Revolutionary Activities - 1921 - 1935
Revolutionary Activities in Bengal (1921-26)
After 1917 there was a lull in the revolutionary activities in different parts of India mostly owing to the mass arrests of the leaders of the revolutionary organizations and the harshest punitive measures adopted. The revolutionaries did not go down without fighting. In 1918, the police went to arrest Nalini Ghosh and a few other members of the Anushilan Samity in Guwahati, Assam. The revolutionaries escaped to a nearby hillock and a gun battle was ensued. Eventually they were arrested but not before they had killed few policemen. The arrests and the harshest punitive measures merely suspended the revolutionary activities. On the day the political reforms of Montagu and Chelmsford were announced, it was decided to give a general amnesty to all political prisoners. Those who were arrested under the Defence of India Act were however excluded from the general amnesty. By 1920 they were released. Their return to a free life was followed by the launch of the Non Cooperation Movement by Gandhi. The revolutionaries joined the Non Cooperation Movement at the insistence of Chittaranjan Das. However when Gandhi failed to get Swaraj within a year, and subsequently after the withdrawal of the Non Cooperation, the revolutionary activities started again.
In the annual meeting of the Bengal Provincial Congress in 1922, the revolutionary organizations from different parts of Bengal drew up a plan for coordinated assault. The nucleus of the revolutionary societies were preserved by few old guards who had evaded arrests while new young men were recruited to carry out the execution of programmes because police had kept a sharp eye on the old revolutionaries. In Chattagram, a dynamic and brilliant mathematics teacher Surjya Sen, popularly called as Masterda among his students, set up a large number of branches for his organization. The revolutionaries of Chattagram launched an attack for looting the office of the Assam Bengal Railway treasury. The Jugantar group too carried out a number of daring attacks, the most prominent among them was an assassination attempt on Charles Tegart in broad daylight, by Gopinath Saha. Unfortunately Gopinath killed a European named Ernest Day by mistake. He was sentenced to death. Young Gopinath's courage earned praise from Swaraj party leaders including Chittaranjan Das and Subhas Chandra Bose. However Gandhiji refused to see the indomitable spirit of self sacrifice behind the so called "act of violence".
In Nov 1925, the police discovered a bomb manufacturing factory in Dakshineswar. The Bengal Government was alarmed and a large number of persons were put under arrest. Subhas Chandra Bose, the young Chief Executive Officer of Calcutta Corporation, was arrested under the Regulation 3 and deported to Mandalay for close association with the revolutionaries. In 1926 Pramod Ranjan Choudhury assassinated Bhupen Chatterjee, an extremely notorious Superintendent of Police who tried to destroy the moral courage of the political inmates by devious means. In absence of firearms Pramod used an iron rod. None of the inmates, including an ordinary murderer named Moti who was convicted to twenty years of imprisonment, came forward to testify against the revolutionaries. Ultimately the police had to set up false evidences to frame Pramod and Anantahari Mitra, both of whom were hanged in Alipore jail in September 1926.
Revolutionary Activities United Province
In the United Province the revolutionary activities were revived by Sachindranath Sanyal, Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee, Rajendra Nath Lahiri and Satish Chandra Sinha. An all India conference of the revolutionaries was held in Kanpur in 1924. An all India organization was set up named Hindustan Republican Association, which had representatives from each province. A committee was entrusted to plan and carry out activities across India. The Association also set up Provincial Committees to direct the plan of actions locally. The revolutionary activities in United Province was organized by Ramprasad Bismil. Ramprasad decided to loot the Government money in order to finance the revolutionary activities and not money belonging to ordinary citizens. This was the prime reason for the valorous train robbery in Kakori, one of the most successful heist by the revolutionaries. On 9 August, 1925, the revolutionaries stopped the train proceeding from Kakori to Alamnagar by pulling the chain, broke the mail van and decamped with a large amount of Government money. About 44 people were arrested and tried under the Kakori Conspiracy Case. All attempts for securing leniency were rejected and mercy petitions were turned down. Ramprasad Bismil was hanged on 18 Dec and his last words were, "I wish the downfall of the British Empire." Roshanlal and Ashfaqulla Khan went to the gallows and bravely courted death.
