Mainstream Weekly

Home > 2021 > You are not repeat not allowed to attend Indian History Congress at Aligarh (...)

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 29, New Delhi, July 3, 2021

You are not repeat not allowed to attend Indian History Congress at Aligarh Muslims University - Gagging retired bureaucrats? | AK Biswas

Friday 2 July 2021, by A K Biswas


In 1994, Government of Bihar in the Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms refused me permission to attend the 55th Indian History Congress for presentation of a dissertation, captioned “Paradox of Anti-Partition Agitation and Swadeshi Movement in 1905 in Bengal” at Aligarh Muslim University, though it was approved duly by India’s highest and oldest historical body.


 Synopsis of my dissertation captioned Paradox of Anti-Partition Agitation and Swadeshi Movement in Bengal (1905) for presentation in the 55th Session of Indian History Congress (hereinafter referred as IHC), 1994 at Aligarh Muslim University (hereinafter AMU), was approved by India’s oldest and highest historical organization.

My complete paper was submitted to the IHC with copy to the State Government in the Department of Personnel and Administration Reforms [DPAR] well in advance. Thereafter I requested the State Government for grant of leave of absence from headquarters to go to Delhi en route to Aligarh. I had personal work of urgent nature to attend at Delhi. At the given time, I was Commissioner, Tirhut Division, Muzaffarpur and Commissioner, Saran Divion, Chapra. There was adequate leave in my account to cover the period of absence.

The history of anti-partition agitation of Bengal together with swadeshi movement has been subjected to crass distortion and suppression of facts, undermining many core aspects to highlight prominence and/or precedence of sectarian ideas, aspirations and interests, favourable to the propagandists calculated to whipping up nationalistic euphoria for their image building in a narrow frame. Standard Indian history book on this subject provides a tunnel vision, implying [1] constriction of the visual field resulting in loss of peripheral vision; [2] extreme narrowness of viewpoint, [3] narrow-mindedness; and [4] single-minded concentration on one objective. [1]

The Lower Provinces of Bengal comprising Bengal Proper, Bihar (present Jharkhand included), Orissa, boasted of more than 78 million population over 1,90,000 square miles. [2] The jurisdiction of the then Governor of Bengal was equivalent to total area of Germany and France put together. Attitudinally insensitive and antagonistic section of people, against their own fellow Bengali speaking people only believed that an area as this dimension could be effectively administered, having regards for development and wellbeing of 7.8 crore population, by a single authority sitting at the Empire’s capital at Calcutta in an era marked by lack of modern communication and fastmoving transportation. Lord Curzon’s decision preceding announcement of bifurcation of the monstrous province invited their uproarious denouncement and disapproval. The leaders who opposed the decision felt, to quote Surendranath Banerjea, that, “the growing solidarity and self-consciousness of the Bengali speaking people” were delt a “deliberate blow” jeopardising their future “at stake.”  [3] The fad for solidarity under pretext of “the Bengali speaking people” was always an artifice to deny legitimate share of benefits and blessings accruing to majority of the population from the administration. This was a deplorable bluff which for long merited to be debunked by scholars with cogent facts.

A mammoth meeting, on March 4, 1904 in Calcutta Town Hall attended by prominent citizens of Bengal, had submitted a long memorial against the proposed partition of Bengal to the colonial authorities, focusing, interalia that:

A Brahman or a Kayastha of one part of Bengal will not now object to form matrimonial connection with a Brahman or a Kayastha of the other. But, divided by two governments, they will not have opportunities of associating with each other, and all social connections will in due course cease to exist between them.” (Paragraph 48) [4]

The “solidarity” encompassing vast “Bengali speaking people,” lo and behold, simply and surprisingly boiled down to the Brahman and Kayastha, as if, the custom of wedding was unique to two castes only in total exclusion of all other sections whose mother tongue was Bengali. This was the first bluff for which whole of Bengal was thrown into an unprecedented turmoil and tribulation. Was the Calcutta Town Hall resolution the dawn of Identity Politics [5] which is ridiculed with the rise of dalit and backward classes in Indian politics?

In 1901, the combined strength of the above two-caste stood at 21,44,573--- Brahmans, 11,62,547 and Kayasthas, 9,82,026 [6] who represented merely 4.99% of population of Bengal.

 Baidyas, a tiny caste numbering 84,620, though a member of the triad, did not find place alongside the Brahman and Kayastha in the aforesaid resolution. [7] These three castes made up the entire bloc of bhadralok who aggregated at 22,29,193 and represented 5.2% of Bengalis.

Hindus of Bengal Proper returned in 1901 were 2,01,91,082 and Mahommadans, 2,19,54,976, aggregating at 4,21,46,058 souls. [8] These two religions apart, the Christians were 1,06,431; Animists, 4,42,594; Buddhists, 2,37,050; and others, 10,892. [9] The population of Bengal Proper, therefore, stood at 4,29,43,025. The resolution in question on Brahmans and Kayastha marriage was utterly, nonsensical, bigotted and parochial as it advocated the cause of mere 4.96% who were prejudicial against any moral and material progress of the rest of the Bengali speaking population. In essence, the so-called swadeshi and anti-partition of agitators---Brahman, Baidya and Kayastha---accounted for scantly 5.2%. And they were the cause of deplorable and inexcusable sufferings of the majority of Bengalis. The very idea of solidarity of a group of 5.2% speaking for the entire Bengali speaking population is open to question.

