin was released during a general amnesty in 1920 and returned to Kolkata and started a career in journalism. In 1923, he left for Pondicherry where his elder brother Aurobindo Ghosh had formed the famous Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Barin returned to Kolkata in 1929 and again took up journalism. In 1933 he started an English weekly, The Dawn of India. He was associated with the newspaper The Statesman, and in 1950, he became the editor of the Bengali daily Dainik Basumati. He died on 18 April 1959.

Surya Sen (1894-1934) was a freedom fighter who is noted for leading the 1930 Chittagong armoury raid, in present Bangladesh. Sen was a school teacher by profession and was popularly known as Master Da. He was influenced by the nationalist ideals when he was a student of Behrampore College. In 1918 he was selected as president of the Chittagong branch of the Indian National Congress.

Surya Sen led a group of revolutionaries on April 18, 1930 to raid the armoury of the police and auxiliary forces of Chittagong. The plan was elaborate and included seizing of arms as well as destruction of the communication system of the city (including telephone, telegraph and railway), thereby isolating Chittagong from the rest of British India. However, although the group could loot the arms, they failed to get the ammunition. They hoisted the national flag and then escaped.

A few days later, a large fraction of the revolutionary group was cornered in the nearby Jalalabad hills by the British troops. In the ensuing fight, twelve revolutionaries died, many were arrested, while some managed to flee, including Surya Sen. However, he, along with some other members of the group, were eventually arrested in February 1933, after another fight with the police. Following a trial, he was executed on January 12, 1934 along with Tarakeshwar Dastidar.

Matangini Hazra (1870-1942) was a revolutionary who participated in the independence movement. In 1905, she became actively interested in the Indian independence movement as a Gandhian. In 1932, she took part in the Non-Cooperation Movement and was arrested for breaking the Salt Act. After her release, she became an active member of the Indian National Congress and took to spinning her own khadi.

In 1933, she attended the sub-divisional Congress conference at Serampore and was injured in the ensuing baton charge by the police. She joined the Quit India Movement of 1942, when Gandhi gave a call to all Indians to organise mass protests in order to force the British to quit India. In Midnapore district, where Matangini Hazra was based, as part of the Quit India Movement, Congress members planned to take over the various police stations and other government offices. This was to be a step in overthrowing the British government in the district, as a step towards establishing an independent Indian state.

On September 19, 1942, Matangini Hazra, who was 73 years at the time, led a procession of six thousand supporters, mostly women volunteers, with the purpose of taking over the Tamluk police station. When the procession reached the outskirts of the town, they were ordered to disband. As she continued to advance with the tricolour flag, leaving all the volunteers behind, the police shot her on the forehead and both hands. As a result of the mortal wounds, she died on the spot, chanting 'Vande Mataram'.

Rashbehari Bose (1886-1945) was a revolutionary leader against the British Raj in India and was one of the key organisers of the Ghadar Revolution and later, the Indian National Army. Bose earned degrees in the medical sciences as well as in engineering from France and Germany. He was interested in revolutionary activities from early on in his life. Through Amarendra Chatterjee of the Jugantar group of revolutionaries, he secretly got involved with the revolutionaries of Bengal.

During World War I, he became extensively involved in the Ghadar Revolution that attempted to trigger a mutiny in India in February 1915. Bose, along with AM Nair, was instrumental in persuading the Japanese authorities to stand by the Indian nationalists and ultimately to support actively the Indian freedom struggle abroad. Bose convened a conference in Tokyo on 28–30 March 1942, which decided to establish the Indian Independence League. The Indian prisoners of war captured by the Japanese in the Malaya and Burma fronts were encouraged to join the Indian Independence League and become the soldiers of the Indian National Army (INA), formed on September 1, 1942.

Rashbehari's rise was unfortunately terminated by an action of the Japanese military command, which expelled him and his general Mohan Singh from the INA leadership. But though he fell from grace, his organisational structure remained, which Netaji built upon. Rashbehari Bose died in Tokyo in 1945.

Prior to his death, the Japanese Government honoured him with the Order of the Rising Sun (2nd grade). In 2013, the ashes of Rashbehari Bose were brought to Chandannagar from Japan by the mayor of Chandannagar and immersed in the Hooghly River there.

