|Type||Secret Revolutionary Society|
Anushilan Samiti (Bengali: অনুশীলন সমিতি, lit. 'bodybuilding society') was an Indian organisation in the first quarter of the 20th century that supported revolutionary violence as the means for ending British rule in India. The organisation arose from a conglomeration of local youth groups and gyms (akhara) in Bengal in 1902. It had two prominent, somewhat independent, arms in East and West Bengal, Dhaka Anushilan Samiti (centred in Dhaka, modern day Bangladesh), and the Jugantar group (centred at Calcutta).
From its foundation to its dissolution during the 1930s, the Samiti challenged British rule in India by engaging in militant nationalism, including bombings, assassinations, and politically-motivated violence. The Samiti collaborated with other revolutionary organisations in India and abroad. It was led by the nationalists Aurobindo Ghosh and his brother Barindra Ghosh, and influenced by philosophies as diverse as Hindu Shakta philosophy, as set forth by Bengali authors Bankim and Vivekananda, Italian Nationalism, and the Pan-Asianism of Kakuzo Okakura. The Samiti was involved in a number of noted incidents of revolutionary attacks against British interests and administration in India, including early attempts to assassinate British Raj officials. These were followed by the 1912 attempt on the life of the Viceroy of India, and the Seditious conspiracy during World War I, led by Rash Behari Bose and Jatindranath Mukherjee respectively.
The organisation moved away from its philosophy of violence in the 1920s due to the influence of the Indian National Congress and the Gandhian non-violent movement. A section of the group, notably those associated with Sachindranath Sanyal, remained active in the revolutionary movement, founding the Hindustan Republican Association in north India. A number of Congress leaders from Bengal, especially Subhash Chandra Bose, were accused by the British Government of having links with the organisation during this time.
The Samiti's violent and radical philosophy revived in the 1930s, when it was involved in the Kakori conspiracy, the Chittagong armoury raid, and other actions against the administration in British-occupied India.
Shortly after its inception, the organisation became the focus of an extensive police and intelligence operation which led to the founding of the Special branch of the Calcutta Police. Notable officers who led the police and intelligence operations against the Samiti at various times included Sir Robert Nathan, Sir Harold Stuart, Sir Charles Stevenson-Moore and Sir Charles Tegart. The threat posed by the activities of the Samiti in Bengal during World War I, along with the threat of a Ghadarite uprising in Punjab, led to the passage of Defence of India Act 1915. These measures enabled the arrest, internment, transportation and execution of a number of revolutionaries linked to the organisation, which crushed the East Bengal Branch. In the aftermath of the war, the Rowlatt committee recommended extending the Defence of India Act (as the Rowlatt Act) to thwart any possible revival of the Samiti in Bengal and the Ghadarite movement in Punjab. After the war, the activities of the party led to the implementation of the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment in the early 1920s, which reinstated the powers of incarceration and detention from the Defence of India Act. However, the Anushilan Samiti gradually disseminated into the Gandhian movement. Some of its members left for the Indian National Congress then led by Subhas Chandra Bose, while others identified more closely with Communism. The Jugantar branch formally dissolved in 1938. In independent India, the party in West Bengal evolved into the Revolutionary Socialist Party, while the Eastern Branch later evolved into the Shramik Krishak Samajbadi Dal (Workers and Peasants Socialist Party) in present-day Bangladesh.
The growth of the Indian middle class during the 19th century led to a growing sense of Indian identity that fed a rising tide of nationalism in India in the last decades of the 1800s. The creation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 by A.O. Hume provided a major platform for the demands of political liberalisation, increased autonomy and social reform. The nationalist movement became particularly strong, radical and violent in Bengal and, later, in Punjab. Notable, if smaller, movements also appeared in Maharashtra, Madras and other areas in the South. The movement in Maharashtra, especially Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and Poona, preceded most revolutionary movements in the country. This movement was supported ideologically by Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who may also have offered covert active support. The Indian Association was founded in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in 1876 under the leadership of Surendranath Banerjee. The Association became the mouthpiece of an informal constituency of students and middle-class gentlemen. It sponsored the Indian National Conference in 1883 and 1885, which later merged with the Indian National Congress. Kolkata - formerly Calcutta was at the time the most prominent centre for organised politics, and some of the students who attended the political meetings began to organise "secret societies" that cultivated a culture of physical strength and nationalist feelings.