Myopia with regard to self-interests which ran as the common thread cemented the aforesaid three castes on a common platform. Let us probe, briefly, another hypocrisy over the solidarity of Bengali speaking population by citing a few startling instances intellectual Bengali bhadralok love to hate and avoid.


Bias of Surendranath Banerjea for 5.2% Bengali population 

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, British Government issued an appeal “for recruitment to the people of Bengal” for the British Army to fight for the Empire which was in danger. Surendranath Banerjea jumped voluntarily into the campaign for enrolment of Bengalis but focused his attention exclusively on Bengali bhadralok. He addressed “more than thirty meetings” all over Bengal, “urging my countrymen of the better classes to enlist as soldiers.” [10] The colonial authorities had appealed to the people of Bengal but our rashatraguru turned it into an affair of better classes and respectable classes who, in fact, were the protagonists of divide and rule.

Interestingly, in Gujarat Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had launched campaign with the same end in view. They went from village to village on foot. Ganfhiji issued a leaflet which advocated no differently than the course adopted in Bengal. The leaflet articulated his objective: “if, at a time when the Empire is in difficulty, the educated and middle class assist the Government voluntarily, the Government will naturally lose its distrust of them.” [11] What by encouraging the Bengali better classes and respectable classes to join the British army Surendranath Banerjea aimed at achieving and Gandhi and Patel the targeted same objective by urging the Gujarati educated and middle classes to serve the Imperial army. Both were careful, if not alarmed and calculated to keep the toiling masses at arm’s length from a training in and handling of weaponry which would vest them with altogether different character, outlook and perspective, if not philosophy, tastes and preferences as human beings besides education and worldview.

How strange! All great men think alive in India to deceive and deprive the masses for safeguarding their narrow and sectarian interests. According to Banerjea, performance the Bengali recruits in the army “did not come up to the mark.” [12] Obviously, rotten eggs and tomatoes thrown at weapons like Patton Tanks cannot destroy them. We do not know why Bengalis came to be ridiculed and stigmatized as a non-martial race I do not know if rashtraguru’s obsession and knack for better and respectable brought the disgraceful universal taint for the Bengali as a whole?
In a blitzkrieg theRussian Army had captured an Afgan frontier fort at Panjdeh in 1885 triggering intense diplomatic tension in Anglo-Russian relations. Rumour of war between them was rife. At this juncture, Surendranath Banerjea accompanying 500 youths of robust heath of respectable families went to the Army headquarters at Calcutta and offered their services for enrolment in the British Army as honorary soldiers for fighting against the Russians. [13] This was his first efforts, though unsuccessful, to push Bengali youths of respectable classes into British Army.

Surendranath Banerjea, make no mistake, made a mission for recruitment of the Brahman, Baidya and Kayastha only---none else. Now we are sure who indeed coroneted him, as the ‘rashtraguru’ for his role in anti-partition agitation and swadeshi movement. He epitomized the interest of 5.2% Bengalis and this is glossed and passed off as nationalism. The rigmarole over the partition of Bengal was all again an exclusive bhadralok affair, another uncouth trick the masses neither suspected nor could they decipher the inherent design. Surendranath Banerjea reflected the accurate portrait of a nationalist Charles De Gaulle, as the French President had envisioned. According to him,
“Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.”

This may appear to many as an indecent statement about a historical figure revered across India. Here we must face facts and explore them with equanimity. Banerjea opposed, to cite third illustration of deceit, the move for universalization of education which alone could have emancipated India from the curse of illiteracy besides many ills and evils plaguing the subcontinent. But his heart throbbed for higher education only. In the frenzied ambience of swadeshism, Gopal Krishna Gokhale had introduced in 1911 a Bill for Compulsory Education in the Central Legislative Council only to be defeated in 1912. Bengal’s ‘uncrowned king’, as Banerjea was also referred, ferociously propagated against the Bill, resulting in its ultimate rejection by the Central Legislative Council. Gokhale’s biographer documented the truth intelligentsia usually is blind to highlight as the cause of defeat of Gokhale’s Education Bill. B. R. Nanda recorded:

“Surendra Nath Banerjea opposed it (Compulsory Education Bill), fearing that it would divert funds for elementary education from higher education.” The biographer did not forget to mention that Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Mohammad Ali Jinnah besides many municipalities had supported the Compulsory Education Bill. [14]

Prominent scientist and celebrated professor of Chemistry of Calcutta University, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy, addressing a public meeting at Calcutta after Gokhale’s demise, bemoaned that he died not because his Compulsory Education Bill was thrown out of the Central Legislature on account of bureaucratic arrogance and opposition, as it is often made out, but because he could not bear the shock of betrayal of his close friends who had backstabbed him over it. Surendranath, who was one of Gokhale’s close friends, let us not mince words, was also one of the backstabbers. His emotional plea over partition of Bengal by Viceroy Curzon terming it as a “deliberate blow” jeopardising future of the tiny bhadralok future “at stake” was out of agony for them only. He and his compatriots saw unmistakably that the vast field of undivided Bengal when divided into East and West Bengal the field of their lucrative employment and other thriving professions would be lost and gone forever to them. The natives would be favoured for government employment in due course over the bhadralok whose hostility against them had invited and expedited, to a great extent, the bifurcation of the province.

