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Subhas Chandra Bose in Presidency College and thereafter - Quitting Indian Civil Service 

Oaten Episode - "Did I once suffer, Subhas, at your hands?"


Subhas witnessed a new fact of life. In Calcutta he encountered the mistreatment of the natives in the hands of the Englishmen. When they had endured the insults and abuses those abuses would go on increasing. However if perchance some of the Indians countered the mischievous Englishmen they would retract. In most cases the law and the courts were with the Englishmen. These kind of mistreatment and injustices greatly agitated young Subhas. During the wars, while being bedridden, Subhas did an intense soul searching - was it ever possible for the Indians to govern India independently? The answer that he got was yes, it was imperative. His studies were impacted as a result of all the disruptions and in I.A he did not do that well. He took philosophy honours in B.A and he genuinely loved that subject. He became interested in Western philosophy and also started to promote the materialistic viewpoints, much to the chagrin of his erstwhile more conservative group. But there occurred an incident in 1916 which changed his life forever.


One professor E. F Oaten was extremely disrespectful towards Indian culture and its people. One day he had manhandled few students on flimsy grounds. Subhas as the leader of the students went to the principal James and asked for an apology from Oaten. But the principal said that it was not possible for him to force Oaten to apologize for his behaviour. Subhas and the students then decided to call for a strike. All the students stayed away from the class. None of them budged even when they were fined for being absent. The strike of the students of Presidency College became a sensational news item across the city. On the second day of the strike the authorities asked Oaten to settle the matter. Oaten also agreed and he discussed and settled it with a few student representatives. After a few months Oaten again started misbehaving with the students and it was reported that he had badly beaten a first year student. The students got mad as the authorities were unable to take any action. So they decided to take the matter in their own hands. Oaten was pushed from the front and that created a major hue and cry. Subhas Chandra Bose was not directly involved but he was made a scapegoat, being the student leader. The Government decided to close down Presidency College and formed an investigative committee. The principal was enraged by the unilateral decision of the Government and apparently misbehaved with the education ministry. Principal was suspended but he wielded his rod of chastisement before his  suspension was effective. He called Subhas and suspended him from Presidency College. The investigative committee supported his decision. Even the Calcutta University expelled Subhas and all avenues of his getting higher education was closed. The president of that committee was Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee. The committee had asked Subhas if it was proper to have beaten Oaten. Subhas said that it was improper conduct but he supported the students on the ground the students had been enraged by the deliberate insults and abuses hurled at them over a period.


After being expelled from the Calcutta University Subhas came back to Cuttack. Years later, a great man while recounting that incident gave a completely different perspective. Somebody (a lady, a mother of a fellow student) had requested Subhas to own up on the behalf of somebody else (a fellow student). Sir Ashutosh got wind of it and tried his best to save Subhas by prodding him to reveal the whole episode. But Subhas had given his word to that "somebody" and hence he kept quiet and took the blame on himself. He had read in Mahabharata that if telling truth led to somebody else's danger, better keep quiet. This was the incident that taught him that leadership meant sacrifice. A leader has to learn to give everything for an ideal. Also he realized later that this incident was actually a boon for him as it decided the course of his whole life.


The Fallout - Impact on Academic Career

Subhas's parents and family members tacitly supported him throughout his ordeal. However his earlier group of friends did not. His education and career became uncertain. His father was against his traveling to overseas for education without first getting rid of the infamy caused by the incident in Presidency. From 1916 to 1917 he devoted his time in nursing poor cholera patients by going to their villages and in the hospitals. He never shied away even from washing them and was careless about personal safety. Also sometimes he had to take responsibility of their last rites as well which he gladly did. He also worked actively for organizing students and youth for the sake of development of the country. He organized ritualistic Durga Puja, went to historical places and did a lot of introspection. Such reflections helped him in discovering his inner secrets in the dark chambers of his minds, his desires and tendencies that were hidden from himself, and helped him in conquering them. He also conquered his deepest and darkest fears that manifested in his dreams.

