Freedom Fighters at Contai
‘The Uncrowned King’! ‘The Black Bull’! ‘Deshpran’! –The titles given to him by the people, out of love, appreciation and admiration, speak volumes of the man who said, “For whom shall Ilive,if not for the people ?” and who, when the European S.D.O. of Contai threatened to make the town a second Jalianwalabag,said to his face that then he would be the first person to lay bare his bosom for the British bullet.
Parentage & early life:
On the 24th November, Birendranath was born at Chandiveti, a village a few miles from the Kanthi (Contai) town. His father’s name was Biswambhar Sasmal and mother’s Anandamoyee. He passed the Entrance Examination in 1900 and got admission into Ripon College of Calcutta for higher education. He went to England to study law, came back as a barrister and joined Calcutta High Court in 1904.
Active Life –
(1905 to 1911) : Openly for administrative reason,but covertly for a political one,Midnapore District was proposed to be divided into two.The southern part of the district including Contai was to be named Hijli District and Kharagpur was to be the administrative Center.Birendranath toured from one end of the region to another and organized the protest movement.The attempt of partition was foiled and the proposal was withdrawn.
1913 – Leaving Calcutta High Court, Birendranath practiced in Midnapore District Court for a few years but,in 1913,he again joined the High Court.In the High Court, he defended the accused in the Chittagong Armed Robbery case (the first organized armed struggle for independence after 1857)without taking any fee.
(1920) –Non-Co-operation Movement.
In Nagpur Congress in 1920,non-co-operation programme was passed. Chittaranjan Das was the President of Bengal Congress and Birendranath was its Secretary.In response to Gandhiji’s call for non-co-operation, Birendranath was the first to give up his roaring practice and Desbandhu Chittaranjan was the illustrious second.
No – Tax – Movement (1920 –1922 )
Bengal Village Self –Government Act was passed in 1919.According to that law, 227 Union Boards were formed in the district. People were kept in the dark about the whys and wherefores of their introduction.Very few people took part in the election.Generally people regarded the new law as a plea to fleece them.Naturally resentment brewed all through the district.The Congress first consented to a movement against this law but then withdrew the consent. The Uncrowned King of Midnapore took up the cause of his people,and plunged into Boycott Movement.
The whole district rose up, but the movement was fiercest in Contai.Birendranath declared that he would walk on bare feet until the Union Boards were not done awey with.The boycott movement gained momentum day by day.People refused to pay tax.Police seized articles of movable property, but nobody was found to carry or buy them.Even the Chowkidars (the village guards)refused to serve the government.At last on 17th December,1921, 226 Union Boards were abolished and the last one was abolished the next year.In a mammoth gathering,with loud cheers,people put shoes on the feet of their favourite leader.
Chairman of Midnapore District Board : After Gaya Congress,in 1922,when Chittaranjan Das’s demand for Independence in place of Dominion Status was Rejected,the Swarajya Party was formed by Motilal Nehru and while Chittaranjan was the president of its Bengal Unit,Birendranath became its Secretary.In 1923,when election was held for the Midnapore District Board ,the Swarajya party members under the leadership of Birendranath Sasmal had a thumping victory and naturally Birendranath became its Chairman.With limited scope and scanty means,Mr. Sasmal performed a herculean task for an all-round development of the district.
Labon Satyagraha (1930)
Birendranath’s influence played a big role in the movement.His followers took active part in organizing people.Satyagrahis came to Narghat and Pichhhaboni to break Salt Law by peaceful means.The Satyagraha assumed the form of a mass movement in the area.
Electtion to Calcutta Corporation & Central Legislative Assembly & Death (1933-1934)
In 1933,Birendranath was elected to Calcutta Corporation in spite of the opposition of the Congress.At the request of Pandit Madan Mohon Malavya,he contested in Central Legislative Assembly election from a two –district seat of Burdwan division and won it but he had breathed his last before the result was announced.