Revolutionary Activities in Bengal - 1928 to 1934
By 1928, many of the detainees of the erstwhile revolutionary groups of Bengal, were released. In 1930 the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act lapsed. In Bengal, the young revolutionaries had been organizing under the umbrella of the Bengal Volunteers, who had played a key role in the 1928 Calcutta Congress. Under the active patronage of Subhas Chandra Bose, the Bengal Volunteers displayed their organizational strength and military like discipline. Although the key members mostly owed their allegiance to the erstwhile Mukti Sangha of Hemchandra Ghosh, Bengal Volunteers also closely coordinated with other revolutionary organizations, both old ones like Anushilon Samity and Jugantar group, and the newly formed ones like Indian Republican Army of Masterda Surjya Sen in Chattogram. Surya Sen had able lieutenants like Ananta Singh, Loknath Bal, Ganesh Ghosh and Nirmal Sen. Together they planned to raid the Government Armoury in Chattagram, cutoff all communications and give a fitting message to the Europeans by attacking their club. They knew that the freedom thus achieved would be short lived and they would have to die fighting the Government troops, but they were ready to sacrifice themselves for inspiring the revolutionary youths to continue fighting. The Indian Republican Army created and circulated a manifesto by declaring their war against the British Government. In a reminiscence of the Easter Uprising of the Irish Revolutionaries, the revolutionaries under Surjya Sen struck on 18 April, 1930. An account of their attack, subsequent battles, leading the capturing and death of the revolutionaries is provided here. The Police Armoury was raided by a group of fifty people led by Ganesh Ghosh and Ananta Singh, and the Auxiliary force armoury was similarly raided. Rifles, one Lewis Gun, pistols and revolvers were looted but in their hurry the revolutionaries forgot to take the cartridges kept in a separate room. The Telegraph office was raided and the communications were cut off in accordance with the plan. The party then reassembled in the police line along with the main party and declared the Provisional Independent Government of India with Surjya Sen as the President. When Government troop arrived the revolutionaries escaped to the nearby hilly tract and after wandering through the hills and dense jungles for three days without food, set their position atop Jalalabad Hill. A pitched battle followed with the encircling British troops. It appears that about eleven revolutionaries and sixty four British police and army men lost their lives in the battle. The revolutionaries split into smaller groups and escaped to continue their attacks. On 6th May, four revolutionaries were killed in a gun battle with police while raiding the European quarters. On 31st August Charles Tegart had raided a house in Chandannagore where few of the revolutionaries were hiding. Surjya Sen was still at large, atleast, until he would be betrayed by a local villager.
The news of this daring exploit sent a wave of excitement across Bengal and many younger revolutionaries, who were charged with the vision to drive out the British through armed struggle, joined the groups. A significant development was the participation of several dedicated women members to the team of revolutionaries who carried out frontal assault, as so far women had been only assisting their husbands or comrades.
Government resorted to brutal force for suppressing the revolutionary activities and gave unprecedented power to the authorities to prosecute even on mere charges of suspicion even those who were aiding or abetting the revolutionary activities. Military police were deployed in areas like Chattogram and they carried out a veritable reign of terror.
Revolutionaries of the Jugantar group made a fresh attempt to kill Tegart in 1930. Dinesh Majumdar and Anuja Charan Sen tried to hurl bombs at Tegart's car, but was unsuccessful. Anuja was killed by a bomb that exploded. A large number of Jugantar revolutionaries were tried under Dalhousie Square Conspiracy Case.
