The dreaded Bengal Volunteers was founded by Hemchandra Ghosh, who had started the journey of this organization as Dhaka Mukti Sangha. In April 1901, Hemchandra as a young man came in contact with Swami Vivekananda. When asked about religious discourse, the Swami flared up and said that an enslaved nation had no other religion than to destroy the very power that had enslaved it. He kindled the passion, the fire of fighting for freedom in a group of young men with Hemchandra as one of the key person. Hemchandra was also profoundly influenced by Ananda Math of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, which had outlined the struggle of a group of all renouncing monks against a diabolic and oppressive rule. Hemchandra established a secret society and named it as Dhaka Mukti Sangha. In 1905 he had come in contact with P Mitra, founder of Anushilon Samity. Mukti Sangha obtained many esteemed members which included Alimuddin Ahmed, Dr. Surendra Bardhan, Shrish Pal, Haridas Datta, Khagen Das, Nikunja Sen, Rajen Guha, among others. Shrish Pal assumed the responsibility of the Calcutta branch, assisted by Haridas Datta. Hemchandra had earlier met Aurobindo Ghosh, Sister Nivedita, Bipin Chandra Pal and Satish Chandra Mukherjee. In 1909 he met Bagha Jatin. In 1913 Mukti Sangha volunteers worked very hard in the flood relief work in Bengal. Mukti Sangha coordinated closely with other revolutionary organizations like the Jugantar group of Bagha Jatin and Atmonnati Samity of Bipin Behari Ganguli. One coordinated attack was undertaken in 1909 through the killing of inspector Nandalal Bannerjee by Shrish Pal and Ranen Ganguli. They also wanted to punish engineer O'Brien who had kicked and killed a Bengali clerk over some flimsy issues and was fined a paltry Rs 50 for that offense. Haridas Datta and Khagen Das were entrusted with the job of killing O'Brien to send a strong message to the European community. They worked as ordinary coolie in the jute mill for three months. However the conspiracy was discovered and O'Brien was saved.
The next major milestone in the history of Mukti Sangha was the coordinated heist of the Rodda arms - a consignment of fifty Mauser pistols and cartridges. Shrish Pal and Haridas Datta, ably supported by Shrish (Habu) Mitra were main the architects, while several revolutionary organizations came forward to work together to make this plan a success. Particularly noteworthy were contributions from Atmonnati Samity of Bipin Behari Ganguli.
Mukti Sangha revolutionaries had worked closely with the Jugantar group of revolutionaries atleast until 1930s when Jugantar ditched Subhas Chandra Bose to become Gandhivadi.
After the failure of the Indo German Conspiracy and 1915 revolution of Rashbehari Bose, the British Government came down heavily on the revolutionaries across India. Many young men were interned without any trial, fair or unfair. Hemchandra was sent to jail under the notorious Regulation 3. But by 1920, thanks to Lord Montagu and his reforms, almost all revolutionary leaders and the associates were released and they began to regroup secretly. A small nucleus of a team was retained in Dhaka under Pramatha Choudhury. The old guards who were under the police watchlist had taken temporary retirement from public eyes and pursued life as ordinary folks. By 1920 a whole bunch of new revolutionaries had joined the team - most notable being Satya Gupta, Rasomay Sur, Bhabesh Nandi, Anil Roy, Suren Datta, Prafulla Mukherjee, Manindra Roy, Bhupendra Rakshit Roy and others. This group spread its wings in different districts of Bengal like Dhaka, Calcutta, Kumilla, Medinipur, Mymensingh, 24 Parganas etc. The leaders used to meet the members in secret, mostly at night. During daytime the leaders under police watchlist would never interact with the new members so as to protect them from the watchful eyes of the police informers.
The Head Quarter of Mukti Sangha was shifted from Dhaka to Calcutta and Hemchandra and Satyaranjan Bakshi had come to Calcutta. Satyaranjan was entrusted with the job of editing the Forward Patrika of the Swaraj Party.
By 1922, Mukti Sangha had many branches like Sri Sangha, Shanti Sangha and Dhruba Sangha, all of which were involved in social welfare activities in public and in planning and coordinating revolutionary activities in private, esp. in mentoring the young college going boys and girls.