Lieutenant Governor of Bengal George Campbell, according to Bengal Administration Report, 1872-71, termed Bengal Education Department as “a Hindoo Institution.” [15] The bhadralok, who took almost exclusive charge of offices of the Department, stood, as sentinel, against the remaining Bengali speaking native population even for access to education. Save and except the top, every office in collectorate, treasury, police, revenue, judiciary, jail, registration, post offices, opium, railways, etc. in district after district across Bihar, Orissa, Assam, besides Bengal like the education, they raised walls against all others for their exclusive employment and benefit.

On the one hand Surendranath agitated, advocated and appealed to promote he causes of the natives of India to the Imperials authorities in meetings, conferences and conventions for employment of natives of India in high offices. But the natives did not mean the general population but only upper castes who guarded jealously those offices against access of all others, fellow less fortunate natives though. The devilish objections and opposition was raised in denial of education to their own countrymen by the better classes and respectable classes. The upper caste Hindus considered education to be their inheritance and so they were fierce in opposition against all other castes and faiths. It was indeed colossal tragedy that the actors and factors of this criminal mischief had thrown blame on the Imperial authorities to deflect attention.

Banerjea’s attitudinal obscurantism and intractable orthodoxy should come, here and now, under close and critical scrutiny for his failure to implement the Compulsory Education Act 1919. A leader, who was born in the mid-nineteenth century lacked the commitment, uprightness, foresight and even vision to implement an Act passed on the eve of third decade of twentieth century Bengal which was negotiating her journey into a new world of democracy marked by ideals of social equality and justice through educating the countrymen without discrimination. He was simply not equipped, to call spade a spade, to execute the task the new legislation had envisaged for enlightenment of future generations.

The historians as well the contemporary political leaders overlooked the Indian Education Policy Lord Curzon Viceroy and Governor-General (11 January 1859 — 20 March 1925), had formulated in 1904 by lending well-meaning support for universalization of education. He observed with regret that:

“... the expansion of primary schools has received a check in recent years from the calamities of famine and plague; and it is further impeded by the indifference of the more advanced and ambitious classes to the spread of primary education. [16]

The minister whose sinister nationalism garrulous Bengalis go about propagating aloud proved to be the sole obstruction in enforcement of the Compulsory Education Act. It was an indelible shame and tragedy. The Bengali intelligentsia silent to highlight this critical failure out of vested interest and concern. The critical observation of Lord Curzon may not inspire conviction in the minds of Bengalis in particular, we may refer to an authority which is respected universally. In 1952 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (hereinafter referred as UNESCO) made an observation which implies his disgraceful liability and offence for patronising widespread illiteracy of Bengal. In 1951-52, UNESCO carried out a survey on compulsory education in India and its observation on the state and status of Bengal is toxic:
“The results (of compulsory education) vary from area to area and there is world of difference from a state like Bengal where compulsion exits only on paper and state like Baroda where some remarkable results were obtained.” [17]

Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms had introduced Dyarchy in India. A number of development Departments of the country was transferred and placed under Indian Ministers. Surendranath Banerjea was the Minister-in-charge of Local Self Government with responsibility for execution of Compulsory Education. The above stated observation of the UNESCO leaves no room to comment. Their rashtraguru was afraid of educating the Bengali masses, who perhaps would never know who was at the roots of their blinding illiteracy and educational destitution. The colonial rulers were more sympathetic and concerned about mass education which encountered stubborn opposition from the countrymen belonging to the better and privileged classes. They were bereft of shame or sensitivity.

Part III

Anti-Partition agitation and Swadeshi Movement: 
Religious affair of a tiny minority! 

In his memoirs, Surendranath Banerjea recorded the proceedings of a meeting in which he personally administered vow with the image of “the god right in front of me” to a crowd in the courtyard of a Kali temple. A priest in Surendranath went on to state:

“The atmosphere of the place was religious. Swadeshism had evoked the fervour of a religious movement. It had become part of our Dharma. Priests refused to officiate at ceremonies where foreign goods found a place. Foreign articles of clothing and of food, foreign sugar and salt, were eschewed with almost religious scrupulousness. The sentiment of religion is with us so all-pervading as to colour and dominate our activities even beyond its legitimate sphere. The swadeshi sentiment had thus become to assume a religious hue.” [18]

Ambika Charan Mazumdar, described as “Grand Old Man of Faridpur” by Banerjea, [19] claimed that between 1903 and 1905, over 2,000 public meetings with attendance of 500 to 50,000 enthusiastic Hindus and Muhammadans, in both East and West Bengal were held. [20] An unimpressed historian of our time discounts Mazumdar as given to exaggeration in claiming success in such matters. The people in their hundred and thousands, boasted Mazumdar, in every city, town and village marched in solemn processions bare footed and bare bodied chanting dirges, national songs and repaired to the nearest channel or stream and after ablution tied rakhi, the silken band of unity and fraternity, round one another’s wrists when amid the deafening cries of Vande Mataram took the solemn vow in the name of god and motherland...... [21]

We get an eye witness account from Surendranath how the political movement was soaked in deepest religiosity, perhaps a first of its kind in Bengal, if not in India. The Bengalee, an English journal he edited, commented on October 3, 1905.