Binoy Krishna Bose, a student of Dhaka Medical College shot dead I.G of Bengal Police Lowman and severely injured Hodson, Superintendent of Police of Dhaka, who was a master in inciting communal riots between Hindus and Muslims. Binoy Bose escaped to Calcutta with active assistance from Bengal Volunteers revolutionaries. Later he joined Dinesh Gupta and Badal (Sudhir) Gupta, both belonging to the Bengal Volunteers, and launched a daring attack on the Writers' Building to kill I.G Prison Simpson. Binoy Bose died from injuries and Badal took cyanide. Dinesh was tried and sent to the gallows.
The Medinipur unit of Bengal Volunteers, developed by Dinesh Gupta, sent shivers across the spine of the Government when James Peddie, the notorious magistrate, was shot dead on 7 April, 1931 by Bimal Dasgupta and Jyoti Jiban Ghosh. Garlick, the sessions court judge who had passed the death sentence on Dinesh, was killed in July 1931 in his courtroom by Kanailal Bhattacharya.
Asanullah, a police official of Chattagram, who was chiefly responsible for the horrors inflicted upon the hapless Hindus, including the women, in the aftermath of the Chattagram incident, was killed by a young revolutionary Haripada Bhattacharya, aided by Rajani Sen. Extreme police torture awaited both of them. Rajani died in hospital while Haripada was deported for life.
In December 1931, Stevens, the magistrate of Kumilla, was killed by two giggling school girls Shanti Ghosh and Suniti Choudhury, members of Chhatri Sangha. The girls were inspired by the ideals of the woman revolutionary Prafulla Nalini Brahma. Ghosh and Choudhury were sentenced to transportation for life.
Unsuccessful attempts were made to murder Mr. Cassells, Commissioner, Dhaka Division ( 21 August ), Mr. Durno, District Magistrate, Dhaka ( 28 October ) and Mr. Villiers, the President of the European Association ( 29 October ). Bimal Dasgupta was responsible for the attempt on Villiers, who had earned that by his vilification of Indian culture.
In April 1932, Douglas, the District Magistrate of Medinipur, was killed while attending a district board meeting, by Pradyot Bhattacharya and Prabhansu Pal. Robert Douglas was responsible for killing two unarmed activists in Hijli Detention Camp. Though Pal escaped, Pradyot, a young boy, was caught and did not reveal any other name despite severe torture. He was hanged in January 1933.
A notorious Sub Magistrate of Dhaka district, Kamakhya Sen, was killed in June 1932 by Kalipada Mukherjee. Kalipada was arrested by his mistake of trying to send a telegram and was hanged in February 1933. In July 1933, Ellison, the Superintendent of Police of Kumilla, was shot dead.
Bina Das, a woman revolutionary, made a daring attempt to kill Sir Stanley Jackson, Governor of Bengal, during the convocation ceremony of Calcutta University. She fired seven shots at Jackson, who was saved miraculously. Bina was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment. The Statesman editor Alfred Watson was targeted in August 1932. In September 1933, Burge, the Magistrate of Medinipur, was shot dead by Anath Bandhu Panja and Mrigen Datta were killed in the battle that followed with the police. Police further arrested Ram Krishna Roy, Braja Kishore Chakrabarty and Nirmal Jiban Ghosh. Nirmal's brother Jyoti Jiban had already been imprisoned in connection with Peddie's murder. Ram Krishna and Braja Kishore Chakrabarty were hanged on 25 October, 1934, while Nirmal Jiban was executed on 26 October, 1934.
In March 1934 an attempt was made to kill John Anderson, the notorious Governor of Bengal, in Lebong in Darjeeling. Bhabani Bhattacharya, Robi Roy and Manoranjan Bannerjee, the three intrepid young men, shot at the Governor unsuccessfully and were arrested. Bhabani was sentenced to death in 1935. Ujjwala Majumdar, another woman revolutionary connected with the plan, got twenty years of imprisonment.