By 1902, Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) had three secret societies working toward the violent overthrow of British rule in India: one founded by Calcutta student Satish Chandra Basu with the patronage of Calcutta barrister Pramatha Mitra, another led by Sarala Devi, and the third founded by Aurobindo Ghose. Ghose and his brother Barin were among the strongest proponents of militant Indian nationalism at the time. Nationalist writings and publications by Aurobindo and Barin, including Bande Mataram and Jugantar Patrika(Yugantar), had a widespread influence on Bengal youth and helped Anushilan Samiti to gain popularity in Bengal. The 1905 partition of Bengal stimulated radical nationalist sentiments in Bengal's Bhadralok community, helping the Samiti to acquire the support of educated, politically-conscious and disaffected members of local youth societies. The Samiti's program emphasized physical training, training its recruits with daggers and lathis (bamboo staffs used as weapons). The Dhaka branch was led by Pulin Behari Das, and branches spread throughout East Bengal and Assam. More than 500 branches were opened in eastern Bengal and Assam, linked by "close and detailed organization" to Pulin's headquarters at Dhaka. This branch soon overshadowed its parent organisation in Calcutta. Branches of Dhaka Anushilan Samiti emerged in Jessore, Khulna, Faridpur, Rajnagar, Rajendrapur, Mohanpur, Barvali and Bakarganj, with an estimated membership of 15,000 to 20,000. Within two years, Dhaka Anushilan changed its aims from those of the Swadeshi movement to that of political terrorism.
The organisation's political views were expressed in the journal Jugantar, founded in March 1906 by Abhinash Bhattacharya, Barindra, Bhupendranath Dutt and Debabrata Basu. It soon became an organ for the radical views of Aurobindo and other Anushilan leaders, and led to the Calcutta Samiti group being dubbed the "Jugantar party". Early leaders were Rash Behari Bose, Bhavabhushan Mitra, Jatindranath Mukherjee and Jadugopal Mukherjee. Aurobindo published similar messages of violent nationalism in journals such as Sandhya, Navashakti and Bande Mataram.
Nationalism and violence
The Dhaka Anushilan Samiti broke with the Jugantar group in West Bengal due to disagreements with Aurobindo's approach of slowly building a mass base for revolution. The Dhaka group instead sought immediate action and results through political terrorism. The two branches of the Samiti engaged in dacoity to raise money, and performed a number of political assassinations. In December 1907, the Bengal branch derailed a train carrying Bengal Lieutenant Governor Andrew Henderson Leith Fraser in a plot led by the Ghosh brothers. In the same month, the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti assassinated former Dhaka district magistrate D. C. Allen. The following year, the Samiti engineered eleven assassinations, seven attempted assassinations and explosions and eight dacoities in West Bengal. Their targets included British police officials and civil servants, Indian police officers, informants, public prosecutors of political crimes, and wealthy families. Under Barin Ghosh's direction, the Samiti's members also attempted to assassinate French colonial officials in Chandernagore who were seen as complicit with the Raj.
