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)

Non-cooperation movement of 1930 and the students

In the meantime the students of Bengal had split up. Two student bodies were formed in Bengal. All Bengal Students' Organisation was made the recruiting centre for the "Anushilan Party", so the "Jugantar Party" felt the need to have their own students' front. They formed "The Bengal Provincial Students' Federation". This split took place at the Students' Conference at Mymensingh.

I tried my utmost to save the "Chatri Sangha " from this division.. I was never an adept at partisanship and I suffered when I found students fighting and slandering each other. I tried to unite the two warring groups. But I failed. Just at this time Gandhiji started the Non-co-operation movement of 1930. All over the country the workers defied the Salt Law and started making salt. At that time the Government had prohibited public manufacture of salt. Salt was an essential for all ,rich and poor alike , and the government had placed a tax on it. Students, young people, farmers, and women all gathered in thousands to break the law. With slogans like "Gandhiji ki jai ", "Bharatmata ki jai" they marched onwards to face the guns of the rulers. The Nation rose from its sleep at the touch of the magic wand.

After the failed armed struggle of 1915 , there occurred the 1921 non-co-operation movement , when students left schools and colleges and plunged in the national struggle. Then Deshabandhu was the leader in Bengal. After a long gap of eight or nine years came this new movement on a stronger and firmer base. Students sold packets of salt , produced in the villages, on the streets of Kolkata. We went from door to door selling hand-spun khadi , also distributing spinning-wheels and cotton boles. The students agreed to forget their differences in the midst of this tumultuous current. A Students' convention was convened in the Albert Hall ,where student representatives from all the districts of Bengal assembled to give their opinion.

A resolution was taken that as long as the non-co-operation movement was on students would boycott their classes and participate in the movement led by the leaders of the nation. I proposed this resolution and it was seconded by another student. The Congress had formed a Satyagraha committee to lead this movement. The leaders of the two student's bodies joined together and formed a student's satyagraha committee. Basanti Devi became our president. After the day's work we would go to her place ,where after discussions we planned our future programme. It was past midnight when we returned home. At that late hour there were no trams or buses plying on the road, so we had to walk home. My parents would be up and waiting for us. But we never heard a word of complaint from them. That year when I had to drop my M. A. finals , my father was deeply disappointed, but had not a word of reproof.

At that time my father worried how I would cope if they took me to jail. Mother said, "She is not doing anything that is not right. So many boys and girls are working for their motherland and courting arrest. Let your daughter also do the same. We shall be happy about it."

Picketing for class boycott started in all schools and colleges. Authorities of many educational institutions would request us not to do so in their buildings. When we told them that it would not be possible to comply with their request , they started threatening us. Students were coming all the time to our house for our advice, and our young brother Amal would rush about running errands. There was a festive air all around. As we had no telephone connection messages came for us at a doctor's chamber near-by. Dr. Biren Chakraborty would come over to our house to call us to the phone. He helped us ungrudgingly , for he said it was his duty to do so , and would not let us show our gratitude.

All our centres of student's organization were situated in north Calcutta, so it was becoming difficult for us to work from our home in Ballygunge. I had requested my mother to run a boarding for girls, for the students were suffering for want of proper accommodation. My mother took up the responsibility and started a boarding for girls in the same building where she was already running a home for helpless widows , and women deserted by their husbands. I wanted to find a shelter for Suhasini, Kamala Das Gupta, Kalpana and other revolutionaries who could not work from home. They stayed in this boarding with other students.

After some time when I came out of jail , I learned that as this boarding was searched for Kamala and others , the other inmates had left in panic ,causing much loss of money to my mother. I stayed in a friend's house in Central Calcutta. Her old mother and sister lived in that house Day long I went round working for our organization, and at night sleepy in their house in a camp bed in my friend's room.

Gradually it became clear that my friend's mother did not approve of my staying there. She had poor eyesight ,and all the time she feared that the police would come for her daughter. This fear was not unnatural, and I realized that she had enough reason to disapprove of me. One night I returned and found that the camp bed had disappeared; so I spent the night on the floor. As I lay on the bare ground I thought of my mother shedding tears at home for her unruly daughter. I too shed some bitter tears that night.

Next night I did not know where to sleep, so I wandered into the ladies' park on Circular Road. It was a warm night , so I planned to spend it on a bench in the park. But I was soon thwarted in my plan for a policeman came and turned me out , as the park was out of bounds for the night.

Finding no other place to sleep I returned to my friend's house. There I found another friend waiting for me. She desperately wanted a place to stay for she had to appear in the M. A. examination this year Her parents were dead , and her only elder brother had given her strict orders to sit for the coming M. A. exams. He had some how managed to pay her fees with much difficulty.

As we three friends sat making plans for the future, a neighbour knocked at our door. He said he was a police officer and he had learned that the house would be searched next morning for political workers. He told us to evacuate immediately. We were in real trouble now. Our friend the examinee had nothing to do with our work, so she had to be saved. If the police found us here , our friend's old mother would be arrested for sheltering 'satyagrahis'. We could not think of this old, almost blind lady being harassed by the police. So we had to do something immediately. Three of us left the house in a hackney carriage, carrying with us a small trunk full of important documents and papers.