Kalpana Datta
(1913-1955) was a freedom fighter, who was part of the armed resistance movement led by Surya Sen. After passing her matriculation examination from Chittagong, she went to Kolkata to join Bethune College. Soon, she joined the Chhatri Sangha. The Chittagong armoury raid was carried out on April 18, 1930. Kalpana joined the Indian Republican Army, the outfit of armed revolutionaries formed by Surya Sen in May 1931.

In September, 1931 Surya Sen entrusted her along with Pritilata Waddedar to attack the European Club in Chittagong. But a week before the attack, she was arrested while carrying out reconnaissance of the area. She went underground after release on bail. On February 17, 1933 the police encircled their hiding place and Surya Sen was arrested but Kalpana was able to escape. She was arrested on May 19, 1933. Kalpana was sentenced to transportation for life.

After her release in 1939, Kalpana graduated from the Calcutta University in 1940 and joined the Communist Party of India. In 1943, she married Puran Chand Joshi, then General Secretary of the Communist Party of India. In 1946, she contested in the elections for the Bengal Legislative Assembly as a Communist Party of India candidate from Chittagong but could not win. She died in Kolkata in 1995.

Manabendra Nath Roy (1887-1954), born Narendra Nath Bhattacharya, was an Indian nationalist revolutionary, radical activist and political theorist. Roy was a founder of the communist parties in Mexico and India, and a delegate to congresses of the Communist International. Following the rise of Joseph Stalin, Roy left the mainline communist movement to pursue an independent radical politics.

In 1940, Roy was instrumental in the formation of the Radical Democratic Party, an organisation in which he played a leading role for much of the decade of the 1940s. Roy later moved away from Marxism to become an exponent of the philosophy of radical humanism. Roy was much influenced by Bankim Chandra Chatter and Swami Vivekananda, through whom he learnt that social service was the greatest good that one can do. He was heavily involved in the 1905 protests against the partition of Bengal and the foiled plat to get arms aid from the Germans in 1915. He later went to USA where he first got interested in Marxism.

Bina Das (1911-1986) was a revolutionary and nationalist from Bengal. She was a member of Chhatri Sangha, a semi-revolutionary organisation for women in Kolkata. On February 6, 1932, she attempted to assassinate the Bengal Governor Stanley Jackson, a former England cricket captain, in the Convocation Hall of the University of Calcutta. She fired five shots but failed. Subsequently she was caught and sentenced to nine years of rigorous imprisonment.

After her early release in 1939, Das joined the Congress party. In 1942, she participated in the Quit India movement and was imprisoned again from 1942-45. From 1946-47, she was a member of the Bengal Provincial Legislative Assembly and, from 1947–51, of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. In 1947, she married Jatish Chandra Bhaumik, an Indian independence movement activist of the Jugantar group. After the death of her husband, she led a lonely life in Rishikesh and died in anonymity in 1986.

Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray (1861-1944) was an Indian chemist, educator and entrepreneur. In 1882, he was awarded one of the two Gilchrist Prize Scholarships after an all-India competitive examination. He enrolled in the BSc programme of Edinburgh University. He also developed a strong interest in subjects like history, political science and economy. After completing his doctoral thesis (DSc), he was awarded the Hope Prize which allowed him to work on his research for a further period of one year after completion of his doctorate.

While a student he was elected vice-president of Edinburgh University Chemical Society in 1888. In 1896, he published a paper on preparation of a new stable chemical compound, mercurous nitrite. This work made way for a large number of investigative papers on nitrites and hyponitrites of different metals, and on nitrites of ammonia and organic amines. He started a new Indian School of Chemistry in 1924. PC Ray joined the Calcutta University College of Science (also known as Rajabazar Science College) as its first ‘Palit Professor of Chemistry’, a chair named after Taraknath Palit. Here also he got a dedicated team and he started working on compounds of gold, platinum, iridium etc. with mercaptyl radicals and organic sulphides. A number of papers were published on this work in the Journal of the Indian Chemical Society.

On the completion of his 60th year in 1921, he made a free gift of his entire salary to the Calcutta University from that date onward, to be spent for the furtherance of chemical research, and the development of the Department of Chemistry in the University College of Science. On January 31, 2012, the Royal Society of Chemistry honoured his life and work with the first ever Chemical Landmark Plaque outside Europe. It was placed in Presidency University. He was the founder of Bengal Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals, India's first pharmaceutical company. He is the author of A History of Hindu Chemistry from the Earliest Times to the Middle of Sixteenth Century (1902).

