Today is the 110th birth anniversary of Jatindra Nath Das, better known as Jatin Das, one of the greatest revolutionaries that India has seen.
Jatin Das was born in Kolkata on October 27, 1904 to Suhasini and Bankim Behari Das. He was a bright student who passed his matriculation and intermediate examinations in first division. However, studying was not what he was really interested in. Around the early twentieth century, the political atmosphere of Bengal was surcharged with revolutionary fervour. Anushilan Samiti, a secret revolutionary organisation in the guise of a fitness club, had grown to be the principal revolutionary outfit in Bengal, with branches all over the province. It was this organisation that Jatin Das joined at a young age, and gradually became actively involved with.
He had also participated in Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement in 1921. But it was armed revolution which drew him, like so many freedom fighters in Bengal around that time. His revolutionary guru was Sachindranath Sanyal (founder of Hindustan Republican Association, which became the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, and later, of Hindustan Republic Army in 1924; mentor for revolutionaries like Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh, among others).
In 1925, he was arrested as one of the 10 accused who robbed the railway treasury on August 9 from a train in Kakori in Uttar Pradesh. He was transferred to Mymensingh Jail, where he and his colleague Pannalal Mukherjee underwent a 20-day hunger strike to protest the mistreatment of political prisoners. In fact, he only gave up the fast when the jail superintendent offered apology. The act of fasting as a weapon of protest against the British authorities was something that was new at that time. Jatin Das can be said to be one of the pioneers of this form of protest.
His exemplary sense of discipline and qualities of leadership, which he always had but which became known all over the country after his stint at Mymensingh Jail, brought him in touch with the revolutionaries of northern India. These traits also enabled him to hold positions of importance in many political and social organisations of Kolkata. Of course, Jatin Das did not give up his armed pursuits. His contacts with revolutionaries in other parts of the country gradually grew. In time, he became involved in the clandestine manufacturing of explosives in an effort to bring about a wide-ranging armed revolt against the colonial masters. On June 14, 1929, Jatin was again arrested in Kolkata. He was named as one of the accused in what came to be known as the Supplementary Lahore Conspiracy Case and was transferred to Lahore Jail. Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutta had already been arrested in the Lahore Conspiracy Case, which involved the throwing of two bombs and leaflets inside the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi.
At Lahore Jail, conditions for Indian prisoners were deplorable. The uniforms that Indian prisoners were required to wear in jail with were not washed for several days. Rats and cockroaches roamed the kitchen area, making the food unsafe. Prisoners were not provided with any reading material such as newspapers, neither with paper to write on. In protest, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutta began their hunger strike on June 14, 2009 (the former in Mainwali Jail, where he was initially imprisoned, before being transferred to Lahore Jail, where he continued his fast). Jatin Das and 10 other revolutionaries joined them on July 13, announcing that they would fast unto death. On the 14th day of his fast, the jail authorities tried to force-feed Jatin, but he resisted so strongly that his lungs got punctured and he became severely ill.
His condition deteriorated so much that the jail authorities recommended his unconditional release. But the government refused it as a matter of prestige, offering to release him on bail instead. But Jatin steadfastly refused, even after the bail money had been deposited, and even though Bhagat Singh and others had withdrawn their fast (though only for a few days). He refused to touch any food; neither did he ever allow himself to be force-fed. Finally, after a marathon 63-day-long hunger strike, Jatindra Nath Das died on September 13, 1929.
The news of his death spread far and wide all over the country. The people had followed his long hunger strike with bated breath, and now felt sad and sullen. But this event also inspired many of them to take up the fight against the British. Subhash Chandra Bose sent Rs 600 to enable his body to be brought back to Kolkata. Lakhs of people thronged Howrah station, waiting for his coffin to arrive, and then all the way up to the burning ghat on the banks of the Ganga. The Viceroy informed the Secretary of State in London about the procession in a telegram: ‘The procession in Calcutta is stated to have been of a record size and to have consisted of five lakhs of people.’ Highest tributes were paid by practically every leader in the land.
His marathon fast-unto-death stirred hearts not only in India, but in far Ireland too, where the hunger strike as a weapon of protest had been first used. Mary MacSwiney, wife of the Sinn Fein leader Terence MacSwiney, who died in Brixton Prison in England in 1920 after a 72-day hunger strike in protest against the British occupation of Ireland, sent a telegram which said: ‘Ireland joins India in grief and pride over the death of Jatin Das. Freedom shall come.’
Stamp released on Oct 27, 1979, his 50th death anniversary (Indian Post)
Written by Anushtup Haldar for Team M3.tv