Shibpur Political Action (Dacoity) Case, 1915
Shibpur Political Action (Dacoity) Case, 1915
January 31, 2023
Shibpur or Sibpur is situated in the vicinity of Krishnagar in the Nadia district of West Bengal. Shibpur Political Action (Dacoity) Case of 1915 was a brave attempt of dacoity only meant to collect funds for the armed revolutionary activities against the British might. The ‘dacoity’, as termed by the British or ‘political action’ as called by the revolutionaries, was carried out successfully by a group of young Indian patriots and most of them were college students from Bhadralok Bengali families in a village namely Shibpur of undivided Bengal. The arrest of 22 educated young members and then the transportation for a life sentence to many of them, inspired and enthused the entire Bengal to come with a new spirit under a very severe anarchical time.
The unsung story of the case has it in the core that the revolutionaries assembled and united after a marathon walk from different directions and after the dacoity, their physical tiredness caused their arrest at different points in time and place.
On 29 September 1915 at midnight, 22 Bhadralok class Bengali freedom fighters raided the house of Krista Behari Biswas, a wealthy resident of Shibpur and a favorite of the British who acted as their spy (guptachar) in the village. The revolutionaries arrived by a steamer crossing the river Kharia (also known as Jelingi). They took with them some cash and gold ornaments for their revolutionary activities.
The First Information Report (FIR) about this raid was lodged at Betuadhari police station on 30 September. Faizudding Ahmed, Sub-Inspector of Nakasipara received information about the dacoity at 6.30 a.m. and he arrived at Birpur at about 9 o’clock. The revolutionaries had tried to escape through the jungle and took in a northerly direction towards Beruadhari, where a Sub-Inspector of Nakasipara Thana accompanied by a constable tried to intercept them with fire-shots but failed to stop them and the revolutionaries succeeded in crossing the river in two batches.
Sub-Inspector Faizudding Ahmed found the dead bodies of four persons - Charu Mondal, Rajendra Mukherjee, Benode Mukherjee, and Kedar Bunara – who had followed the revolutionaries after they had raided the house of Krishta Behari, and were killed by them. All these dead bodies had lacerated wounds caused by bullets. The Sub-Inspector found the boat used by the revolutionaries on the riverside with storage of arms, tools, cartridges, clothes, and a Geeta.
In the evening of 30 September, the first arrest was made in this case. Bhupindra Nath Ghosh (sometimes spelled as Ghose), who was going from Krishnagar to Navadwip and had lost his way, was found in an exhausted condition and was apprehended.
The revolutionaries to be arrested next were Nikhil Ranjan Guha Roy and Harendra Nath Bhattacharjee (sometimes spelled as Harendra Kumar Bhattacharjee) who were found in exhausted condition covered with mud near Mehartala by a witness namely Durlav Chandra Hajra. They were taken to the house of Sarda Prosad Bhattacharjee, a local Zamindar, where they were kept in confinement with two constables in charge. As per the statement given by Nikhil, he came from Sealdah the previous night and had reached Krishnagar in the morning, while Harendra came from Howrah. Harendra was produced before Deputy Magistrate, Babu N. K. Choudhury.
Two other revolutionaries, namely Surendra Nath Biswas and Jotindra Nath Nandi were arrested at Purbasthali railway station. They were very tired and their clothes were muddy and spear grass was sticking to them. After them, revolutionary Anukul Chandra Roy was caught and arrested. At Patuali station, Satish Chandra Ghose alias Satya Ranjan Bose and Hem Chandra Sarkar alias Sachindra Datta were caught with two revolvers and cash. Subsequently, three more revolutionaries – Bijoy Mitra (Mitter), Radhika Ganguli, and Satindra (or Satyendra) Nath Sengupta – weak and famished, resting under a mango tree, were caught. Bijoy came from Faridpur, and was a student at Ripon Law College; he stated he was living at 3, Chaitan Sen’s Lane in Calcutta.