Sri Sangha was founded under the active guidance of Anil Roy in Dhaka. Anil was helped in his activities by Rasomay Sur, Satya Gupta and Suren Datta. They used to conduct welfare activities, developed study circles and brought students to the ideological ambit. They had opened gymnasiums for physical exercises. However all these were subterfuge to hide the real activities, of creating a network of daring youth who would not hesitate to take up any action when time comes. This was also the period when women, coming out of colleges and universities, were equally enthused to participate in the freedom movement. Leela Nag, who had founded Deepali Sangha, was an outstanding woman in every sense. She had formed several schools for the education of women and had engaged herself in social welfare activities. She had come in contact with her classmate and future husband Anil Roy, a philosopher and musician per excellence, and together they had shaped the journey for Sri Sangha. In 1931 she had published the Jayashree patrika, which was blessed by Rabindranath Tagore. The patrika was managed entirely by a crew of women and had actively supported all revolutionary and anti British activities including that of the Chattogram uprising. Leela was sent to jail in 1931 and remained in jail atleast until 1937. She and Anil Roy became close to Subhas Chandra Bose, who as the President of Indian National Congress, had made her a member of the newly formed Planning Commission. After Subhas formed Forward Bloc, Leela and Anil joined him and took part in all his activities, like editing the magazine or participating in the Holwell Monument agitation or facilitating his visit to Dhaka and Narayanganj in May, 1940.
In Medinipur Jyotish Jowardar and Dinesh Gupta had formed a well coordinated network of volunteers who would later play key roles in creating terror in the hearts of the British administration by killing atleast three magistrates. 1928 was a remarkable year in the history of Mukti Sangha as under the guidance of Subhas Chandra Bose it transformed itself into Bengal Volunteers that had played such a key role in organizing the Calcutta Congress of 1928. Under the strict guidance of Major Satya Gupta and Major Jatin Das among others, Bengal Volunteers became a well trained army of dedicated soldiers. The woman's regiment under Latika Bose was a foretaste of the Rani Jhansi Regiment that would come up fifteen years later in Singapore.
By the end of 1928 there was a split in Mukti Sangha and Anil Roy and Leela Nag's Sri Sangha became a separate organization. The split was done mainly to protect Sri Sangha from the Government wrath as a consequence of the revolutionary activities of the parent body. However Anil Roy and his members had maintained a close contact with the parent body and had helped in its activities in various ways. Sri Sangha had among its associates Anil Das, Shailesh Roy, Khitish Roy, Barin Roy, Kamalakanta Ghosh, Rebati Barman, Renu Sen, Amal Roy and Sudheer Nag .
Meera Dutta Gupta was entrusted with the woman's wing of the Mukti Sangha Volunteers. Het father was an influential Government officer. Other notable women revolutionaries were Kamala Dasgupta, Ujjwala Majumdar, Chameli Basu etc. They had inspired several other women to take up arms, the most notable among them being Bina Das, the daughter of Benimadhab Das, who had fired at Governor Stanley Jackson in the Calcutta University Convocation in 1932. Among prominent members of B.V were Sachin Bhowmik, Mani Bhowmik, Sunil Sengupta, Biren Guha Roy, Kumud Mukherjee, Haridas Sen, Comet Dasgupta, Biren Ghosh etc. Dinesh Gupta started organizing a band of dedicated soldiers in Medinipur. Bengal Volunteers had close contact with Anushilon Samity and Jugantar group and with the Chattogram team of Masterda Surjya Sen. Ananta Singh and Loknath Bal were part of B.V in 1928. From Jugantar group Kiran Mukherjee and Bhupendranath Datta had close links with B.V.
In August 1930 Binoy Bose, a Dhaka Medical College student and one of the volunteers, killed Inspector General Lowman and injured the notorious Hudson who had an uncanny ability to instigate riots among Hindus and Muslims. Supati Roy helped Binoy escape from Dhaka to Calcutta. Masterda Surjya Sen led a group of young revolutionaries to declare war on the British Government on 18 April 1930. Subhas Chandra Bose was severely attacked inside the prison and the attack was instigated by Som Datta, the Punjabi IMS officer who was the superintendent of the Alipore prison. The revolutionaries from Jugantar and B.V targeted Som Datta but could not succeed owing to the lack of coordination. Later B.V took up on its shoulder the task of punishing I.G Prison Simpson. Major Binoy Bose, lieutenant Sudheer (Badal) Gupta, and Dinesh Gupta, the three trusted volunteers, were to carry out the operation in Writer's Building on Dec 8, 1930, in what went down in history as the famous Verandah battle where three daring youth took on the whole might of the Empire. After killing Simpson, the trio fought with a large contingent of British military police till their ammunition ran out. Badal consumed potassium cyanide, Binoy shot himself and died in hospital about a week later. Dinesh was hanged.