Anushilan Samiti established early links with foreign movements and Indian nationalists abroad. In 1907, Barin Ghosh sent Hem Chandra Kanungo (Hem Chandra Das) to Paris to learn bomb-making from Nicholas Safranski, a Russian revolutionary in exile. Madam Cama, a leading figure of the Paris Indian Society and India House, a revolutionary organisation in London, also lived in Paris and was associated with V.D. Savarkar, who later published a bomb-making manual through India House. In 1908, young recruits Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki were sent on a mission to Muzaffarpur to assassinate chief presidency magistrate D. H. Kingsford. They bombed a carriage they mistook for Kingsford's, killing two Englishwomen. Bose was arrested while attempting to flee and Chaki committed suicide. Police investigation of the killers connected them with Barin's country house in Manicktala (a suburb of Calcutta) and led to a number of arrests, including Aurobindo and Barin. The ensuing trial, held under tight security, led to a death sentence for Barin (later commuted to life imprisonment). The case against Aurobindo Ghosh collapsed after Naren Gosain, who had turned crown witness, was shot in Alipore jail by Satyendranath Basu and Kanailal Dutta, who were also being tried. Aurobindo retired from active politics after being acquitted. This was followed by a 1909 Dhaka conspiracy case, which brought 44 members of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti to trial. Nandalal Bannerjee (the officer who arrested Khudiram) was shot and killed in 1908, followed by the assassinations of the prosecutor and informant for the Alipore case in 1909.
After Aurobindo's retirement, the western Anushilan Samiti found a more prominent leader in Bagha Jatin and emerged as the Jugantar. Jatin revitalised links between the central organisation in Calcutta and its branches in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh, establishing hideouts in the Sunderbans for members who had gone underground. The group slowly reorganised, aided by Amarendra Chatterjee, Naren Bhattacharya and other younger leaders. Some of its younger members, including Taraknath Das, left India. Over the next two years, the organisation operated under the cover of two apparently-separate groups: Sramajeebi Samabaya (the Labourer's Cooperative) and S.D. Harry and Sons. Around this time Jatin attempted to establish contacts with the 10th Jat Regiment, garrisoned at Fort William in Calcutta, and Narendra Nath committed a number of robberies to raise money. Shamsul Alam, a Bengal police officer preparing a conspiracy case against the group, was assassinated by Jatin associate Biren Dutta Gupta. His assassination led to the arrests which precipitated the Howrah-Sibpur Conspiracy case.
In 1911, Dhaka Anushilan members shot dead Sub-inspector Raj Kumar and Inspector Man Mohan Ghosh, two Bengali police officers investigating unrest linked to the group, in Mymensingh and Barisal. This was followed by the assassination of CID head constable Shrish Chandra Dey in Calcutta. In February 1911, Jugantar bombed a car in Calcutta, mistaking an Englishman for police officer Godfrey Denham. Rash Behari Bose (described as "the most dangerous revolutionary in India") extended the group's reach into north India, where he found work in the Indian Forest Institute in Dehra Dun. Bose forged links with radical nationalists in Punjab and the United Provinces, including those later connected to Har Dayal. During the 1912 transfer of the imperial capital to New Delhi, Viceroy Charles Hardinge's howdah was bombed; his mahout was killed, and Lady Hardinge was injured.
World War I
As war between Germany and Britain began to seem likely, Indian nationalists at home and abroad decided to use the war for the nationalist cause. Through Kishen Singh, the Bengal Samiti cell was introduced to Har Dayal when Dayal visited India in 1908. Dayal was associated with India House, then headed by V. D. Savarkar. By 1910, Dayal was working closely with Rash Behari Bose. After the decline of India House, Dayal moved to San Francisco after working briefly with the Paris Indian Society. Nationalism among Indian immigrants (particularly students and the working class) was gaining ground in the United States. Taraknath Das, who left Bengal for the United States in 1907, was among the Indian students who engaged in political work. In California, Dayal became a leading organiser of Indian nationalism amongst predominantly-Punjabi immigrant workers and was a key member of the Ghadar Party.
With Naren Bhattacharya, Jatin met the crown prince of Germany during the latter's 1912 visit to Calcutta and obtained an assurance that arms and ammunition would be supplied to them. Jatin learned about Bose's work from Niralamba Swami on a pilgrimage to Brindavan. Returning to Bengal, he began reorganising the group. Bose went into hiding in Benares after the 1912 attempt on Hardinge but he met Jatin towards the end of 1913, outlining prospects for a pan-Indian revolution. In 1914 Bose, the Maharashtrian Vishnu Ganesh Pingle and Sikh militants planned simultaneous troop uprisings for February 1915. In Bengal, Anushilan and Jugantar launched what has been described by historians as "a reign of terror in both the cities and the countryside ... [which] ... came close to achieving their key goal of paralysing the administration". An atmosphere of fear severely affected morale in both the police and courts. In August 1914, Jugantar seized a large amount of arms and ammunition from the Rodda company, a Calcutta arms dealer, and used them in robberies in Calcutta for the next two years. In 1915, only six revolutionaries were successfully tried.
