Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>



Translated from the original Bengali JEEBON ADHYAYAN, by Dhira Dhar. Reproduced with permission of Jay Bhattacharjee (son of Kalyani Bhattacharjee)

Student movement

It was in the year 1928. I was just admitted to the post-graduate class in the Calcutta University. One day my sister Bina said, "Students are being organized again. Girl students must also take part in the movement. Why don't you take up the task of organizing them ?" As students of Bethune College we had organized study circles and lecture meetings. We had also started a fund for the poor, and collected clothes for villagers stricken by floods and droughts. These we had taken to Late Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy who had praised us for our effort. Such work was comparatively easy .In other parts of the world , specially in China and Russia, students had come out in great strengths to the forefront. Effects of those movements were reaching Bengal. Girl students of Bengal must also come forward. This work was not easy. Did I have the strength for such work ? Liladi and others had formed the Dipali Sangha in Dacca, and under its leadership were forming schools for girls , and training them in physical fitness.

I resolved to put all my energy in the task of organizing the girls , and rousing political consciousness in their minds. A student's conference was being held on a large scale in Calcutta at Shradhananda Park. Student delegates were coming from all the districts of Bengal. Jawaharlalji was invited to be the President of this Conference. Subhas Chandra , the young leader of Bengal, was helping the students in every way. There was the glow of hopeful joy and excitement on the faces of all the young students. The conference passed smoothly and concluded on high tone of excitement. We attended the meetings regularly with the girl students. Bina and I placed two resolutions. One of them was about girl students participating in the coming movement. Our resolution was welcomed by thousands of students who expressed their joy at our decision.

Many years ago , the nation's leader Late Surendra Nath Bannerji had tried to unite the students. Again in 1929 the All Bengal Chhatra Sangha was organized. Student leaders Pramod Ghoshal , Sachin Mitra , Biren Das Gupta and others were the main organizers. They asked me to represent the girls in the Executive Committee. Sub-committees were formed in almost every district of Bengal. Sachin Babu worked tirelessly. A student's monthly magazine Chhatra , was started with Sushil Deb as editor.

We invited girls from all schools and colleges to a meeting in a hall of the University , where the "Chhatri Sangha :" was formed. The Secretary of the Calcutta University readily gave us permission to use one of the big rooms. The beloved Professor of the students, Shree Sarvapalli Radhakrishna presided over the meeting. We were deeply enthused by his inspiring and impressive speech. The Executive Committee was formed with representatives from all schools and colleges. Many branches were formed for training in swimming , cycling, for physical fitness, and also for setting up libraries. At first Amar Babu , Dinesh Babu and others taught us how to wield the stick. Later veteran revolutionary Pulin Das , and Jyotish Datta helped to set up gymnasiums in north and south Calcutta. J. K. Seal , the famous boxer ,taught the girls the art of boxing. Arrangements were made to train the girls in swimming , firstly, in the large ponds in Raja Manindra Nandi's house on Circular Road , and later in the swimming pool on Cornwallis street Dr. Kalidas Nag was always a well-wisher of the "Chhatri Sangha". In the rooms of Bethune College he would teach the girls French poems and beautiful national songs. A couple of classes were started for teaching Hindi. Two or three doctors offered to teach First Aid and nursing to the students. First Aid classes were held at Scottish Church College and also in our home in Ballygunge.

Saint John's Ambulance authorities examined the girls and gave them certificates. Study circles and discussion meetings were held in different parts of the city Leading intellectuals Dr. Suren Das Gupta , Dr. Suniti Chattopadhya , Dr. Nalinakshya Sanyal, Dr, Satyapriya Banerji were invited at times. One day novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhya responded to the call of the students and spoke to them at a meeting in the Calcutta University Institute hall. The south Calcutta branch of "Chhatri Sangha" organized an exhibition where students from schools and colleges and University participated. Authorities of these institutions also extended their help. Sreejukta Meera Datta Gupta and Leela Majumdar worked tirelessly with the students.

The organizers of the All India Chhatra sangha were not very happy at our setting up of a separate women's association, but we explained to them how it was not always easy for girl students to work with the boys.... Girls staying in hostels would not get permission to join meetings of Chhatra Sangha , but they would always be able to participate in the work of Chhatri Sangha.

At that time, Jatin Das , the hero of Bengal , died after a long spell of hunger- strike in Lahore jail. His dead body was brought to Calcutta.. Our members of the Chhatri Sangha attended the train at Howrah station in the early hours of the morning. As volunteers they accompanied the dead body in a procession to the burning ground at Keoratala. Rich admirers would scatter coins from the wayside , as the procession passed., and many Gujrati and Marathi women would rush to pick up the coins. I asked them what they would do with the money. They said they would make lockets out of the coins and place them in a necklace round their boys' necks hoping they would become martyrs like Jatin Das when they would grow up. During the 1942 movement I often wondered if some of those boys had grown up to be martyrs as their mothers had hoped when they put the coins round their boys' necks.

Then came the open session of the Congress in Calcutta. Netaji Subhas Bose was the commander of the Volunteer Corps, and Latikadi took charge of the women volunteers. One day we invited Dr. Reddy from Madras to address the students. After his speech an appeal was made to the girl students to join the volunteer corps , to which more than a hundred girls responded. Brigades were formed with twenty-five volunteers in each group with an officer in charge. We started practicing drills and salutes. Days before the open session a bus would take us to the site every morning , and we would return home late at night after working at the Conference grounds , where we helped to set up an exhibition. That year Pandit Motilal Nehru , Jawaharlalji's father was the President. Our volunteers organized a procession and brought him from the Howrah station. We were on gate duty during the three days of the conference. We missed the inspiring speeches and debates on resolutions.

One day we were standing at the gate with Bina and Amita, when an officer approached us and warned us about a large procession of workers coming to the meeting. They might try to force an entry into the conference pandal. We were asked to be on guard , and protect the women inside. We felt anxious and also sad. Why could not the workers attend the conference? Why not let them come? But it was not for us to judge. We were just soldiers who had to carry out orders. Later we were relieved when we heard that their meeting was being convened at a little distance, and Netaji was addressing them. Netaji was at that time closely associated with the Trade Union Congress.

I remember another incident. My mother had come with my elder sisters to attend the Congress session. Subhas Babu had seen mother from a distance. He was my father's favourite pupil, and seeing my mother he came forward , fully dressed in his Commander's uniform and bowed and touched her feet. Another day an amusing incident occurred. After midnight Subhas Babu had gone out to check on the volunteers , to see if they were performing their duties properly. The guard on duty called out , "Who goes there?" When there was no reply they arrested him and took him to a room where in the light they found out that he was the Commander himself! Needless to say that their commander was very pleased with them.

When the Congress session was over he invited us all and thanked us for having performed our duties well. He said that without our help he would not have been able to fulfill his responsibility. Finally we all bowed and touched his feet.