“Stamped with the seal of probationary ministers of religion, sanctified by the holiest ceremony in the most sacred temple and affirmed by solemn vow of the thousands of Indians, the swadeshi movement went forth as a sacred cause.”  [22]

Those interested in searching or researching admixture of religion in political mobilization must or should look into the role of leaders of swadeshi movement. Their labours would, I feel genuinely, be richly rewarded. To make anti-partition agitation, which soon started flagging out, it was cocktailed with swadeshism to infuse energies and enthusiasm to its protagonists. S. N. Banerjea’s close friend was Kali Prosanna Kabyavisarad, endowed with whims, belonged to the Halder family of Kalighat who were keepers of Kalighat temple. An anti-partition agitators and swadeshi leader usually, he attended the anti-partition and swadeshi meetings robed in the “habiliments of Hindu orthodoxy. It was not a mere whim, there a reason for it. That dress was the symbol of priestly and brahminical influence, and he naturally wanted to enlist on his side all the sources of power that he possessed. He was without a shirt, in a plain dhoti and chaddar, with the brahminical thread in striking evidence on his bare body.” [23] His thread on bare body was aimed at striking an impression of brahminical superiority or supremacy on public mind.

The first venue for inauguration of the swadeshi movement was the forecourt of the Kalighat temple, Calcutta. Let it be clarified that the millions of Bengalis had no access to ‘the most sacred temple.’ The Bengali Hindu upper castes denied jealously entry of some 37 [thirty-seven] castes and tribes in the Kalighat Temple. They were:

[1] Bagdi, Baishnab, [3] Bauri, [4] Bhuimali, [5] Bhuiya, [6] Bhumij, [7] Chakma, [8] Chamar, [9] Chasa Dhoba/Dhopa, [11] Dom, [12] Hari, [13] Jogi or Jugi, [14] Kaibartta [Jalia], [15] Kalu, [16] Kamar, [17] Kaora, [18] Kapali, [19] Koch, [20] Kora, ]21] Mal, [22] Malo, [23] Muchi, [24] Munda, [25] Namasudra, [26] Oraon, [27] Patni, [28] Pod, [29] Rajbanshi, [30] Santal, [31] Saha, [32] Sonar, [33] Subarnabanik, [34] Sunri, [35] Sutradhar, [36] Tipara, and [37] Tiyara.

The combined strength of 37 castes and tribes was 1,14,93,467 persons out of 2,09,45,379 Hindus. In other words, they accounted for 54.87 [rounded up to 55%] of the Hindus of Bengal. [24] Ironically, the 37 castes and tribes were regarded as Hindus when the upper castes faced political opposition, hostility, and uncertainties, threatening their privileges. Otherwise, the untouchables were eschewed, as a leper, without any common social space to share with their self-seeking abusers and tormentors. Many like Bagdi, Bauri, Chamar, Chandal, Dom, Hari, Rajbanshi, Santal etc. of these castes/tribes were returned as semi-Hinduised aborigines in 1872 census of Bengal. [25] Whether historians or academicians like it or not, fact does not substantiate that any members of these castes were a part of the thousands of Indians that thronged at Kalighat temple or Kali temples elsewhere. Claims of S. N. Banerjea even should or must be taken with ton of salt.

Candid intellectual analysis of the claims of mass participation in the overrated success of anti-partition agitation and swadeshi movement by application of social yardstick is woefully lacking because of their motivated intentions. The census authorities in 1911 applied 10-fold parameters which disgraced the low castes who suffered disabilities. According to those parameters, low castes who

[1] denied the supremacy of the Brahmans; [2] did not receive the mantras from a Brahman or other recognized guru; [3] denied the authority of authority of the Vedas; [4] did not worship the Hindu gods; [5] were not served by good Brahmans; [6] had no Brahmans as family priests; [7] were denied access to the interior of ordinary Hindu temples; [8] caused pollution, by touch or within a certain distance; [9] buried their dead; and [10] took beef and did not show reverence to cows [26] were stigmatized by Hindus.

These disabilities had prevented the untouchables and social lepers against participation in the swadeshi and anti-patriotist crowds. Of course, we know by experience that they are/were foot soldiers to meet political exigencies of our crafty leaders. Without their presence and active participation, mass mobilization with political objectives is simply non-starter in Bengal. This was true in colonial era as it is true today.

The upper caste intelligentsia have, however, been diffident to explain why such a vast majority of their neighbours and fellow Bengalis are treated as subhuman beings on grounds of scriptures which are unquestionably fictional and flimsy though they had witnessed a century of renaissance. The renaissance of Bengal, to be candid, did not touch the life of the millions in the margins of the society. As a matter of fact, the so-called nineteenth century Bengal renaissance was also purely another upper caste affair.