On 4 October 1915 one revolutionary of the case namely Siva Prosad Biswas otherwise called Netai, a fourth-year student of Krishnagar College was arrested. This young boy submitted a long statement on 12 October before Magistrate exculpating himself and implicating one Narendra Nath Sarkar. Siva Prosad stated that he saw Narendra Nath Sarkar of Sikarpur on 29 September lying at the house of Lalit Mohan Biswas with bullet wounds on his legs and belly. Siva Prosad said that this man was at the root of the action. Inquiries were instituted in Calcutta and on the night of 21 October, premises No. 208-2G, Cornwallis Street was searched by Mr. Tegart, Special superintendent of the Intelligence Branch. At this address, Narendra Nath Sarkar was apprehended by the British police. On basis of his statement on 28 October, on 3 November, a house was searched at 6, Medical College Street. A few names were ascertained from the inquiry from him and an important of them was Narendra Mohan Ghosh Chaudhury (sometimes spelled as Naren Mohan Ghosh Chaudhury), described as ‘Master’. His house No. 77, serpentine Lane was searched by Mr. Tegart. The moment the police entered one Ananta Kumar Dutta, son of Bepin Dutta, whose head was bandaged and arm was in a sling, started up and drew his fully loaded Mauser Pistol (Mauser No. 176540 of Rodda & Co.) from under his pillow; but he could not do anything being covered by police. The other men apprehended were Dinesh, Upendra Kishor Roy of Sylhet, and Kalicharan Dey of Durgapur. Eventually, with the progress of the interrogation by Mr. Tegart, the real name of Ananta Kumar Dutta was found to be Narendra Mohan Ghosh Chaudhury of Duttapara of Noakhali. Narendra was then taken to Paddapukur Thana and thence to the Medical Hospital, from there on the next day he was sent to Krishnagar Jail.
Mr. A.J. Chotzner, ICS, Second Additional District and Session Judge, 24-Parganas was appointed President of the Commission under the Defence of India Act for the Trial of the Shibpur Dacoity Case. The Trial was held at Krishnagar and lasted from 13 December 1915 to 16 February 1916.
A large number of identification proceedings were held in the jail after the arrest of the suspects. The suspects were mixed up with a number of outsiders. The witnesses were sent for and were told to look through a slit in a blanket placed over the Jail Superintendant’s door, outside of which a line was drawn up. The greatest blunder, however, was at the identification of Narendra Ghosh, whose head was bandaged and arms in slings.
On basis of the evidence, statements of a large number of witnesses especially of the property owners Krista Behari and Jagabandhu Biswas and another man Upendra Chaudhury, who was living in Krishta Behari’s house, and the boatmen namely Rishipada Halder and Kali Majhi, the accused were charged and tried in the court of the Special Tribunal for the Trial of the Shibpur Dacoity Case in Krishnanagar under Section 395 and 396 of Indian Penal Code. During the proceedings, Narendra Nath Sarkar became a witness for the Crown, and a pardon was rendered by the court under Section 337.
The Tribunal Court sentenced Bijoy Ranjan Mitra, Satindra Nath Sengupta, and Radhika Ganguli to be acquitted and discharged. These acquitted and discharged members arrested on 3 October in the Barasat jungle, were actually those who could not be identified during the pursuit. Their proceedings after all ups and downs, especially in the case of Bijoy, eventually came in favour of them. The Tribunal observed that right after their arrest, the Inspector made a failed attempt to take them back along the Barasat-Krishnagar Road in order to see if anyone along that road would identify them. Secondly, the Tribunal cross-examined and noted that a dhoti marked K66 and V was found in the boat abandoned by the revolutionaries at Birpur, and a shirt was found at Kamalnagar marked K66, V810, and K10. When Bijoy was arrested, he was wearing a coat marked B25 and V. On 4 October, No.3 Chaitan Sen’s Lane, which Bijoy gave as his address was searched by the Police, but they did not find any cloth bearing any mark as alleged. Apart from this, the books of the Dyeing and Clothing Company in Wellington Street were produced in order to show that the shirts and the dhotis were washed there and the owner was the accused Bijoy; but as the learned Counsel for the defence had pointed out, there are certain number of other persons whose clothes bore the same marks showing that other clothes were washed about the same time as those of the accused. The most important bit of circumstantial evidence, however upon which the prosecution relied is the alleged discovery of a bundle containing firearms near the place where the three accused were arrested. The circumstances in which this took place are of an extraordinary character. The Tribunal noted that on 3 October immediately after their arrest, the place where they were sitting was searched and nothing was found. On 4 October, Mr. Armstrong, the Superintendant of Police of the 24 Parganas went to the spot and he also found nothing special. On 9 October, Mr. Tegart received some information that near the place of arrest two bundles had been left, one containing revolvers and one booty. He communicated with Mr. Armstrong and on 12 another search operation was launched by some fifty or sixty men, and this time to nothing was found. On 17, Criminal Investigation Department officials came from Calcutta and the team searched again and found a bundle in a ditch under a plantain groove 200 feet from where the accused had been sitting. When opened, 3 Mauser pistols in cases and 3 revolvers wrapped in a rag quilt, the whole tied in a sailcloth, were found. Of the weapons found, two were Mauser pistols Nos. 176616 and 176419. These formed a portion of the consignment stolen from Rodda and Company. At the end, the Tribunal noted, “We consider, therefore, that the prosecution had failed to establish the connection of these three accused with the offence, and we accordingly find them not guilty”.