Birendranath Sasmal was an ardent follower of Gandhiji.He had unflinching faith in Non-Violent movement.He thought-violence begets violence.He had some bitter experience in politics.But people loved him.Many Schools,Clubs, Organisations and streets that bear his name clearly indicate his permanent seat in the heart of people.
A brief Estimate of Birendranath Sasmal
Birendra Nath’s life was short of 53 years, from 1881 to 1934 - ,his political life was also short- of 21 years, from 1913 to his death in 1934, though his achievents were by means small. The paucity of systematic records, the apathy of some chronicles make the job of proper estimation of Birendra Nath a daunting task. The relevant facts and remarks scattered here and there are not always a good guidance because of some people’s tendency to rob one person in order to pay another. Moreover, his uncompromising attitude and actions like that of a maverick politician may have contributed to his being sidelined and underestimated. However, an attempt has been made here to offer a glimpse of the salient features of his life and character.
Stainless Character :
Birendra Nath was a man of dark complexion, but his character was spotlessly white. His owes largely to his mother for his unblemished character. Birendra was as much devoted to his mother as Vidyasagar had been to his . Before going to England to study law, he had to make vows to his mother that he would keep faith in God, that he would not come into close contact with any woman, that he would not indulge in luxury and would hold aloft the prestige of his family and country through his style of living. And Birendra kept his vows to the letter. His saintly living earned him respect of his friends and acquaintances. Birendra returned from Europe in 1905 and two years later, with his mother’s consent, married Hemanta Kumari, the elder of the two daughters of a widow at Egra, whom he had never seen before the marriage.
Bull-dog tenacity :
Without the support of the national leaders, having only the local leaders and people with him, ‘the Black Bull’ ( so called for his tenacity) waged campaigns against the British authority on as many as three occasions and every time the British had to give in. In 1920-21, in accordance with the Bengal Village Self-Government Act (1919), 227 Union Boards were formed in Medinipur district, disregarding people having cold feet. Without the sanction of Gandhiji or the Congress for which Birendra tried his best, he, in conformity to his inner voice, took up the cudgel to fight for their abolition. He wrote to the District Magistrate explaining the reasons for boycotting the Union Boards and refusing to pay taxes. He swore he would not wear shoes until the Boards were not done away with and he kept his word.
Twice did the British Government try to weaken people’s upsurge in Medinipur by dividing the district, apparently for administrative reasons. In 1913, it tried to segregate the southern part of the district and align it with Orissa and, in1931, it tried to constitute Hijli district consisting of, of course, Kanthi and Tamluk sub-divisions with some other parts. But on both occasions, it had to retrace its steps in the teeth of fierce opposition put up by Medinipur people under the leadership of Birendra Nath. The causes of the success of 1942 movement should be traced to the success of these movements led by Birendra Nath.
A man of strong personality :
Birendra Nath Sasmal was a man of strong personality and in this respect could hold a candle to Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar. His immaculate character, a honesty of purpose and sincerity in words and actions lent him a towering personality that compelled obeisance even from men in hastile camps, government personnel or policemen. On 1st April, 1933, a public conference of the All India Congress, then declared unlawful, was going to be held at Chowrangee of Kolkata, with Neli Sengupta in the chair. In this connection a police officer with a constable came to Kolkata – residence of Birendra nath one morning to serve a notice on him. Trailakyanath Pradhan, a notable follower of Birendra Nath, then putting up there, asked them to go in, but they preferred to wait outside until Birendra came down and called them in. Another incident that occurred when he occupied the chair of the District Board’s Chairman shows his keen sense of prestige, again of Vidyasagarian ilk. The Governor of Bengal, while on a visit to Medinipur, summoned Birendra Nath for consultation on certain matter. Birendra Nath informed him through the messenger that the Governor might call at his office if he thought it necessary, but not without prior intimation. After death, according to his direction laid down in his will, the dead body was cremated, keeping the body in sitting posture in a chair, at Kaoratola Crematorium.