In the meanwhile Dinesh's Medinipur group had terrorized the administration by systematically eliminating Garlick - the judge who had ordered Dinesh's hanging, and the three notorious magistrates of Medinipur one after the other - James Paddy, Douglas and Burge. Bimal Dasgupta and Jyotijiban Ghosh shot dead Paddy. Two young boys Pradyot Bhattachary and Prabhanshu Pal killed Douglas in the district board meeting. Pradyot was caught and hanged. Anathbandhu Panja and Mrigen Datta shot Burge in the football field. The two boys were shot dead and several other revolutionaries including Kamakhya Ghosh, Nandadulal Sinha, Sanatan Roy, Brajakishore, Ramkrishna Roy, Nirmaljiban Ghosh, Sukumar Sen were apprehended. Ramkrishna and Nirmaljiban were hanged. Judge Garlick was shot dead by Kanailal Bhattacharya. Nabajiban Ghosh and Santosh Bera were killed by police brutalities and torture. In 1934 an attempt was made to kill Governor Anderson in Darjeeling and several revolutionaries including Ujjwala Majumdar, Sukumar Ghosh, Madhu Bannerjee, Rabi Bannerjee, Manoranjan Bannerjee were apprehended and several of them were deported to Andaman. Bimal Dasgupta attempted to kill Villers, President of European Merchant's Association in Calcutta, who had made derogatory comments on Indians. Several other British officers were injured in daring attacks by B.V. In Kumilla Shanti Ghosh and Suniti Choudhury, the two schools girls belonging to Chhatri Sangha, under the mentorship of Prafullanandini Brahma, killed the notorious magistrate Stevens. Lalit Barman and Nikunja Sen of B.V had helped develop the revolutionary infrastructure in Kumilla.
Bengal Volunteers also had a network of shelter providers - foremost among them being Suresh Chandra Majumdar, father of Ujjwala Majumdar, Rasomay Sur, Rajen Guha, Nirmal and Upen Bose and Krishna Kali Bose. A young Muslim worker of Suresh Chandra Majumdar, Dost Mohammad, was a great supporter and trouble shooter for B.V. In many situations he had saved his employer and B.V revolutionaries from the police raids with the help of his presence of mind and resourcefulness.
After 1935 the activities of Bengal Volunteers and other revolutionary organizations began to decline primary owing to the resistance of Mahatma Gandhi towards violence. Many revolutionary leaders had become state prisoners. Gandhiji had come to meet them to ask them to shun the path of violence in Hijli. But they had refused such conditional release. Finally the leaders and members were released by 1938 and 1939. Some of them had joined the mainstream of Congress. Others like Hemchandra, Satyaranjan Bakshi, Leela Roy, Anil Roy, Satya Gupta, Bhabesh Nandi, Manindra Kishore Roy, Jyotish Jowardar, Purna Das, the North Bengal group, had joined Subhas Chandra Bose and had strengthened the Forward Bloc. B.V had earlier published a magazine named Benu for inspiring young minds with Nationalist ideals. Benu was targeted by Government and was banned by 1934. In 1939 another magazine Chalar Pathe was started which was endorsed by the then Congress President Subhas Chandra Bose. Both magazines were edited by Bupendra Kishore Rakshit Roy. The B.V revolutionaries published many literature to establish the philosophical and moral basis of the revolutionary movement in order to counter the Marxist influence that had engulfed a large section of other revolutionaries under the patronage of the Communist Party of India.
By 1940 and 41 several Bengal Volunteer leaders including Hemchandra Ghosh, were again arrested by police. Subhas Chandra Bose had escaped through Afghanistan to Berlin. Bengal Volunteers had a role to play in his escape. Subhas had planned for a major uprising in the tribal areas of Afghanistan with the help of the Bengal Volunteers. Jyotish Guha, Satyaranjan Bakshi, Kamakhya Roy, Shantimoy Ganguli were entrusted with the plan. Shantimoy Ganguli had to travel to North West Frontier Province to meet the tribal leaders. However once the war started, Kirti Kishan Party and Communist Party of India became allies and agents of British and their treachery helped the British Government to arrest the Bengal Volunteers leaders in connection with the plot. Jyotish Guha and Satyaranjan Bakshi were severely tortured by British military police in Delhi Fort and Jyotish Guha died as a result. Later Sudheer Bakshi, Dhiren Saha Roy and Satyabrata Majumdar were arrested for their engagement with Netaji in Burma, and taken to Lahore Fort under British military where they were tortured.
When Netaji had formed the Azad Hind Government, a section of the Bengal Volunteers kept close contact with him. They included Ajit Roy, Nitai Bose and Haripada Bhowmik. Anil Das was an INA soldier who was in touch with Netaji till 16th August 1945. The Communist Party of India had played a major spoilsport by helping British in arresting the revolutionaries who were in touch with Subhas Chandra Bose. In 1942 B.V played a major role in Quit India Movement. After 1946, Bengal Volunteers & Sri Sangha revolutionaries who were interned, had come out of the jail and mostly joined and strengthened the Forward Bloc. But the Communists infiltrated Forward Bloc and led to its split. Ultimately the Communist led Forward Bloc joined the left block led by CPI while Subhas loyalists formed a separate party.
Thus ended the story of a great organization which had shaped a glorious chapter in the history of revolutionary movement of India. The contribution of Bengal Volunteers revolutionaries, their dedication and sacrifice will be written in golden letters in any authentic history of India.
- Adapted from Sabar Alakhye by Bhupendra Kishore Rakshit Roy