Part IV

Brahman priests in Namasudra villages to propagate swadeshi mantra 
Valentine Chirol, The Times, London

Valentine Chirol, (1852—1929), a veteran journalist of The London Times, held a mirror to the world to show how the upper caste Hindus maltreated the untouchables when he visited Bengal during the swadeshi movement. His Indian Unrest (1910), a work of merit documented that Brahman priests toured the villages of Jessore and Faridpur district (now in Bangladesh) dominated by Namasudras to carry out political propaganda. They offered inducement to the target group promising that those who took the Swadeshi vow, “the rigour of caste” would be relaxed in their favour. The journalist noted that in several villages, “the Brahmans succeeded in making a large number of converts...” In return of the promise, the Brahmans condescended to relax social rigidity by allowing “the barbers to shave the heads of the Namasudras” who took swadeshi vow. [27] This was a white lie as a delegation, before Simon Commission at Calcutta, two decades later, controverted this claim in their oral evidence.

The delegation that comprised the All-Bengal Namasudra Association and Depressed Classes Association representing 11½ million, who accounted for 58 per cent of the Hindu population of Bengal, waited on the Simon Commission at Calcutta on January 21, 1929 for oral evidence. [28] In course of their deposition, the Commission asked, interalia, Mukunda Behary Mallick the leader of delegation:

“Do barbers shave you?” [question no. 35]

 “No, the barbers that shave the high caste Hindus do not shave us,” replied Mukunda Behari Mallick. [29]

Clearly, false promise made by Brahmin priests to the Namasudras was nailed on head right before the Simon Commission. Episodes as these are carefully evaded by intellectual class to focus. The visits of Brahman priests to Namasudra villages only highlights without any shadow of doubts that the swadeshi movement had literally fizzled out and hence arose the necessity for deploying their priestly brigade to recruit foot soldiers among the illiterate Namasudras to keep up the movement somehow alive. Later under pressure or threat of the same Brahmin priests the barbers might have stopped their service to the Namasudras. By trying to win over the Namasudras, in fact, the Brahmans enfranchised the barbers, who again were enchained to refuse the same service.

At a juncture as this, Surendranath Banerjea had addressed a personal letter to Guruchand Thakur, the towering social reform and religious leader of the Namasudras urging him to jPandeoin, with his followers, the boycott movement. The patriarch of the Matuas replied as follows:

“Namasudras are a poor people. They do not indulge in luxury nor do they know it. The only foreign goods they use are cheap imported cloth. It is the high castes who are wont to use imported goods. This [boycott] agitation, therefore, should remain confine exclusively amongst themselves.

“The Namasudras are still bereft of political rights and are oppressed and exploited ruthlessly in their own homeland. High caste Hindus are deadly opposed to grant of any political rights to them. They must, therefore, inculcate a feeling of brotherhood for the low castes, else, the degraded and low castes will never join the High caste Hindus in any agitation against the British.” [30]

Banerjea was orthodox to the core in approach and outlook. Many would object to such a statement. Let it be clarified that his own speeches and writings throw up this impression glaringly to any reader. We cite his speech delivered at Social Conference at Ahmedabad, Gujarat in January 1903:

“And what was the Hindu custom and Hindu rights? Are they not customs and rights which were imposed upon us by the wisdom of the age in which they were framed and formed? Has not the law of evolution been in force since then? Have not we progressed? Are we not always moving forwards or backwards? Is not motion a law of human nature and the law of laws? If so the custom of the past must be modified to suit the altered circumstances and environment of the present situation. Our fathers appreciated the principle thoroughly.” [31]


Orthodoxy of Surendranath harmed agitation against partition of Bengal and swadeshi movement

Hard boiled in his ancestral custom and rights, Banerjea was conservative without doubt. His rigidity as a kulin Brahman was inherited. In this situation, the frank response of Guruchand Thakur did not at all jell well with Banerjea’s perception. This brought an end of the attempts of protagonists to integrate the Namasudras in the swadeshi movement. Propriety demands citation of the reasons or grounds from a researcher before passing value judgment. In the aforesaid Ahmedabad Social Conference, two years before the bifurcation Bengal into East and West Bengal, Surendranath opened his heart as follows:

“I call myself a Hindu, I am a Brahmin. I am a Brahmin, a Brahmin of Brahmins at heart. I come from the highest class of Kulin Brahmans in Bengal. And I venture to tell you that I have done nothing to disenfranchise me from my Brahminical rights. In thought, in action, and in prosecution of the purposes of my life, I am a Brahmin of Brahmins. I am not disenfranchised of my rights. I, therefore, feel that if any reform is to be carried out, it must be carried out upon the old lines in pursuance of the old principles. We must firmly take our stand upon the ancient foundations and look around the examples of our sires and imitate them.” [32]

The citation from nationalist’s speech amply demonstrates his attitude towards social questions. Nothing more, I am afraid, is necessary for me to cite to drive home the point. His celebrated 420-page memoirs begin with the following statement:

“I belong to a Kulin Brahmin family which, since the creation of Kulinism by King Ballal Sen, had maintained their purity with proud and inflexible consistency. Neither the allurements of wealth nor the   prospects of an easy and comfortable living diverted them from their   firm and traditional resolve to uphold the integrity of their status. 
The rich Brahminical possession of plain living and high thinking gave them a dignity that no wealth could confer.” [33]

Nonetheless Shyam Sundar Chakraborty, a close an associate and ardent follower of Surendranath merits to be cited with benefit for understanding the nationalist leader. In a Bengali article, captioned “Brahmin Surendranath”carried by the Monthly Basumati, a Bengali journal [Shravan, 1332], he wrote that “people regarded orator Surendranath as the real Surendranath Banerjea. But to me Brahmin Surendranath was the genuine Surendranath Banerjea.” [34] Many lasting imprints of Brahminical facets of the pioneering hero of Anti-partition agitation and swadeshi movement might have convinced him to portray Surendranath in this manner though his supreme oratorial skill had earned him unreserved approbation universally.