A man of liberal views :
Birendra Nath was against terrorism and believed that the surreptuous activities of the terrorists would lead them astray. However, he admired the courage and sacrifice of the young revolutionaries and held a brief for those involved in Chittagong case, needless to say, without taking any fee. In Douglas murder case too, he defended the cause of the accused.
A man of clear vision :
Birendra Nath had full faith Gandhiji and his leadership. He was for peace and non – violence, but he was by no means blind to the use of force. He believed that the last phase of the freedom – movementwould not remain non-violent and a sovereign state cannot do without force or without the use of it. He anticipated the upsurge of toiling people and warned that if their causes were not attended to in time it could be bloodier in India than in Russia.
Dedicated to the cause of people :
Birendra Nath never failed or hesitated to stand by the people, wronged or distressed. The articles he wrote, the letters others wrote to him, and his autobiographical writing ‘Sroter Trina’ ( A straw in the Stream ) which he wrote when he was in jail in 1921, may reveal his love for and concern about people. he said,
“ For whom shall I live
If not for the people ?
I’m born of the people
Trusted by the people
I’ll die for the people.”
And nobody can deny that he was a man of his word.
N.B. we are eagerly awaiting the authoritative recognisation of a research – work submitted by Mr. Swades Ranjan Mondal, which, no doubt, will throw a flood of light on the aspects of Birendra Nath’s character and contributions just suggested here or are still unknown.
Exhibit – 1 :
Birendra Nath had a close connection with Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy who visited Kanthi on a few occasions and with whom he had been in correspondence. One of his letters, the photo-copy of which is produced here, shows that his comrades and party bosses did not deal with him squarely for reasons other than political or ideological.
Exhibit – 2.
On 22nd May, 1926, in his presidential address to the conference of Bengal Congress held at Krishnanagar, Birendra Nath explained what he meant by “ Swaraj” which was nothing short of sovereignty of India as a state and chalked out the road –map to this ultimate goal – from non – co-operation to Mass Civil Disobedience and to revolution. Birendra Nath’s conception of a revolution minus ill-will, without the excess of blood-shed, depending upon the developed mentality of people, was ridiculed in the pro-British daily, The Statesman, of May 23, 1926, as shown by the Exhibit – 2. However, only sixteen years later, Tamluk and Kanthi gave a demonstration of the revolution and the mentality of people that Birendra had in mind and captured police stations Govt. offices without using force in the prevalent sense.
Production of salt from sea water and crust was an important cottage industry in the coastal areas of Kanthi and Tamluk from earliest period of history. In 1781 the East India Company undertook the monopoly of salt business and gave it up only in 1861. Still many local people were involved in this industry. But for want of Govt. aid and renovation the industry and the people engaged in it suffered. Naturally Birendra Nath was deeply concerned about it and wrote the following article.
Iswar Chandra Pramanik
The political activities of Kshudiram,the first martyr of our country,centered mainly,though not exclusively,in the thanas of undivided Bhagwanpur,Pataspur and Khejuri of Midnapur district.The great revolutionary opened training camps for the local youths and taught them how to wield lathis,to keeep physical firness and propagate nationalist ideas.Many of the young boys courted arrest for their participation in the boycott of foreign goods at Thakurnagar Dol Mela and suffered imprisonement in 1908.Four years after,Iswar Chandra born.In 1921 Deshapran Birendra Nath Sasmal kindled the fire of patriotism and self-sacrifice in the hearts of the people of Contai,in conformity with the Gandhian ideas of Non –co-operation Movement and compelled the British Government to withdraw Union Boards from Midnapore.Iswar chandra was then only nine years old.But he was tremendously inspired by the surging wave of patriotism.Even from his father’s and mother’s lines he inherited the patriotic spirit.