Both the February 1915 plot and a December 1915 plot were thwarted by British intelligence. Jatin and a number of fellow revolutionaries were killed in a firefight with police at Balasore, in present-day Orissa, which brought Jugantar to a temporary end. The Defence of India Act 1915 led to widespread arrests, internments, deportations and executions of members of the revolutionary movement. By March 1916, widespread arrests helped Bengal police crush the Dacca Anushilan Samiti in Calcutta. Regulation III and the Defence of India Act were enforced throughout Bengal in August 1916. By June 1917, 705 people were under house arrest under the Act and 99 were imprisoned under Regulation III. In Bengal, revolutionary violence fell to 10 incidents in 1917. According to official lists, 186 revolutionaries were killed or convicted by 1918. After the war, the Defence of India Act was extended by the Rowlatt Act, the passage of which was a prime target of the protests of M. K. Gandhi's non-cooperation movement. Many revolutionaries released after the war escaped to Burma to avoid repeated incarceration.
After the war
The first non-cooperation movement, the Rowlatt Satyagrahas led by Gandhi, was active from 1919 to 1922. It received widespread support from prominent members of the Indian independence movement. In Bengal, Jugantar agreed to a request by Chittaranjan Das (a respected leader of the Indian National Congress) to refrain from violence. Although Anushilan Samiti did not adhere to the agreement, it sponsored no major actions between 1920 and 1922. During the next few years, Jugantar and the Samiti became active again. The resurgence of radical nationalism linked to the Samiti during the 1920s led to the passage of the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance in 1924. The act restored extraordinary powers of detention to the police; by 1927 more than 200 suspects were imprisoned under the act, including Subhas Chandra Bose, curtailing the resurgence of nationalist violence in Bengal. Branches of Jugantar formed in Chittagong and Dhaka, in present-day Bangladesh. The Chittagong branch, led by Surya Sen, robbed the Chittagong office of the Assam-Bengal Railway in December 1923. In January 1924 a young Bengali, Gopi Mohan Saha, shot dead a European he mistook for Calcutta police commissioner Charles Tegart. The assassin was praised by the Bengali press and, to Gandhi's chagrin, proclaimed a martyr by the Bengal branch of the Congress. Around this time, Jugantar became closely associated with the Calcutta Corporation, headed by Das and Subhas Chandra Bose, and terrorists (and ex-terrorists) became significant factors in local Bengali government.
In 1923 another group linked to Anushilan Samiti, the Hindustan Republican Association, was founded in Benares by Sachindranath Sanyal and Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee, helping to radicalise north India. It soon had branches from Calcutta to Lahore. A series of successful dacoities in Uttar Pradesh were followed by a train robbery in Kakori, and subsequent investigations and two trials broke the organization. Several years later, it was reborn as the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA).
In 1927, the Indian National Congress came out in favour of independence from Britain. Bengal had quietened over a four-year period, and the government released most of those interned under the Act of 1925 despite an unsuccessful attempt to forge an alliance between Jugantar and Anushilan Samiti. Some younger radicals struck out in new directions, and many (young and old) took part in Congress activities such as the 1928 anti-Simon Commission protests. Congress leader Lala Lajpat Rai died of injuries received when police broke up a Lahore protest march in October, and Bhagat Singh and other members of the HSRA avenged his death in December; Singh also later bombed the legislative assembly. He and other HSRA members were arrested, and three went on a hunger strike in jail; Bengali bomb-maker Jatindra Nath Das persisted in his strike until his death in September 1929. The Calcutta Corporation passed a condolence resolution after his death, as did Congress when Bhagat Singh was executed.