After about one year he came back to Calcutta to try his luck again. He wanted to join the army but was rejected on account of his poor eyesight. Then the University, mainly through the personal intervention of Sir Ashutosh, decided to take him back. He talked to the principal of Scottish Church College and got admitted there in philosophy honours. He had to get a consent note from the principal of the Presidency college Mr. Wordsworth. With the help of mejda Sarat Bose, that could be accomplished and Subhas was back pursuing his B.A honours. By that time he had lost more than a year. He also got himself enlisted in a different kind of pursuit - University unit of the India defense force. Doctor Suresh Sarbadhikary was encouraging Indian students to be a part of this voluntary force. Subhas got trained in the disciplined army life and he thoroughly enjoyed the experience. He  got a sense of espirit de corps and a taste of the life of a soldier. He learned to fire rifles. His commanding officer was a rough army man named Gray. As a soldier Subhas enjoyed certain privileges which were not possible for an ordinary Indian civilian. But more than that he was really happy with that life. It seemed to him that this was the life (of soldiers) that he wanted. During the last phase of the Training Core Subhas had an unexpected visitor - Prof. Oaten. Oaten did not bear any grudge against Subhas. He called Subhas for discussion and before his departure made Subhas a Non Commissioned Officer.

In B.A final exam he got first class. But he wanted to study experimental psychology in M.A. However his father and brother had decided to send him to England to study for I.C.S. Subhas wanted to go to England but did not want to become I.C.S as it would mean that he would have to work under the British Government as part of their steel frame of rule over India. The very idea was despicable to him. He then thought that he might not clear the exam, so he decided to go to London anyway.

Subhas as University cadet
Subhas passport.JPG
Photo on Passport

In England - Preparing for ICS


In 1919 Subhas set sail for Cambridge. A few months back the Jalianwallah Bagh episode had taken place where British police under Michael O Dyer had fired on a crowd of unarmed Indians, women and children included, and killed thousands. But Subhas had no concrete information about it since information flow was restricted from Punjab, the province where such a genocide took place. In the ship he was joined by other Indian students and they had a fun time together, with the occasional irritating snobbish behavior by the Europeans towards the natives. It took the ship about 5 weeks to reach Tillsbury, because of a coal strike in the ports. When Subhas finally reached England, he was advised to go to the Cambridge for his admission. Subhas met Redeway who had looked into the matter of his admission very leniently and allowed him to get admitted in that term itself to avoid any further delay. Subhas was surprised by seeing the freedom and the respect that the students here enjoyed in comparison with his experiences in Calcutta. He had a whole lot of subjects to prepare in an incredibly short time. He later narrated his experiences of observing the Union society debates where parliament members and politicians of Britain would participate in debates with the students. He saw that the British were not sympathetic to India's struggle. British students also maintained an air of superiority and kept themselves aloof from the Indian students. He also saw the discrimination against the Indians and the anger and the bitter feelings among the Indian students as a result. When the Indian students applied for admission in University officer's training core, British Indian authorities objected and therefore they could not get the opportunity. The matter was escalated to the then India secretary who expressed his helplessness. Subhas was of the opinion that Indian students should come to Britain after atleast doing their graduation because otherwise they ran the risk of forgetting their own culture and blindly imitating the Western culture.

