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Saraswati Puja in City College - Discord between Subhas Chandra Bose and Rabindranath Tagore

City College of Calcutta was under a Brahmo administration. Herambo Chandra Moitro, a strict orthodox conservative Brahmo leader was in charge in 1928, at the time the controversy erupted. Any Hindu religious festival involving idol worship was strictly banned within the college and the hostel premises. In 1928, the student inmates of the Ram Mohan hostel decided to perform Saraswati Puja within hostel premises. Majority of the students were Hindus. The college authorities came forward to ban the festival forcefully since they felt that it was against the ethos of the college. The authorities also levied a penalty on some students. This developed into a contention and fight, first between the students and the college authorities and then between the Hindus and the Brahmos of Calcutta. The Youth leader Subhas Chandra Bose came forward and supported the students' right firmly. On 1st March 1928 the students organized a huge meeting and termed the action of the City College authorities as laughably blind religious intolerance. The chief guest in that meeting was Subhas Chandra Bose and the President was Swami Abhedananda of Ramakrishna Vedanta Math. The meeting proposed that the College authorities had failed to preserve impartiality in this matter and their action of penalizing students was condemned in clear and unambiguous term with a demand for refunding the penalty amount to the students. Subhas Chandra Bose said that City College Authorities had taken autocratic steps and had suppressed the fundamental rights of the students to perform their own festival. Then students launched a strike. Herambo Chandra Maitro immediately declared summer holidays for the college and asked the students to vacate their hostels. He also threatened to punish them by disallowing them to sit for their exam. Subhas Chandra however was in favour of an amicable settlement as he considered Brahmos to be part of larger Hindu society. But unfortunately Rabindranath stepped into this controversy by writing on behalf of the Brahmos justifying the action taken against students. This was absolutely against the professed values of Rabindranath and the reason why he did it is quite unknown. His hatred against idolatry was perhaps the only reason. He wrote a long article in Modern Review in May 1928 which was quite attacking and provoked strong reactions. He equated (somewhat indecently and non coherently) the student right to worship Saraswati Puja in an educational institution to Muslim right to perform Qurbani in the same place. This was naturally opposed and Subhas Chandra Bose in his counter argument in Albert Hall lecture on 19th June laid bare the absence of strong rational and logic in Rabindranath's article. Subhas Chandra in this lecture also put forward strongly his argument in favour of idol worship saying that the underlying principle behind such a worship is to convene the infinite within a finite shape as infinite is too abstract to worship. He said that the Brahmos displayed extreme religious intolerance by disallowing students to perform their religious festival. The Brahmo Samaj played an extremely negative role. Its proponents first tried to rope in Basanti Devi to neutralize Subhas, then they approached the Government to take punitive action against students alleging political (direct point at Subhas) interference in the issue. Lastly they closed the door of City College to Subhas. This decision was rescinded ten years later when Subhas became the President of Congress, revealing once again the dubious nature of this institution. (adapted from the Bengali article Devi Aradhana O Subhas Chandra by Pranabesh Chakravarti - Udbodhan Ptraik, September 1996)

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