In 1932, military police raided a house in Dholaghat, where Surjya Sen was hiding. The house belonged to a widow Savitri Devi. The house had sheltered Preetilata Wadeddar, Nirmal Sen and Master da himself. Capt. Cameron, the chief of the British military police, made a surprise attack. Cameron was shot dead and Nirmal Sen was killed as well. Surjya Sen and Preetilata managed to escape. Three months later, in September 1932, Preetilata led a group of young revolutionaries to raid the Railway Institute of Pahartali in Chattagram, that was frequented by the Europeans. A gun battle followed and Preetilata fell wounded. To evade arrest she consumed cyanide. Prior to this, Preetilata had met Ramakrishna Biswas in Alipore jail, who was convicted of killing Inspector Tarini Mukherjee by mistaking him as I.G Craig. Ramkrishna Biswas was hanged a few days after Dinesh Gupta.
In February 1933 Surjya Sen was finally betrayed in Gairala village by a local con man called Netra Sen. A large contingent of Gurkha police apprehended Surjya Sen and his associate. Retribution of the revolutionaries was swift, Netra was beheaded in broad daylight. Surjya Sen was severely tortured by the police but the British military had greatly appreciated his courage and military skills. Surjya Sen and his trusted lieutenant Tarakeshwar Dastidar, were hanged on 12 January, 1934. Thus ended a glorious chapter in the history of armed struggle of Bengal against the British.
On 7 January four young teenagers took revenge by attacking the Europeans during a cricket match in Chattagram. Two of them were killed in the spot and two others, Harendranath Chakrabarty and Krishna Choudhury, were executed in June, 1934.
Gun battles and clashes between police and the revolutionaries were common. There were saboteurs too who were often targeted by the revolutionaries. In May 1933 the police arrested Dinesh Majumdar, who had earlier killed Quinn, the police commissioner of Chandannagore, and made an attempt on the life of Charles Tegart in 1930, after a gun battle in Cornwallis Street of Calcutta. Dinesh was executed in June 1934. Manindranath Banerjee of Benaras, killed his maternal uncle Jiten Bannerjee, the police officer who was in charge of the Kakori Comspiracy Case. Manindra died after sixty six days of hunger strike in Fatehgarh jail in UP, in protest against the inhuman treatment meted out in jail. Baikuntha Sukul killed Phani Ghosh, who had betrayed the revolutionaries in Lahore Conspitracy Case, and was executed in May, 1934 in Gaya jail. When Garlick was murdered, the inmates of the Hijli detention camp celebrated by illuminating lamps. The camp commandant provoked the guards to fire upon the inmates. Tarakeshwar Sengupta and Santosh Mitra were killed by the warder and his men in Hijli jail in September 16, 1931, that resulted in widespread protest across Bengal led by Subhas Chandra Bose and Rabindranath Tagore.
Asit Bhattacharya was executed in June 1934 in Sylhet jail in connection with the Itakhola mail dacoity case. Motilal Mallik was executed in December 1934 in connection with the Deobhog shooting case.
Revolutionary Activities outside Bengal (1928-1934)
Hindustan Socialist Republican Association was the key organization in North India for continuing with the revolutionary activities. The police had come up extremely harshly on the revolutionary network and this had somewhat dampened the support to the revolutionaries. Also the arrest of the key leaders in Kakori Conspiracy Case and the martyrdom of several architects had created a leadership vacuum.
Chandra Sekhar Azad, the sole remaining absconder of the Kakori Conspiracy Case, took the leading part in re-organizing the revolutionary movement. The name of the Association was changed to Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. The party became an all India one with Central, Provincial and District Committees under it. This organization had taken upon itself the task of punishing Scott, who had brutally assaulted Lala Lajpat Rai in Lahore in 1928. Bhagat Singh and his associates killed Saunders , another notorious officer. In April, 1929, the Trade Disputes Bill, intended to curtail the rights of labourers to strike, was being discussed in the Legislative Assembly, Delhi and the Public Safety Bill was being planned to be introduced which had a direct bearing on the ongoing Meerut Conspiracy Case, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Datta threw two bombs on the floor of the Assembly, but it was not intended to hurt anybody. Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar courted voluntary arrest after throwing a Red Pamphlet and issued a Joint Declaration. They were sentenced to deportation for life. In the Joint Statement the revolutionaries had clarified their objective and the reason for choosing the location, which symbolized British suppression of India's aspirations and dreams - "It exists only to demonstrate to the world India’s
humiliation and helplessness and it symbolises the overriding domination of irresponsible and autocratic rule.....Resolutions regarding the repeal of repressive and arbitrary measures have been treated with sublime contempt and Government’s measures and proposals rejected as unacceptable by elected members have been restored by a stroke of the pen."