Indian Freedom Movement - 1917 to 1919. From Home Rule to Jalianwallah Bagh Massacre

Indian Politics - Home Rule Movement and Jalliwanwalah Bagh Massacre


The fortunes of Indian politics, in the meanwhile, had changed irrevocably. In 1907 after the split of Surat Congress, the Congress of the moderates had debarred the so called extremists or the more ardent Nationalists. Government had also decided to stamp the leaders out. Lala Lajpat Roy was deported and Aurobindo Ghosh took to renunciation. He went to Pondicherry and established an Ashrama to continue with spiritual practices. Tilak was imprisoned for six years in 1908 and was sent to the infamous Mandalay prison where he wrote his famous book on Bhagavat Gita called Gita Rahasya. In the meanwhile revolutionary activities increased by leaps and bounds. The seeds of Two Nation Theory sown by Syed Ahmed Khan was fructified in the formation of Muslim League which had its first meeting in December 1906 under active patronage of Nawab Salimullah of Dhaka. Muslim League supported Partition of Bengal and engineered riots on common Hindus in certain areas of East Bengal like Kumilla. Politics of communal divide was born. In 1913 Muslim League adopted a resolution to accept self Government under British crown and sought to achieve it by promoting national unity and cooperation. Congress welcomed it. However Muslim League was fully committed to its communal agenda as it wanted to only further the interests of the Muslim community. Dr. R.C Majumdar writes that the Muslims refused to join the Hindus in a common political programme because they believed that their interest would be better served by aligning with the British. But they were ready to sacrifice that stance only if Islam was under threat from the British rule as was evident during the Khilafat movement.


The release of Tilak in 1914 brought back the Nationalists into Indian political mainstream. Gopalkrishna Gokhale and Phirozeshah Mehta, the Moderate leaders, died in 1915, and thereby the Moderates were greatly weakened. Annie Besant had already taken the initiative of reuniting Congress by meeting Tilak and Gokhale. But Gokhale backtracked when he learnt that Tilak and his followers would not compromise on their views. After Gokhale's death the reentry of the Nationalists could be made possible and in 1916, in the Lucknow Congress, the moderates and the nationalists came together for the first time after 1907. Tilak received a royal reception. Annie Besant made a formal announcement about the Home Rule League in her paper New India in 1915. The objective of the League was getting Home Rule for India. Moderates did not accept the resolution of Home Rule but that did not deter the Nationalists to go ahead with the idea. Home Rule League was inaugurated in 1916 and soon had its branch in the different cities of India. Annie Besant took the help of the organization of the Theosophical society and set up Home Rule branches, made extensive tours and gave lectures. She was able to stir the country by her superb oratory skills. Many eminent leaders like Motilal Nehru and Tej Bahadur Sapru joined the Home Rule League. Tilak had also taken up the idea of the Home Rule League. He wrote stirring articles in its support in his paper Maratha and undertook lecture tours in 1916 for educating the masses on the Home Rule. Main idea of Home Rule was forming a Government under the British Empire in which the rule of bureaucracy would be replaced by an administration for the people. Through his Nation wide tours to firm up support for Home Rule and his fiery speeches that roused the masses, Tilak earned the epithet Lokmanya or "Honoured by People". Annie Besant declared in 1917 that "the condition of India's loyalty (to England in the world war) is India's freedom. India demands Home Rule because Freedom is the birthright of every nation." Mrs. Besant and Tilak acted in cooperation. Tilak and Besant held many triumphant tours and ensured a lot of support for the Nationalist camps and according to Dr. R.C Majumdar, the "Home Rule movement spread like wildfire. Two characteristics of it were the participation of women and the religious colouring given to it." Government, noticing the popularity of the movement, tried to muzzle it forcefully. Mrs. Besant was interned. When the movement was intensified, the British Secretary of State, Montagu, promised responsible government as the goal of British policy in India. This prompted Home Rule League and Congress to drop the idea of Passive Resistance. Tilak continued with the movement and even Muslim leaders like Jinnah and Ali brothers joined it. Home Rule League also formed offices in Britain and campaigned in America. Many eminent English and American spoke on behalf of self Government for India. The Labour Party conference in 1918 passed a resolution favouring Home Rule for India.