Upendranath Brahmachari (1873-1946) – Rai Bahadur Sir Upendranath Brahmachari was an Indian scientist and a leading medical practitioner of his time. He synthesised urea stibamine (carbostibamide) in 1922 and determined that it was an effective substitute for the other antimony-containing compounds in the treatment of kala-azar (visceral leishmaniasis) which is caused by a protozoon, Leishmania donovani.

His discovery led to the saving of millions of lives in India, particularly in the erstwhile province of Assam, where several villages were completely depopulated by the devastating disease. The achievement of Brahmachari was a milestone in successful application of science in medical treatment in the years before arrival of antibiotics, when there were few specific drugs, except quinine for malaria, iron for anaemia, digitalis for heart diseases and arsenic for syphilis. Brahmachari played an important part in the formation of the world's second Blood Bank in Kolkata in 1939. He was the chairman of the Blood Transfusion Service of Bengal.

In 1934, he was conferred a Knighthood by the British Government. Brahmachari was a nominee for the Nobel Prize in 1929 in the category of physiology and medicine. He was president of the 23rd session of the Indian Science Congress in Indore (1936). Loudon Street has been renamed as Dr UN Brahmachari Street.

Pramathesh Barua (1903-1951) was a famous actor, director, and screenwriter of Indian films in the pre-independence era. Barua made a small investment in Dhirendra Nath Ganguly's Indo British Film Co, and also worked for him as an actor. He then went to Europe for a second time, observing production of movies in London.

Barua's breakthrough with New Theatres came with Devdas in 1935. The film was first made in Bengali, with Barua himself in the title role; he then remade it in Hindi as the 1936 film Devdas, with KL Saigal as the leading man. The Hindi version became a craze all throughout India; it cemented Barua as a top-notch director and Saigal as the top-notch hero of Indian films.

Barua followed up Devdas with Manzil (1936), Mukti (1937), Adhikar (1938), Rajat Jayanti (1939), and Zindagi (1940). Barua left New Theatres in 1939. However, he never achieve the same success as he did while working for New Theatres.

Mahendralal Sircar (1833-1904) was a conventional-turned-homeopath doctor, social reformer, and propagator of scientific studies in nineteenth-century India. He was the founder of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science. Although educated in the traditional European system of medicine, Mahendralal Sircar turned to homeopathy.

He treated several notable persons of those days, including the Bankimchandra Chatterjee, Ramakrishna, the Maharaja of Tripura and others. Mahendralal Sircar started a campaign in 1867 for a national science association.

The Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS, presently located opposite Jadavpur University) was established in 1876, and Sircar was its first director. IACS was the first national science association of India. Basic science departments such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, physiology, etc. were established, and notable Indian scientists participated in the association.

Another notable contribution of Sircar was that he supported women's education in nineteenth-century India, when higher education among women was rare.

Dr. Subhash Mukherjee (1931-1981) was a brilliant scientist-doctor and one of the most deserving Nobel Prize winners who never got the award. In 1978, he created India’s first and the world’s second test tube baby through in-vitrio fertilisation. The baby was named Durga. The method he used is the one most favoured today, used to deliver millions of babies. Yet, a callous attitude on the part of the then state government prevented Dr Mukherjee from continuing his efforts and he could not even publish all the details of his work.

Exasperated, he finally committed suicide in 1981. 2010, Dr Robert G Edwards received the Nobel in this category for his development of in-vitro fertilization (IVF), or what is commonly known as test tube baby. He created the world’s first test tube baby in 1978, along with Dr Patrick Steptoe. Yet, Dr Mukherjee missed it, a most deserving winner.

Team M3.tv has taken the initiative to make the global Bengali audience familiar with our unsung heroes. Hope the generations to come will seek example in the lives of these great men who served the motherland without expecting anything in return.

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Comments (5)
Manoj Reply
March 06, 2014
I am proud to be Bengali...
Sankha Reply
November 21, 2013
Most of us don't remember these people who made the supreme sacrifice for their country.
Amartya Reply
November 21, 2013
Good article.
Dipankar Ghosh Reply
November 21, 2013
True Indians.. Salute them
Sounak Reply
November 21, 2013
Thanks for highlighting them again
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