He was seen among others in the in the flag hoisting ceremony at Haria Bazar. At the beginning of the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930. During Salt Satyagraha he was found busy collecting food-staff and carrying it to the volunteers’ campus at Contai. He was trusted with the task of seceretly circulating copies of Ranaveri, a swadesi bulletin. During No-Tax Movement (1932) he was marked out for a leader of the Haria Union at the local level. He published, jointly with Upendranath Pradhan, a bulletin entitled Satyer Sarathi and free himself headlong into the anti-untouchability campaign. He played a leading role according warm welcome as much to Rastrapati Subhas Chandra at Jaranagar during the latter’s Midnapore tour in 1938 a sto Gandhi at Krishnagar in 1946.
Mahatma Gandhi with Iswar Chandra Pramanik, Swatish Chandra Jana
and Pitabas Das at a Spinners' Meet at Khejuri on 03/01/1946
At Bhudan Padayatra, Iswar Chandra Pramanik with Vinoba Bhabe in front of Narayangarh High School
Iswar Chandra retired from active politics after independence but he dedicated himself to the task of re-construction of the country and the service of the people after the ideals of Gandhi, Subhas and Viniba. Besides his role as a teacher, he drew up social welfare programmes like Khadi and Swadeshi prapaganda, Sarvodaya Movement and removal of untouchability. He brought out a good number of books and pamphlets namely, Biswa-Guru, Mahatma Gandhi, Mahapurus, Pachhe Bhule Jaai (1st and 2nd), Sabadhinayak bhimacharanm, Swamiji & gandhiji etc. What deserve special mention in this connection are the Atom Chakra invented by him, and the models of social and family life as planned by Gandhiji, and cottage industry products which found placed in the exibition during the Kalyani Congress Session in 1954.
The Domestic Monk.
The first half of the 20th century was a remarkable period in whole India and Bengal, Particularly so on kanthi and Tamluk sub-divisions. It was a period of struggle, suffering and sacrifice most congenial time for the finest specimens of humanity to be born, to grow up and to deeds that demand recording. During this period, Kanthi saw many men and women who deserve to be remembered for their actions and contributions. Raghunath Maity belongs to this class of men.
Birth, Parentage and Schooling :
Raghunath was born at Mukutmoni near Manikjore in bhagawanpur police station, on the 6th day of Magha in 1309 of the Bengali Calender. He was the sixth son of his parents, Sushila Maity and Rammohon Maity.Raghunath lost his father when he was only ten. From the village Primary School, he passed the Primary Examination with a scholarship and got admitted to the Middle English School at Haripur. During this study- period, he was hosted by a charitable person of Radhapur, nabin Chandra Das. Thereafter he passed matriculation Examination from Mugberia Gangadhar High English School scoring highest marks in Burdwan Division. He got a scholarship that enable him to get admission to the Bangabasi College of Kolkata, but while a first year I.Sc.student, he joined the Non-Co-operation movement, relinquishing the scholarship and giving up the study for the time being. Later he studied Ayurved in ‘baidya Shastra Peeth’ of Kaviraj Shyamadas Bachaspati and at the same time learnt Sanskrit.
Role in Freedom Movement.
For some time, Raghunath was an honorary teacher of the newly established National School at kanthi. He also set up a shop of Ayurvedic medicine near the school and named it ‘Ayurved Mandir’. He attended the Salt –Volunteers, injured in police atrocity. Moreover, at Thakurchauk salt-centre, when the leader Kiran Sankar Sen was arrested, the leadership was passed on to his shoulder. Before long he too was arrested and jailed till Gandhi-Irwin pact was signed in March, 1931. The police raided his medicine shop and they were veritably like a bull in the chaina shop. He was again arrested in 1932 for his participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement and kept in hijli jail for two years. During this period of imprisonment, he protested against the maltreatment of the authority with the prisoners and as a result was beaten mercilessly. Conequently he was badly injured and had to be kept confined to bed for long. In fact, he never completely came round hereafter. During ‘Quit-india Movement’, his role was to collect money and arrange for providing legal help to those arrested by the police.