In his own magazine Prabaha, Damodar Mukhopadhyay Vidyananda, eulogised Surendranath Banerjea as a god and propagated his earnest desire to see people worship him as they do before gods and goddess in sanatan Hindu temples. Eulogies were showered, we have little suspicion, on Surendranath for his orthodox ways and manners. [35] It now appears strange that historical discourse shuns assiduously highlighting the orthodox Surendranath.


Pecuniary implication of swadeshi

The impact of the swadeshi movement coupled with anti-partition agitation on imports and exports is relevant in our analysis as this demonstrates wild gulf between urban and rural Bengal as well as the masses and the gentry. The urbanised leaders were stone blind to the vital interests of the rural Bengalis. Agriculture and education divided Bengal unbridgeably into two belligerent camps. The Educated Bengalis were sorely inimical to the camp, whose living and life dependent on agriculture, i. e. primary sector of economy.

Exports of raw jute from Bengal to Europe brought no inconsiderable financial fortunes for the jute farmers and for the people connected with trade and industry. In a seminal work, Prof. George Watt, Department of Botany, Calcutta University, wrote that “an amount of Rs. 33,00,00,000, or say, €22,000,000 was the contribution of European manufacturing enterprise paid in 905-06 to agriculturists and traders of Bengal for raw jute.” [36] The pecuniary gains in a single year accruing to the cultivators of jute fondly known as “golden fibre” was inestimable. Jute and jute goods were the earner of foreign exchange for India ab initio.

In 1906-07 exports of raw jute, which were valued at Rs. 24,12,50,000 crashed to Rs. 16,92,64,000 in 1910-11. Total losses, aggregating at Rs. 10,51,70,000 injured the jute farmers financially in Eastern Bengal districts, e. g., Mymensingh, Rungpore, Dacca, Tippera, Bogra, Faridpur, Pabna, Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, and Jessore which boasted of about 39,41,910 acres under their plough. [37] Most prominent jute growing districts, e. g. Murshidabad, Nadia, 24-Parganas and Nadia in West Bengal, on the contrary, had placed 3,39,000 acres which was less than 4,55,000 acres in Rungpore alone in East Bengal. Mymensingh district with 8,47,110 acres under jute cultivation was the leader in growing “the golden fibre” in whole of Bengal. [38]

The jute farmers of East Bengal and Assam

Muslims and Namasudras represented practically whole of Bengal peasantry
The Chief Secretary to the newly created Eastern Bengal and Assam Province reported to the Government of India that “the Muhammadans and Namasudras practically represented almost the whole of the peasantry.” [39] The jute growers being Muslims and Namasudras, in the main, were directly hit by anti-partition agitation and swadeshi movement.

In the given circumstances, facts no way support claims of leaders and even intellectual class that imports had suffered seriously during swadeshi movement. A general impression has been created by constant intellectual hype that imports had suffered seriously due to swadeshi movement. swadeshi movement. The annual reports of the relevant years of Collector of Customs, Calcutta show clearly that imports of some selected items were not at all affected. [see Table-1]

Table-1 [40]
Showing trend of values import of selected items in Bengal
 during 1904-05 to 1911-12 (in Rupees)

Imports 1903-04 1911-12 Difference between 1903-03 and 1911-12 and increase in %
Cotton Piece goods 15,59,68,000 22,74,01,000 71,433,000 46%
Sugar 1,83,90,000 5,20,57,000 33,667,000 205%
Woollen goods 71,53,000 88,61,000 1,708,000 24%
Apparel 47,82,000 80,07,000 32,25,000 67%
Salt 52,13,000 64,81,000 12,68,000 24.5%

Every item of imports, elastic or inelastic, shows increase in terms of value between 1903-04 and 1911-12.

Hurrah! Liquors imports went up!

Imports of liquors increased during swadeshi movement, though it was an undeniable but embarrassing truth for agitators and boycotters in general. We have rarely seen a focus on imports of liquors in the work of most academicians. True, the reports of the Collector of Customs, Calcutta for relevant years revealed that the swadeshi agitators boycotted the British liquors which ipso facto do not suggests that they had shunned drinks. The fidelity of the boozers was directed to German liquors in preference to the British. The tipplers enjoyed German pegs and kept their flags of patriotism flattering high with great brouhaha!

In 1904-05 liquors, which valued at Rs. 48,08,000 were imported through Calcutta Ports had registered a sum of Rs. 62,45,000 in 1911-12. [41] They were guzzling more liquors and paid more in terms of value. We have seen how swadeshi was a religious affair.