The bomb throwing was followed by the discovery of a huge bomb factory in Lahore. Another big bomb factory was discovered in Saharanpur in May 1929. This was owing to treachery of few prominent members like Phani Ghosh. Within a few weeks almost all major leaders of Hindustan Republican Association were arrested. Government started the Lahore Conspiracy Case in 1929. Bhagat Singh, an accused in the Lahore Conspiracy Case, was brought to the Lahore jail along with other co-accused. The Lahore Conspiracy case was marked by the hunger strike by the under trial prisoners in jail. The idea of the hunger strike was originally conceived by Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Datta. They hunger strike was against the treatment meted out to the political prisoners in jail. The hunger strike started on 12th July. The Government did not relent to the demands which were simple in nature - of providing better food, clothing, supply of books and writing materials, immunity from hard labour and humility, supply of oil, soaps etc. The Government instead resorted to force feeding. As the strike continued, it created widespread concern and demonstrations across the country. The Government, after about two months, assured that they would consider the demand. The prisoners then broke their fast, all, except Jatin Das, who refused all food and medicine and did not compromise on the principles. He stuck to the last as was his promise and warning, and he embraced martyrdom after 63 days of fast. The body was carried by train to Calcutta and large crowd gathered in every station to pay their respect. The family of Terence McSwiney, the Irish revolutionary who had similarly embraced death by fasting for freedom of Irish Republic, sent a most touching condolence letter to Jatin's family. In Calcutta, thousands gathered to pay their respect.
The hunger strike had serious effect on the trials of Lahore Conspiracy Case. Prisoners refused to attend court. Several key witnesses refused to give their evidences against the accused. Government, undeterred, promulgated on 2 May, 1930, Lahore Conspiracy Case Ordinance which gave special powers to a Special Tribunal to try the prisoners in the Lahore Conspiracy Case. In the open court the police manhandled the accused. The judgement was delivered on October 7, 1930. Sukhdev, Shivram Rajguru and Bhagat Singh were awarded death penalty. Others were either sentenced for life or had to endure long term imprisonment. The judgement resulted in demise of Hindustan Social Republican Association, since almost all of its leaders were now either dead or imprisoned, all except Chandrasekhar Azad.
Manindranath Bannerjee of United Province, who killed his uncle, J.N Bannerjee, a police officer who had caught the revolutionaries associated with Kakori Conspiracy Case, died in Farokabad prison in protest against the inhuman treatment meted out to him and the fellow revolutionaries, by undertaking a fast for 66 days. All the eight brothers of the Bannerjee family were connected to the freedom movement.
Chandrasekhar Azad aimed to blow up the train carrying the Viceroy Irwin. The attempt failed. It is to be noted that while Gandhi condemned the attempt on Viceroy's life, he was silent on the death penalty meted out to Bhagat Singh and his associates. Gandhi also did not support the indefinite fasting and ultimately death of Jatin Das, which compelled Subhas Chandra Bose to raise a question in his book Indian Struggle on Gandhiji's overall attitude. The reason is simple - in Indian freedom movement it had to be either Gandhiji's way or the highway. Freedom was non essential, his pet way was dearer to him than anything else. If it compromised with the ideology of independence, so be it. That was Gandhi's motto all throughout the freedom struggle. And yet, most unfortunately, he is regarded as the one who gave India the freedom.