Further, the order of the Court dated 16 February 1916, therefore has in place that Bhupendra Nath Ghose (arrested on 30 September 1915 on a path in Gopipur jungle), Nikhil Ranjan Guha Roy (a student of City College), Jotindra Nath Nandi, Surendra Nath Biswas, Shanakul Chatterjee (a B.A. student in Metropolitan College), Satish Chandra Ghose alias Satya Ranjan Bose (or Basu), Hem Chandra Sarkar alias Sachindra Dutta, Narendra (or Naren) Mohan Ghose Chaudhury be transported for life under the provisions of section 396 IPC; and that Harendra Nath Bhattacharjee be transported for ten years under the same section.
The prisoners who were deported to Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands for life were:
- Sachindra Nath Dutta (Prisoner No. 38735 in Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands)
- Surendra Nath Biswas (Prisoner No. 38737 in Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands);
- Naren Mohan Ghosh Chaudhury alias Naren Ghosh Chaudhury, resident of 77 Serpentine Lane, Bengal (Prisoner No. 38738 in Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands).
- Harendra Nath Bhattacharjee alias Bhattacharjee who was a Sanskrit Scholar. He was allotted Prisoner No. 38739 in Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands;
- Shanukul Chatterjee (Prisoner No. 38740 in Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands);
- Satya Ranjan Bose (Prisoner No. 38741 in Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands) was a Bachelor of Liberal Arts in a local college when he joined Anushilan Samiti. After a period of five years he was repatriated in 1921 and got released in 1925 or 26);
- Bhupendra Nath Ghosh
All of the above political prisoners, except Nikhil Ranjan Guha Roy, were repatriated in 1921 when the Penal settlement in the Andaman was ordered to be abandoned by the British Government of India.
- Nikhil Ranjan Guha Roy (Prisoner No. 38733 in Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands) was repatriated to Krishnagar Jail in 1916 and later released. He then took part in Non-Cooperation Movement and he had to go behind the bars again in connection with the Kandi Bomb case. He was convicted and deported to Andaman in 1933. He was given permanent incarceration No. 72 in the Cellular Jail. He was finally repatriated in 1937.
The boat used by the revolutionaries in this action was kept as a memento at the Krishnagar Court Compound.
Their co-prisoners in Cellular Jail included Barindrakumar Ghosh, Upendranath Bandyopadhyay, Ullaskar Datta, Veer Savarkar, and many other known revolutionaries of the Indian freedom struggle.
- Bastille of India, Directorate of Information, Publicity and Tourism, Andaman & Nicobar Administration, 1998.
- National Archives of India (NAI), New Delhi, F No. 3481-P of 3 March 1916, Home Deptt (Political) -1916 (Part-B), Judgment in Shibpur Dacoity Case.
- Iqbal, Rashida, Unsung Heroes of Freedom Struggle in Andamans(ed.), Directorate of Youth Affairs, Sports & Culture, Port Blair, 2004, Page Nos. 82-88,103
- Dictionary of Martyrs – India’s Freedom Struggle (1857-1947), Vol. 4 Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, Ministry of Culture, GoI and ICHR, 2016
- Andaman Nicobar Archives, Port Blair, File 41-1/97-Jail; Acc.No. H (Jail)/812.
- Andaman Nicobar Archives, Port Blair, File No. 41-14/98-Home (Jail) (Convicts in Jail).
- NAI Proceedings - April 1916, Nos. 293-94, Simla Records 2-1916, Home Deptt, GoI, Political-A.
- https://amritmahotsav.nic.in/unsung-heroes-detail.htm?4397 (Nikhil Chandra Guha Roy)
- https://amritmahotsav.nic.in/district-reopsitory-detail.htm?1282 (Naren Mohan Ghosh Chaudhury)
- https://amritmahotsav.nic.in/unsung-heroes-detail.htm?4463 ((Narendra Mohan Ghosh Chaudhury)
- https://amritmahotsav.nic.in/district-reopsitory-detail.htm?1283 (Satya Ranjan Bose)
Dr. Pronob Kumar Sircar and Mahashweta Das are writers of this research based blog.
(Dr. Pronob Kumar Sircar is an ethno-historian based at Port Blair and Mahashweta Das is a Ph.D Scholar from History Department, Burdwan University)