A piece of exciting information to underline the profound influence of boycott on the people Bengal has evaded attention in academic circle. S. N. Banerjea recorded in his memoirs:

“A grand-daughter of mine, then only five years old, returned a pair of shoes that had been sent to her by a relative, because they were of foreign make.” [42]

For her rare sacrifice the child of five years of age was lodged on the glittering theatre of swadeshism.


 “You are not repeat not allowed to attend Indian History Congress at Aligarh Muslims University." Telex from Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms, Bihar Government, Dec. 24, 1994

Back to Patna from Delhi, I met the Chief Secretary and wanted to know why did he deny me leave to go to Aligarh and forfeited my privilege to present my dissertation to the IHC. It is clarified that not many members from All-India Service attend IHC. He told me that I did not seek approval of my dissertation for presentation to the History Congress. When I pointed out that no permission was required to be obtained for such activities under extant rule [6] of the All-India Service Conduct Rules, 1968. Rule 6 lays down that
“a member of the Service does not require permission for contributing an article to a newspaper, periodical etc. if the subject matter of the book or contribution is of a purely literary, artistic or scientific character and, in the case of a book, it is published through a publisher.”

The above provision allows me freedom to contribute articles for History Conference. I needed permission to leave HQs but the Chief Secretary denied me what government rule allowed. He allowed his prejudice to play role in denying me an opportunity. Such mischief is selective. He could not do so against privileged sons of the soil. So telex message of 24 December 1994 to me from Bihar Government in DPAR read: “You are not repeat not allowed to attend Indian History Congress at Aligarh Muslims University" though I was permitted leave to go to Delhi.

I did not know how was he or who had misled him in taking a position that went contrary to All India Service Rules. But I ultimately missed an opportunity. I argued with him that who had the ability or competence to evaluate or judge a dissertation on an event of Bengal’s partition in 1905 in colonial era approved by the nation’s highest historical body and pronounce an opinion. In any case if the article contravened the All-India Service Rules, the Government could chargesheet me anytime. The Chief Secretary did not react. He was mum.

Previous year (1993), as Vice-Chancellor, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffarpur I had attended IHC, Mysore. Permission for absence from Headquarters was granted the Governor of Bihar, Dr. A. R. Kidwai, who was the Chancellor of Universities of Bihar. Questions were raised nonetheless by the Government for my absence from HQ without the permission of the Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms. I got an impression of being harassed for no genuine reason. My paper presented to the IHC, Mysore was Religion as an Engine of Oppression.


Summer Camp of Ramakrishna Mission and
Ramakrishna Math School, Deoghar  

Sometime in February (?) 1994, I received an invitation from Ramakrishna Mission and Ramakrishna Math, Deoghar for addressing their Annual Summer Camp, which was attended conventionally by students from various schools under its management. [43] I could not make out as to how or why did choice of the R. K. Mission authorities fell on me for the honour. Maybe my articles, which, focusing various social issues had, by then, started appearing almost every Sunday in The Hindustan Times, Patna might have come to their notice to impress the authorities in this behalf. The Telegraph, Calcutta and Mainstream, Delhi too alongside carried my articles occasionally. I was holding additional charge as the Vice-Chancellor, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffarpur.

I decided to go to Deoghar to attend the Summar Camp and therefore, moved the Chief Secretary to seek his leave of absence for three days from my headquarters. The Mission’s letter was attached with my request to substantiate my request and dispel doubts, if any. I followed up the request by several reminders to the Chief Secretary. The R. K. Mission, on the other hand, kept me reminding for confirmation of my participation in their Summer Camp.

At long last, the Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms responded to my request and asked me to submit a copy of the speech I intended to deliver in the Summer Camp. By then, Bihar was in the middle of Rainy Season. I thanked profusely the Chief Secretary, Mr. Amiya Kumar Basak for bestowing his kind attention on me.
In my school text of Sanskrit syllabus prescribed for Matriculation Examination by East Pakistan Secondary Education Board, Dacca, I had learnt a sloka that read:

 Translated (by me) it reads:

“Never trust a river, an animal with nails, horns, or a man with arms. Never ever trust a woman and the officers of the king.”

This is a moral lesson for those who are socially vulnerable in particular. The sloka warrants no elucidation. There are many in bureaucracy who mould, break, and violate rules and not only survive but also climb from peak to peak spotlessly. They are privileged and enviable.

Simultaneously with the annulment of partition of Bengal in 1911, the capital of the Indian Empire was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi. It was a master stroke that put the Bengalis on the mat and paved their road for stiff slide. In eleven decades, their position is deplorable as they cannot perhaps go down further in the national affairs---save and except clamouring against stepmotherly treatment they invariably receive from Delhi. The academicians and historians are averse to discuss---even remember how terribly their sphere of influence was eclipsed in various fields, least the role of the prominent swadeshi agitators, responsible for shift of the capital from Calcutta come to light. The Bengalis are yet to salvage themselves from the deepest gorge of misfortune. We see no opportunity of escape from the present situation. They do not imagine out of filial allegiance to scriptural bondage that the brightest and spectacular leaders led masses to the dark alleys with no opening at the end.

