Chronicle of the forgotten female warriors: Bina Das
Md. Yousof Alam
It was a usual Saturday like other days, February 6, 1932.The day was important for Calcutta University because it was the convocation day at the University.Chief guest British Governor of Bengal Stanley Jackson in the convocation hall at Calcutta University. He was delivering his speech to the fresh graduates. Everything was going normal until a 21-year-old girlrushed to the dais in her graduation gown and opened fire.
That brave girl was none other than Bina Das.Born on 24th August 1911 in Krishna Nagar of Bengal Province in British India. Bina was the daughter of a well-known Brahmo teacher, Beni Madhab Das, and a social worker, Sarala Devi.Her parents were aware and tried their daughters to give freedom, education, and encouraging a quest for learning. Sarala Devi used to run a women’s hostel named Punya Ashram in Calcutta which was full of revolutionaries, belonging to various underground groups who were fighting to free their motherland. Beni Madhab had been a teacher at Ravenshaw College who inspired many to get involved in the freedom movement, one of them was the great revolutionary Subhas Chandra Bose.
Bina Das was a student of St. John's Diocesan Girls' Higher Secondary School and Bethune College, Calcutta. She was highly inspired by Subhas Chandra Bose ata young age and also learned a lot about patriotism from her khadi-wearing Gandhian father. In 1928 she joined Bengal Volunteer Corps founded by Subhas Chandra Bose. Bose continued to play the role of a mentor in Das’s life. She, along with her group of fellow students, organized their first student protest the Simon Commission that arrived in 1928 and faced threats from the college administration and the English principal if they did not apologize.
This revolt laid the foundations of Chhatri Sangha, a women's student society that was semi-revolutionary in its activities. Her sister Kalyani, was the secretary of this organization. The members of the Chhatri Sangha were taught basic self-defense including LathiKhela, where the women were taught to use batons. This student group also served to recruit other members and was helmed by noted revolutionaries like Dinesh Majumdar.
Then she was once asked by her friend Suhasini Ganguly if she wants to do something real for the motherland and introduced her to Bengal Revolutionary Party. On the 25th of August 1930, the group made a failed attempt to kill Charles Tegart, Calcutta’s Police Commissioner. When colonial law enforcement cracked down the group was scattered, and some members were killed.
In the spring of 1932, Das learned that the Governor of Bengal, Stanley Jackson, would attend the convocation ceremony at Calcutta University. She decided to assassinate him. She approached Kamala Dasgupta of the Jugantar Party, another revolutionary group to get her a gun. Kamala’s revolutionary friend Sudhir Ghosh purchased an old-fashioned Belgian, five-chambered revolver for the sum of 280 rupees.
At the convocation, Bina Das fired five shots at Jackson at close range. The first shot almost hit him but was tackled and disarmed by Hassan Suhrawardy, the first Muslim Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University. But she managed to shoot the rest of the bullets even after she was grabbed her throat by Hassan Suhrawardy.Unfortunately, none of the bullets was able to hit him.
Bina Das was caught & imprisoned.Suhrawardy was awarded a knighthood. Her confession, which ran to five pages long and was written in English, was censored by the British colonial administration, but still found itself widely circulated. In it, she wrote that:
"My object was to die, and if to die, to die nobly fighting against this despotic system of Government, which has kept my country in perpetual subjection to its infinite shame and endless suffering – and fighting in a way which cannot but tell... I have been thinking – is life worth living in an India so subjected to wrong, and continually groaning under the tyranny of a foreign Government, or is it not better to make one's supreme protest against it by offering one's life away? Would not the immolation of a daughter of India and a son of England awaken India to the sin of its acquiescence to its continued state of subjection and England to the iniquities of its proceedings?”
The Special Tribunal convened to judge her and sentenced her to nine years of rigorous imprisonment on charges of attempted murder under section 307 of the Indian Penal Code.
After her release in 1939 from prison with the interference of Mahatma Gandhi, she returned to a world she felt was different from one that she had been made to leave nearly a decade ago. She met her mentor, Bose, for the last time, only to never see him again. She joined Congress Party. In 1942, she participated in the Quit India movement and called a meeting in Hazra and was arrested by police forcefullyand imprisoned again from 1942 to 1945. From 1946 to 1947, she was a member of the Bengal Provincial Legislative Assembly and, from 1947 to 1951, of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. In 1947, she married a fellow revolutionary, Jatish Chandra Bhaumik, a member of the Jugantar group.
Not much is known about Bina Das’s life after India attained independence. In 1960, the Government of India awarded her the Padma Shri for her contributions to social work. Bina would go on to spend some of her time teaching in schools. After the death of her husband in 1986, she isolated herself. Started refusing to meet friends and relatives. At last, she left Kolkata and settled in Hrishikesh, where she lived in penury.
According to some reports, she died in destitution and poverty on 26th December 1986.Her body has recovered from a ditch in Rishikesh.The body was decomposed so severely that it took authorities weeks to identify. The ending of the brave daughter of the country was really painful and unfortunate.
Due to her revolutionary activities, the British authorities of Calcutta University had denied Bina Das her graduation degree, in a futile attempt to penalize and pressure her for her anti-British stance. About 81 years later, in 2012, the University of Calcutta posthumously awarded Das her pending Bachelor of Arts degree with second class Honours in English for the year 1931.
She dedicated her whole life to the country and the people she was hardly seeking after her graduation degree. She is no more but left her words in her autobiography named ShrinkhalJhankar (Rattling the Chains), where she wrote about the hope for the country’s post-independence and also wrote how deeply she felt the suffering of her people. “ Even today I hear the cries- the groans of the hungry, the silent suffering of the poor. The journey has not yet ended. In my heart, I still hear the drum beats of my God, and it urges me forward, forward, forever forward.”