A friend of the ailing and the distressed :
After being released from hijli jail, Raghunath went to Kolkata where the exiled leaders of Kanthi-Pramatha Nath bandhyopadhyay and Direndra Nath Das –were putting up at the time.With a loan of Rs.1000/- Dhirendra Nath gave him, he rented a room in Haritaki Bagan Lane and started practicing Ayurved. As the news of his sympathetic and effective treatment spread, patients of critical and protracted illness started coming to him from distant places and his practice flourished. Raghunath repaid the loan. But the labour told upon his broken health, and one day suddenly he lost his consciousness. In the hospital he regained his consciousness only to find that one side of his body was paralysed. He came back to Kanthi, rented a small room behind ‘Harisabha’and started practice. His paralysed body could not dampen his spirit. Here too his practice did not take time to flourish.
In 1942 –flood and 1943 famine, a large number of people were in dire distress. The Relief Committee formed to help them collected money and materials and charge of distributing them was rested on the shoulder of Raghunath. For the villagers who came to kanthi on market-days-Sundays and Thursdays- he made a centre at the place where the College Road meets the canal and attended patients without fees. He also made temporary centres at Jararnagar and Krishnanagar for some time and rendered medical service free of cost.
Service to the cause Ayurved :
At Jalalkhanbar, to the west of Kanthi town, near the Central Bus Stand, Raghunath built his work centre where he carried his research-work on Ayurved. There he also built an organization and teaching of this traditional method of treatment. The College he established here, Baidyak Pathsala by name, later approved by West Bengal Ayurved State Faculty, had a few beds for patients and a boarding house for its students. The organization also published books on Ayurved, held exhibitions of medicinal herbs and conference on it. Raghunath himself wrote some books with titles that meant the resurrection of Ayurved, problems of Ayurved to cure diseases (In four volumes) etc. He made a herbal garden to grow medicinal plants, cultivated bee hivesto produce honey which is essentia to take Ayurvedic drugs with The ‘Baidyak Pathsala’ established by him still exits as the only Ayurvedic Institute in West Bengal outside Kolkata and can pride itself on producing many brilliant and successful students.
A Doctor of the Society :
Raghunath was a doctor not only to cure the diseases of men but also to cure the society of many long rooted ills. Gfollowing the 18 –point programmes of Gandhiji, he worked silently to purge the society of superstitious ideas. For instance, he appointed two attendants, Sarbeswar and haripada Sheet, belonging to the so-called untouchable community, to help in cooking, marketing, preparing medicine, everything with associates like Basanta Kumar Das (M.P.),Bipin Behari Adhikari (pleader0,Kangal Chandra Giri and Satish Chandra Maity (all freedom fighters), he carried out the programmes throughout the sub-division.
A Poet and Writer :
Raghunath was well-versed in Bengali, English, Sanskrit and Hindi. Besides books on Ayurved, he wrote books in Bengali on Ghandhiji –‘Ghandhijir Swadeshi’, ‘Gandhi-Katha’, ‘Jatir Janak Gandhi’ and an abridged Bengali version of Gandhiji’s autobiography. He was also a poet and composed many patriotic songs. One of the songs composed on the occasion of afforestion – festival is quoted here (the translation is ours) :
“Come, brother, we’ll together plant trees; Tree’s our friend, brother, many a fruit it gives.
We’ll plant trees, we’ll plant trees, we’ll give them nurshing,
Through fruits and flower, God’ll shower His blessing.
It’s our saviour, brother, pour at its root water.
Come, brother, we’ll together plant trees;
In their shade we’ll play, under them set fairs.
Branch to branch we’ll swing but never will be axing,
Let, on their branches, song –birds be singing,
Come, brother, we all together plant sapling.”
It is easy to understand how painful it was for Raghunath to move about with his half-paralysed body. One day in 1974, he had a fall, got hurt and it resulted in his death on 26th November.
The confirmed bachelor, the steadfast friend of the ailing and the suffering, the life-long learner and worker, a man of frail physique but indomitable spirit will for ever remain as a source of inspiration and a living lesson to teach how to hold cheap the personal causes and troubles and to find joy in doing something for others.