Be that as it may, the king’s men---রাজকুলেষু---showed their teeth and its ferocity to inflict irreparable damages to the Bengalis without any room for                  rescue, relief or escape.

(The writer, a retired IAS officer and a Former Vice-Chancellor, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar. )

[2Census of India, 1901, Vol. VI, Lower Provinces of Bengal and Their Feudatories, Part I, The Report by E. A. Gait, ICS, Part 1 The Report, Calcutta, Bengal Secretariat Press, 1902, p. 1.

[3A Nation in Making by Sir Surendranath Banerjea in Paradox of Anti-Partition of Bengal Agitation and Swadeshi Movement (1905), by A. K. Biswas, in Social Scientist, Vol. 23, Nos. 4-6, April-June, 1995., p. 173.

[4Nityapriya Ghosh & Ashoke Kumar Mukherjee, Partition of Bengal, 1905-1911, Sahitya Samsad, Calcutta, February 2005, Calcutta, p. 37.

[5Identity politics is a political approach wherein people of a particular gender, religion, race, social background, class or other identifying factor develop political agendas based around one or more of these categories. Wikipedia

[6Census of India, 1901, Vol. VI, Lower Provinces of Bengal, Vol. VI, by E. A. Gait, ICS, Part I Report, p. 459. Baidyas, who numbered 84,620 in 1901, for no explicit reason, were excluded from the resolution adopted in Calcutta Town Hall. Brahmans and Kayasthas accounted for 10.5% of 2,01,91,082 Hindus. Baidyas included the three worked out 10.9% of the Hindus.


[8Ibid., p. 205.


[10Banerjea, op. cit., p. 300.

[11Narahari D. Parikh, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Vol. I, Navjivan Publishing, Ahmedabad, September, 1950, pp. 98-100 quoted Paradox of Anti-Partition Aitation of Bengal (190) and Swadeshi Movement by A. K. Biswas, op. cit.

[12Banerjea, S. N. Ibid.

[13Surjyakumar Ghosal, Karmabir Surendranath, Calcutta, 1911, pp. 177-178. [সূর্যকুমার ঘোষাল, কর্মবীর সুরেন্দ্রনাথ, কলিকাতা, ১৯১১,
 Gokhale, Oxford University Press, 1977, p. 389.

[14Gokhale, Oxford University Press, 1977, p. 389.

[15Bengal Administration Report, 1871-72, p. 255.

[16Indian Education Policy, 1904, p. 15.

[17UNESCO, Compulsory Education in India, Paris, 1952, p. 24.

[18Banerjea, S. N., A Nation in Making, OUP, Bombay, Calcutta, Madrass, Reset and reprinted, 1963, p. 212.

[19Banerjea, S. N. op. cit., p. 264.

[20Amvika Charam Mazumdar, Indian National Evolution, Second Edition, G. A. Natesan, Madras, p. 205.

[21Amvika Charan Mazumdar, Indian National Evolution, second edition, G. A. Natesan, Madras, November 1917, p. 209.

[22Quoted by Dr. Tara Chand, op. cit, p. 340.

[23Banerjea, S. N. op. cit., 207.

[24Ibid., pp. 232-233.

[25Report on The Census of Bengal, 1872, by H. Beverley, CS, Calcutta, Bengal Secretariat Press, 1872, p. cxvii.

[26Census of India, 1911, Volume V, Bengal, Bihar and Oriss ad Sikkim, by L. S. S. O’Malley, ICS, Report Part I, p. 232.

[27Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol Indian Unrest, Macmillan & Company, London 1910, p. 102.

[28Simon Commission Report, Vol. XVII, quoted in the Namasudras of Bengal by A. K. Biswas, Blumoon Books, New Delhi, 2000, p. 71.

[29Simon Commission Report, Vol. XVII, op. cit.

[30N. B. Roy, A People in Distress, Vol. I, B. Sarkar, Calcutta, 1987, p. 75.

[31Speeches of Babu Surendranath Banerjea, Vol. 6, S. K. Lahiri & Co., Calcutta, 1908, p. 318

[32Speeches by Babu Surendranath Banerjea, Volume 6, S. K. Lahiri & Co., Calcutta, 1908, pp. 317- 318.

[33A Nation in Making by Sir Surendranath Banerjea, Oxford University Press, Second Impression, 1925, Chapter 1, p. 1.

[34Rashtraguru Surendranath, by Moni Bagchi, Jignasa, Calcutta, 1959. The book begins with his article as its foreword.

[35Karmabir Surendranath by Surjyakuma, Ghoshal, Calcutta, 1418 (Bengali era), pp. 212.

[36Census of India, 1911, Volume V, Bengal, Bihar and Oriss ad Sikkim, by L. S. S. O’Malley, ICS, Report Part I, p. 232.

[37Paradox of Anti-Partition of Bengal Agitation and Swadeshi Movement (1905), by A. K. Biswas, in Social Scientist, Vol. 23, Nos. 4-6, April-June, 1995.


[39Selection from the Government of India, Home Department No. CCCCXLV of Fees in Primary Schools, Superintendent Government Printing, Calcutta, 1910, p. 255.



[42A Nation in Making by Sir Surendranath Banerjea, Oxford University Press, Second Impression, 1925, p.197.

ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.