At this time a young boy came to us and said that nearby was his uncle's house , where we could shelter for the night. We were elated at his words , and never for a moment did we doubt him. The boy took us to his uncle's house where we were shown into a room. Tired and relieved , we lay down to sleep , when we heard voices in the next room. Some one was speaking over the phone , giving the information that we were there and could be arrested immediately. We packed up again and rushed out of the house. Finding no conveyance we walked around almost blindly , throughout the night, losing our way at times, and resting by the wayside , when too tired. At the crack of dawn we sent the examinee ,with the trunk full of documents to a safe place, and we returned to my friend's home. There we were relieved to find that the police had not come for us. But a few minutes later , as we sat in a relaxed mood , we heard the police marching up to our door. We felt so frustrated , for nightlong we were on the streets , to save our friend's old mother from police harassment, but it was all in vain. We were impressed by the efficiency of the C. I. D.

As a last effort , I disguised myself as a distant relative of the family , who had come to see the old lady. Somehow we were able to convince the police that the real 'me' had escaped in the night , and not finding anything after a search , they left rather disappointed. After saving old 'mashima' from jail , I left my friend's house for ever. Whenever I think of that night , I wonder how those young men could behave in such a treacherous manner , trying to get us arrested after pretending to give us shelter. This too , in an age when the youth of the country had risen all around in glorious self-sacrifice for their motherland.

Another incident of those days still amuses me when I think of it. One day seven or eight of us were going around raising funds for the movement by selling salt packets. We entered a house and went up a narrow and steep flight of stairs to the first floor. I was leading , and as I called out , "We are from the Congress-------" a gentleman rushed out at us , shouting, "Go away. Get down immediately!" Frightened , we turned round on the narrow stairs. We had come up in a queue, and we made an about turn to go down. As I was leading , I was at the end of the line and was afraid of a push from behind! There was no reason for such a fear , but one becomes a coward when in flight. Back on thee road we laughed at our plight, and thus tried to forget the insult.

On another day we were at the gates of Bethune College and Presidency College organizing boycotts. I was at the gates of Bethune College with my friends ,from early morning , when the Principal came out and started scolding us. We had much respect for her , as she was our teacher, and also because she had allowed us to hold meetings of "Chhatri Sangha" in a college hall. During the annual conference of the Sangha , where Subhas Chandra had presided over the meeting, she had accepted our invitation and had attended the meeting. So realizing that as head of the institution she was only doing her duty in rebuking us , we stood silently. We allowed small children to enter school, but stopped the older girls at the gate. Most of the girls went away silently; but when we found some known faces complaining to the Principal, that they wanted to attend but were being stopped by us, we were shocked and hurt.

Within a short time a sergeant arrived with a group of policemen. They said that they had come to arrest us at the request of the Principal. They took us in a police van , away from the city and dropped us in front of a broken down hut in a remote village. After our arrest all the students had left college. Hirandi , the Headmistress of our school, fainted when she heard how we had been arrested.

The policemen left us in that lonely spot. We were a group of helpless girls and we had no idea where we were. We started walking back along the road, and after some time when we were all exhausted , we luckily found an empty taxi which took us back to Bethune College , where at the gate the students welcomed us with cries of "Bandemataram".

Our movement was now centered at the gates of Presidency College , where the students of Bengal stood against the British force. A few sergeants were always on duty at the College gates, and as soon as the students came for picketing, they would jump upon them like crouching tigers. They would beat the students with their batons until they fell unconscious. Then they would throw them in the police van and take them to the hospital. This was a daily occurrence at the Presidency gates. Gradually there was scarcity of students , strong and brave enough to face the police. Many school boys came forward and enlisted themselves as 'satyagrahis'. We did not want to send the tender young school boys into the grasp of these inhuman creatures. But we were helpless. This was a cruel , unequal war of unarmed Indians against the powerful guns of the vast British army.

One day as we were standing in front of the Bethune gates , Ila Sen , a student worker, informed us that the police were planning to shoot at the 'satyagrahis' at Presidency gates. We ran to meet them. A few days ago the police had beaten a young student until he was unconscious , and then they had taken him to a hospital, but there was no trace of him. This young boy had come from the village to offer himself in self-sacrifice. Nameless, without any recognition he had departed from this world. Maybe these boys would face the same fate. We wanted to show them that at least we were there to shed tears for them.

At the Presidency gate we found five boys raising slogans of "Bandemataram." We went and stood around them. The sergeants tried to pull them out from our midst. They pushed us around pulling us by our hair. After some time they gave up and the boys were only arrested. But they were later tortured in jail custody.

Sachin babu and others were already arrested, and were in jail. Biren babu, secretary of All Bengal Chhatra Sangha was absconding and was working underground. I had to officiate as temporary secretary for some time. Abinash babu and others of the Provincial Student's Federation were also arrested.

After daylong picketing we often went to the coolie barracks at night. These coolies worked as porters of foreign-made clothes , carrying them from the steamers to the shops. To meet the coolies we had to visit their slums late at night ,so on these trips Arunanshu babu and others went with us.

When the movement picked up momentum , some workers from Medinipur requested us to come to their place to give courage to the women workers , so that they do not succumb to the inhuman police treatment. With Sulata , my childhood friend and Labanya Mashima , we left for Medinipur.

There we found ourselves in a dreamland , where all the boys and girls , old men and women were brave fearless soldiers. The house where we stayed had a tall cocoa-nut tree in front of it , and on its top branches the volunteers had raised a national flag. The sergeants could not march quickly on the slippery , muddy paths ; and when after much difficulty they managed to lower the flag from the tree-top , the boys had raised more flags on other trees.

In the evening the women workers gathered around us and there we discussed our plan of action. When we learned that the police were coming to arrest us , we left that place and assembled again in another part of the village. In the darkness of night we walked warily along the narrow village path by a pond , and visited the women workers in different parts of the village, dodging the police , who kept a chase to find us. Finally at early dawn we boarded a train and left for Kolkata. The police were relieved to learn of our departure.