Writes Dr. R.C Majumdar in the History of Freedom Movement of India Volume 3, "The year 1919 may be looked upon as an annus mirabilis which marked a definite stage in the history of India's struggle for freedom. It was memorable for four outstanding events which shaped India’s future relations with Britain. These are :
1. The Rowlatt Bills and their consequence—the reign of terror in the Panjab, culminating in Jallianwalla Bagh massacre and barbarous enforcement of martial law in the Panjab.
2. The emergence of M. K. Gandhi of Satyagraha fame in South Africa as the political leader in India.
3. The passing of the Government of India Act on the basis of the Montagu Chelmsford Report.
4. Revival of Pan-Islamism as a force in Indian politics.

The Rowlatt bill sought to curb the revolutionary activities using brute force and took away almost all legal rights from the ordinary citizen being prosecuted. This was opposed throughout the country. This act brought in its wake a new leader, Mohandas Gandhi, who had returned from South Africa and led the peasant movements in Kheda and Champaran districts in a new style which he called as Satyagraha. He was mentored by Gokhale whom he regarded as his political guru. Gandhi had opposed the idea of Home Rule during war time and had committed his support to the British Government in their war effort, in anticipation for some concession for India in the post world war scenario. He now declared satyagraha against the Rowlatt bill. Gandhi had proposed for a general hartal or cessation of work on April 6. His appeal had a great response all over India. It started in Delhi on March 30. Gandhi was invited to Lahore and Amritsar. He was prohibited from entering Punjab province and he was sent back by police escort. In Delhi there were police firings and several people were killed. English doctors and nurses refused to treat the "rebels", according to the testimony of Swami Sraddhanand. Disturbances broke out in Bombay and Ahmedabad. Gandhi suspended satyagraha on account of the violent acts of public and termed his action to launch a civil disobedience a "Himalayan Miscalculation". In Punjab Lt. Governor Michael O'Dwyer, who had been ruthless throughout his tenure, gagging vernacular press, interning people without proper charges against them, collecting funds forcefully and recruiting people for the army, had caused much popular resentment. Agitation had broken out in Lahore over Gandhi's perceived arrest and one student was killed. In Amritsar, two popular leaders Dr. Satyapal and Dr. Kitchlu were arrested and faced deportation. A spontaneous hartal was observed. Police fired indiscriminately on a peaceful crowd in the Hall Gate Bridge who had mainly gathered for the Baisakhi festival. People burst into protests. Then some unruly elements created mayhem by murdering Europeans and attacking Government institutions. Brigadier General Dyer took charge on 11th April and a defacto Martial Law was imposed. He issued a proclamation prohibiting all meetings and gatherings. On 12th April a public meeting was to be held in Jallianwala Bagh. Dyer ordered his troops to fire on the unarmed crowd without warning. The troops fired on the crowd till their ammunition was exhausted. Thousands including many women and children were killed in one of the worst, deliberate massacres perpetrated by the British raj, though the official figures are much less at 379. At least one Britisher, C. F. Andrews, described Dyer’s act as “a cold and calculated massacre”, and “an unspeakable disgrace, indefensible, unpardonable, inexcusable." Dyer did not even bother about the wounded who were left to die. Dyer did not stop at that. His Martial Law would enable him to cut off water and electricity supply, would flog anybody and would order people to crawl on their belly. Dyer had his worthy colleague in Doveton of Kasur who committed almost the same atrocities on people. Other military officers taking charges elsewhere like Lyallpur and Lahore, Col. O Brien and Col. Johnson followed the hallowed footsteps or went further ahead in their efforts to suppress rebellions. Bombs were dropped on the crowd from aeroplanes and machine guns were fired in some places of Punjab. writes Dr. Majumdar, "Lt. Dodkins, R. A. F., machine-gunned twenty peaceful peasants working in the field. He dropped a bomb on another party in front of a house, simply because a man was addressing them. The mentality of these officers, who can only be regarded as degraded specimens of humanity of brutish nature, may be construed from the following report of Carberry’s evidence: ”Major Carberry, R. A. F., bombed a party of people because he thought they were rioters. The crowd was running away and he fired to disperse them. As the crowd dispersed, he fired machine gun into the village itself."

