SARFAROSHI KI TAMANNA …. Sharmistha Choudhury

08 March 2020

It was on this day, the 6th of February, in 1932 that a young woman revolutionary, whom we scarcely remember and revere today, attempted to assassinate the Bengal Governor Stanley Jackson in the Convocation Hall of the University of Calcutta. Bina Das, who at the age of 21 fired five shots at the Governor, though failing to kill him, said in her statement before the Special Tribunal of Calcutta High Court during her trial, “I can assure all that I could never have any personal grudge against any person or anything on earth; I have no sort of personal feelings against Sir Stanley Jackson, the man and Lady Jackson, the woman. But the governor of Bengal represents the system of repression which has kept enslaved 300 millions of my countrymen and countrywomen.” The revolver used by Bina Das was supplied to her by another forgotten woman revolutionary, Kamala Dasgupta, who had left home and taken a job as manager of a hostel for poor women, where she stored and couriered, bombs and bomb-making materials for the revolutionaries.

Both Bina Das and Kamala Dasgupta were members of Chhatri Sangha, an organization of women revolutionaries affiliated to the Jugantar group. Determined that armed resistance was the only way to freeing India from British rule, both girls were driven by a burning desire to lay down their lives for their country. Bina Das was born in Krishnanagar on August 24, 1911. A few years older, Kamala Dasgupta was born on March 11, 1907.

Shortly before Bina’s matric examination, Sharatchandra Chattopadhyay’s patriotic novel ‘Pather Dabi’ had been banned by the British as it was considered incendiary. However, Bina had already read the book by then and when asked to write an essay on her favourite book in her English examination, she wrote on ‘Pather Dabi’. Naturally, when the results came out, it was seen that she had scored far less in English than she deserved and she realized that it was due to her choice of novel for the essay that she had been so penalized. According to her, the marks she had lost in the examination were her first offering to the country.

Das was filled with indignation at the atrocities that her country had to suffer at the hands of the British and resolved to play her role in securing freedom for her country. On February 6, 1932, she attempted to assassinate the Bengal Governor Stanley Jackson at the convocation hall of the University of Calcutta. She had a revolver concealed under her gown and fired five shots in rapid succession at Jackson. Unfortunately, the bullets missed her target.

Bina Das was sentenced to nine years’ rigorous imprisonment. In an impassioned statement before the special tribunal of the Calcutta High Court, she said,

“I confess that I fired at the Governor on the last Convocation Day at the Senate House. I hold myself entirely responsible for it. My object was to die and if I had to die, I wanted to do it nobly, fighting against this despotic system of government which has kept my country in perpetual subjection to its infinite shame and endless sufferings, and all the while fighting in a way which cannot but tell. I fired at the Governor impelled by my love for my country which is being repressed and what I attempted to do for the sake of my country was a great violence on my own nature too… The series of ordinances savouring of Martial Law, to my mind, showed nothing but a spirit of vindictiveness and were only measures to crush all aspirations for freedom.

"The outrages perpetrated in the name of Government at Midnapore, Hijli and Chittagong (my own district), the refusal to publish the Official Enquiry Reports and many more of such instances, were things I could never drive away from my mind. The outrages on Amba Debi of Contai and Niharabala of Chittagong literally upset my whole being. I used to help the wife of a detenue in her studies as a work of love. Every day I saw with my own eyes the sufferings of the poor girl who was leading the life of a widow during the life-time of her husband as also the demented parents of the detenue, slowly sinking into their graves, without their having the faintest notion of the supposed guilt of their son…

"I attended the Court proceedings during the trial of my sister Kalyani. She was punished to serve a term of rigorous imprisonment for having allegedly attended a meeting which could not be held and for being a member of an unlawful society only on the basis of the evidence of her having a proscribed leaflet in her possession. This was to my mind grossly unjust. Though she is an Honours Graduate who had earlier lived in all the comforts of a middle-class family, yet ignominy was hurled on her during her prison-life. What with the jail-dress and jail-diet of ordinary convicts classified as third class prisoners, and the sleepless nights amongst such criminals, militated against my whole being. I saw all these with my own eyes and also witnessed the bitter tears welling out of the eyes of my dearest parents….”

Such a heroic woman died in ruthless anonymity. After her early release from prison in 1939, Das joined the Congress party. She was imprisoned again from 1942-45 because of her participation in the Quit India movement. 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, a former activist of the Jugantar group. Subsequently, she took up teaching as a profession. But professionally she suffered since she didn’t have a graduation certificate. She refused to accept the pension for freedom fighters. After the death of her husband, she led a lonely life in Rishikesh and died in anonymity. Her dead body was recovered from the roadside on December 26, 1986 in a partially decomposed state. It was found by the passing crowd. The police were informed and it took them a month to determine her identity.

Kamala Dasgupta’s political career began with her connections with the Jugantar group. She spent a long time in Presidency and Hijli prisons because of her connections with revolutionary groups and incidents of shooting and bombing. She was arrested for the last time in 1939 for her involvement in the Dalhousie Bomb Case. Besides being a freedom fighter, Dasgupta also contributed in the movement for the social and economic freedom of women. After the communal riots of Noakhali, she devoted her time to give relief to the victims of the riot taking charge of the ‘Vijaynagar’ centre. She edited the women’s journal ‘Mandira’ for many years. She also authored two memoirs in Bengali, ‘Rakter Akshare’ (In Letters of Blood, 1954) and ‘Swadhinata Sangrame Nari’ (Women in the Freedom Struggle, 1963). She died on July 19, 2000.

Sharmistha Choudhury

The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.