Benoy-Badal-Dinesh The Price Of Freedom Paid With Blood

Anindita Chowdhury

Once the fierce volleys of bullets ceased, Charles Tegart, the Police Commissioner of Calcutta rushed inside the room to find three youths lying in a pool of blood on the ground – two injured and one dead. As he searched their blood-soaked pockets for some identity he found a khaddar tricolour on one of them. It was December 8, 1930. The “Verandah Battle” as The Statesman chose to call it, had just ended, the strong smell of gun-powder still emanating from the room. Badal (Sudhir) Gupta who carried the flag and his two colleagues, Benoy Bose and Dinesh Gupta had failed to raise the tricolour on that day. But 17 years later, the Indian flag did proudly flutter atop the Writers’ Buildings on August 15, 1947. As the nation gears up to celebrate the 76th Independence Day in a couple of months from now, Calcutta Chronicle pays tribute to these brave soldiers of India who readily laid down their lives to secure our freedom.

“Three Bengalis armed with revolvers made a raid upon the headquarters of Bengal Government in Dalhousie Square this morning and shot dead in his room Lieutenant Colonel Norman Skinner Simpson, Inspector General of Prisons in Bengal. Mr Johnwood Nelson, Legal Remembrancer and Member of the Legislative Council were wounded in the thigh but not dangerously and are in hospital.

“No more determined outrage could be imagined. Opening on to the corridor of the building to which the murderers penetrated are the offices of all Ministers, Members of the Executive Council and Heads of the Departments in Bengal and the raiders plan was evidently to fire indiscriminately into all the rooms. It was fortunate that there were no more casualties as the result of the firing amid which murderers were driven along the corridor to their final refuge.”

– The Times, December 9, 1930.

On January 1930, Congress for the first time first celebrated Independence Day hoisting the National Flag. Mahatma Gandhi had launched his Civil Disobedience Movement with Salt March. But the youth of Bengal were getting impatient over the so called “bania” politics of economic blockade. They wanted action and as a result revolutionary terrorism in Bengal was at its peak in the 1930s. The Chittagong Armoury Raid had occurred on April, 1930. With every passing day the jails of Bengal were filled up with the British police and administration detaining and arresting people at the drop of their hats to crush any opposition to their rule. At Alipore Jail in April 1930, the political prisoners protested against keeping them in the same cell as ordinary convicts. As a result the jailor, Somdat ordered a lathi-charge and Subhas Chandra Bose interned at that time received a heavy blow.

As the news spread, the Bengal Volunteers – an active revolutionary group (owed its origin to Subhas Chandra’s Bengal Volunteer Corps), headed by Hem Chandra Ghose or Borda sought to revenge the bloodshed of Bengal’s fiery leader, Subhas Chandra Bose. Benoy Bose, a student of Mitford Medical School and one of the key members of the group had already killed FJ Lowman, the Inspector General of Police at Dacca and escaped amidst a police crackdown. Government had offered a reward of 10,000 rupees but Benoy along with fellow comrades, escaped from Dacca disguised as poor Muslim peasants right under the nose of British police who even ordered passengers of a train to get off at Kishoregunj station and in order to search for him. Calcutta’s daring Police Commissioner, Charles Tegart had almost caught him at Beleghata where Benoy was holed up but by the time police encircled the house, the revolutionary had given him a slip. Subhas Chandra who sympathised with these daring boys decided to send Benoy abroad and Lady Abala Basu and Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray had readily donated the sum required to send him to Italy but he refused. He wanted to serve his country and participate in another daring expedition.

Bengal Volunteers then proceeded to choose Benoy’s accomplices for one of the boldest mission, an attack on the state secretariat itself. Badal Gupta, the youngest among the trio at 18 years of age and Dinesh Gupta who was 19 were chosen by their leaders – Nikunja Sen, Satya Bakshi, Rosomoy Sur and others. Meanwhile, the group had prepared a map of the interiors of Writers’ Buildings but Sen took Badal Gupta along for a recce of the secretariat. The city was flooded by posters crying out in red letters: “Rakte amar legeche sarbanasher nesha (Today, my blood is intoxicated by a will for destruction)”.

On the D-Day the trio dressed in expensive European clothes reached Writers’ Buildings in a taxi and walked past the strong contingent of Indian and British force. Next day, even British newspaper had to admit the nerve of the revolutionaries who dared to attack the very heart of the British administration.

A solicitor who was on the verandah of the Writers’ Buildings – the verandah is a long covered corridor running the entire length of the buildings which occupies one side of the Dalhousie Square – states that he noticed three Bengalis, dressed in European clothes pass him. Immediately, afterwards there was a rapid burst of revolver fire. The Bengalis thrusting themselves past the chaprasi (orderly) guarding the entrance to Colonel Simpson’s room had fired six to seven shots at the Inspector General as he sat in his chair. One bullet struck him in his heart and killed him instantly. Swiftly, the murderers ran along the corridor firing into the rooms of other officers. One bullet passed through the room of Mr. Alexander Marr, a member of the Executive Council who had risen from his chair and hurried into the corridor when he heard the first shots. The bullet passed over his head and shattered a window in the room. Mr. Nelson who had also left his room was hit in the thigh by a bullet and also struck over the head by one of the assailants.

Police on duty joined in with the revolvers. The murderers retreated rapidly along the corridor and took refuge in the Passport Office at the end. An American having his passport stamped climbed out of a window and descended to the ground by water pipe giving rise to the belief murderers had escaped. Actually, however, the murderers had reloaded their revolvers in Post Office and again emerging rushed into Mr. Nelson’s room where they turned their revolvers on themselves. When the police entered they found one of the men dead and two others badly wounded. The dead man in addition to shooting had taken poison. One of the wounded declared “I am Benoy Bose” – the name of the student wanted for the attack on IGP of Bengal, FJ Lowman, fatally shot by a Bengali at Dacca on August 29. His identity has been confirmed. The third is Dinesh Gupta, student of Dacca University. Police have taken statements of the wounded men.

When Charles Tegart rushed in with his deputy commissioners, Gordon and Bert from Lal Bazar, they too could not enter in the volley of fire. The Gorkha Regiment was called in. Finally, after a lull in firing Tegart on entering the room found Badal dead after taking potassium cyanide, Dinesh unconscious, and Benoy conscious but grievously injured. Tegart crushed his fingers with his boot but Benoy refused to name his comrades. Both were taken to hospital and operated upon but Benoy, a medical student deliberately put his fingers in his head wound and causing it to turn septic. He died on December 13, but Dinesh recuperated and faced the gallows on July 7, 1931. While in jail Dinesh read Gita and works of Tagore and wrote a number of letters to his mother and sister-in-law, which as Subhas Chandra Bose pointed out were nothing short of pieces of philosophy on life and death.

The sacrifice of Benoy, Badal and Dinesh and other revolutionaries who suffered had far reaching consequences than being mere senseless killings. In the Round Table Conference the Congress leaders including Gandhi could get the British to concede their demands only because the rulers were haunted by the spectre of Benoy. The apostle of non-violence, Mahatma told the British if it refused to work with him then it would have to deal with the terrorists.

We may take recourse to the words of Subhas Chandra Bose to pay our tribute to the young revolutionaries who actually paid the price of freedom with their blood. As a beleaguered India today tries hard to free itself from the shackles of corruption one can only hope that the sacrifices of Benoy, Badal and Dinesh and many more have not been in vain.