For eight months the Government of India tried hush up the horrible atrocities perpetrated in the Punjab. But the news of the terrible events slowly percolated to other parts of India and a wave of horror and indignation swept the country from one end to the other. The great poet Rabindranath Tagore relinquished his Knighthood as a measure of protest and wrote a strong but dignified letter to the Viceroy, “giving voice to the protest of the millions of my countrymen surprised into a dumb anguish of terror.”

Annie Besant
Jalianwalla Bagh Massacre
Balgandhar Tilak, the rebel who rejuvenated the spirit of Nationalism and was deported to Mandalay prison. Later promoted Home Rule movement. Image courtesy Wikipedia
Annie Besant, the proponent of Theosophy who championed the Home rule Movement. Image courtesy Wikipedia
Massacre at Jalianwalla Bagh by O'Dyer and his army. Unofficially more than thousand civilians were killed and many thousands injured as they had no escape route. O'dyer was exonorated by Britain despite the dastardly act. what more, European civil population raised contribution to assist this mass murderer. Image courtesy India Today

One ICS Less - I Quit the Most Lucrative Career for my Motherland

Such was the condition of the country when Subhas Chandra Bose left for studying ICS and it was but natural when he came to know if the ground realities the whole idea of serving the British administration in India would be loathsome to him.

Subhas started preparing for the tough ICS examination from the beginning of 1920. He had barely seven months left for the toughes examination. He laboured hard but thought that he had not been prepared and had not done well. When the results were out it appeared that he stood fourth. He informed his family about his success. However now he had the real dilemma- whether to accept or not to accept the post. He knew of various people who, despite having higher ideals, had not been able to pursue them once they were yoked to the ICS job. He finally decided that it was impossible for him to work for his goals from within the ICS. He wrote a long mail to his Mejda Sarat Bose and decided to resign  from ICS. In this respect Aurobindo Ghosh, who had relinquished ICS two decades back, was his role model. He thought that to become independent the country would have to go through various hardships and sacrifices and it must begin with his own sacrifice. He discussed his plan with Mr. Redeway who wholeheartedly supported him. Only one thought bothered him - that his father and mother should not feel bad or disappointed by his action. He also planned to join the ongoing non cooperation movement after returning to his country. His decision created a furor in India office. But when one is determined to pursue a higher goal, no amount of coaxing, cajoling or other overtures would unsettle him. Subhas took the return vessel to Indian and landed in Bombay on 16 July, 1921 and went to meet Mahatma Gandhi on the same day.

Dilip Kumar Roy, who was in Cambridge at that time together with Kshitij and Subhas, wrote about Subhas's long inner struggles, particularly how he was affected by the letters from his family on the issue of quitting ICS. Naturally Janakinath Bose was very upset. But no amount of remonstrances could dislodge Subhas from his avowed goal, of not serving two masters. Dilip also remembers how Subhas liked staying with the family of Dr. N.R Dharamvir in Manchester whose English wife was very sympathetic to these young boys and became their beloved Didi. Remembers Dilip, "she was one English (of Russian origin) woman to whom he (Subhas) had ever opened up emotionally." A touching scene was enacted when Subhas and his friends left Manchester. "Suddenly as the train whistled, Mrs. Dharamvir flung into our laps two little parcels." They contained a few nuts and other condiments, seeing which Subhas fondly remarked, "women, will always be women", implying the presence of inherent motherliness in all women across the world.

Subhas in Cambridge.jpg
Subhas Chandra Bose in London, with Dilip Kumar Roy and others, while preparing for ICS. Image courtesy Wikiwand

What greater solace can there be than the feeling that one has lived and died for a principle? What higher satisfaction can a man possess than the knowledge that his spirit will beget kindred spirits to carry on his unfinished task? 

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