Chandrasekhar planned an armed rebellion and raised money through heist. One of his key aides were arrested and a bomb factory and arms were discovered. Chandrasekhar fled to Punjab. Police desperately searched for him, in the course of which they arrested several key revolutionaries and started Second Lahore Conspiracy Case and Delhi Conspiracy Case. Chandrasekhar still remained at large and police announced a reward of Rs 10000 for his whereabouts. Chandrasekhar was always on the move and it was difficult to get his exact location. He was trying to gather the few remaining revolutionaries. On 27th Feb, 1931, he was betrayed to the police in Alfred Park in Allahabad. Chandrasekhar fought bravely and went down after a fierce gun battle that injured few policemen. The death of Chandrasekhar was a severe blow from which the revolutionary movement in North India could never recover completely. The few remaining revolutionaries either joined Congress or the Communists or completely gave up their career or joined the police in hunting down fellow revolutionaries. Sporadic activities however continued by few desperate men and women in United Provinces and in Punjab, atleast until 1934. In 1932 Harkishan Talwar, elder brother of Bhagat Ram Talwar, fired at the Governor of Punjab and killed a policeman. He was tried and hanged. In 1930, a student, Vasudeo Balbant Gogte fired at the Governor in Fergusson College, Pune. Gogte was sentenced to twelve years imprisonment.
Writes Dr. Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, "There was a temporary swing of the revolutionaries to Gandhian non-violence in 1920-21, but the suspension of the Non-co-operation movement brought it to an end. Many old revolutionaries, mellowed by age and experience, remained in Gandhi's camp, or retired from politics, but new recruits joined the revolutionary groups and revolutionary ideas got a firmer grip on the people." He continued, "The tumultuous enthusiasm for the revolutionary heroes particularly stirred the younger section, and even Gandhi had to bend before the new force in the Karachi Congress. Gandhi fully realized the new situation and wrote in the Young India ‘that the year 1929 remained as the period of great awakening among the youth of India."
There was no doubt a growing influence of Communism among the youth, who took to radicalism. But most of them embraced revolutionary activities being fed up by the inaction of the old guards of Congress, esp. when Gandhi's promises and compromises yielded nothing. British Government carried out their ruthless, brutal repressive regime as usual and the country was exploited as a whole. Discontent spread among students, the peasants, the labour unions and workers and young people were more influenced and inspired by leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose who advocated complete independence, than the orthodox, pro Gandhi rightist faction of Congress. The Socialists, the leftist bloc within the Congress, nurtured by Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru, was rising into prominence. Master da Surjya Sen and the Bengal Volunteers had given an outlet to the youth to vent their ire on the officials. Writes Dr. Majumdar, "But the Chittagong revolution, carried under the guidance of Surya Sen, would also stand out for ever as a unique example of a regular military campaign, conducted with consummate skill by a master strategist and backed by heroic courage and sacrifice, which exercised a profound influence upon the people." Dr. Majumdar opined in the History of the Freedom Movement of India, that the revolutionary spirit was not lost after 1935. There was a lull and it manifested itself again in 1942.
Sachindranath Sanyal, who was one of the key architects of Hindustan Republican Association and drafted its Manifesto, was arrested in 1925 in connection with the Kakori Conspiracy Case and was deported to the Cellular jail in the Andamans. One of his key associates was Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee. He also mentored Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad and the all the key revolutionaries of North India between 1920 and 1925. He had the unique distinction of serving sentences twice in the notorious Cellular jail. He was subjected to inhuman torture and was forced to live in a Tuberculosis infested environment so that he also caught T.B. However that did not deter him from continuing his fight. He was released in 1937 along with other prisoners, but was arrested again in 1939 and in 1942. In 1942 he was transferred from Rajasthan to Gorakhpur jail where he passed away bravely. A glorious chapter of Indian revolutionary movement thus ended.