As the Congress-led movement picked up its pace during the early 1930s, some former revolutionaries identified with the Gandhian political movement and became influential Congressmen (notably Surendra Mohan Ghose). Many Bengali Congressmen also maintained links with the Samiti. Simultaneously with the nonviolent protests of the Gandhi-led Salt March, in April 1930, a group led by Surya Sen raided the Chittagong Armoury. In 1930 eleven British officials were killed, notably during the Writer's Building raid of December 1930 by Benoy Basu, Dinesh Gupta and Badal Gupta. Three successive district magistrates in Midnapore were assassinated, and dozens of other actions were carried out during the first half of the decade. By 1931 a record 92 violent incidents were recorded, including the murders of the British magistrates of Tippera and Midnapore. However, soon afterwards, in 1934, the revolutionary movement in Bengal ended.
A large portion of the Samiti movement was attracted to left-wing politics during the 1930s, and those who did not join left-wing parties identified with Congress and the Congress Socialist Party. During the mass detentions of the 1930s surrounding the civil-disobedience movement, many members joined Congress. Jugantar was formally dissolved in 1938; many former members continued to act together under Surendra Mohan Ghose, who was a liaison between other Congress politicians and Aurobindo Ghose in Pondicherry. During the late 1930s, Marxist-leaning members of the Samiti in the CSP announced the formation of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP).
Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar were organised on different lines, reflecting their divergence. The Samiti was centrally organised, with a rigid discipline and vertical hierarchy. Jugantar was more loosely organised as an alliance of groups under local leaders that occasionally coordinated their actions. The prototype of Jugantar's organisation was Barin Ghosh's organisation set up in 1907, in the run-up to the Manicktala conspiracy. It sought to emulate the model of Russian revolutionaries described by Frost. The regulations of the central Dhaka organization of the Samiti were written down, and reproduced and summarised in government reports.
According to one estimate, the Dacca Anushilan Samiti at one point had 500 branches, mostly in the eastern districts of Bengal, and 20,000 members. Branches were opened later in the western districts, Bihar, and the United Provinces. Shelters for absconders were established in Assam and in two farms in Tripura. Organisational documents show a primary division between the two active leaders, Barin Ghosh and Upendranath Bannerjee, and the rank-and-file. Higher leaders such as Aurobindo were supposed to be known only to the active leaders. Past members of the Samiti asserted that the groups were interconnected with a vast web of secret societies throughout British India. However, historian Peter Heehs concluded that the links between provinces were limited to contacts between a few individuals like Aurobindo who was familiar with leaders and movements in Western India, and that relationships among the different revolutionary groups were more often competitive than co-operative. An internal document of circa 1908 written by Pulin Behari Das describes the division of the organisation in Bengal, which largely followed British administrative divisions.
Samiti membership was predominantly made up of Hindus, at least initially, which was ascribed to the religious oath of initiation being unacceptable to Muslims. Each member was assigned to one or more of three roles: collection of funds, implementation of planned actions and propaganda. In practice, however, the fundamental division was between "military’’ work and ‘‘civil’’ work. Dals (teams) consisting of five or ten members led by a dalpati (team leader) were grouped together in local Samiti led by adhyakshas (executive officers) and other officers. These reported to district officers appointed by and responsible to the central Dhaka organization, commanded by Pulin Das and those who deputised for him during his periods of imprisonment. Samitis were divided into four functional groups: violence, organisation, keepers of arms, and householders. Communications were carried by special couriers and written in secret code. These practices and others were inspired by literary sources and were partly a concession to the desire of young men to act out romantic drama. Less is known about the Jugantar network, which took the place of the Manicktala society after the Alipore bomb case. It faced divisions similar to the Samiti. Historian Leonard Gordon notes that at least in the period between 1910 and 1915, the dals in the Jugantar network were separate units, led by a dada (lit: elder brother). The dada was also guru, teaching those under his command practical skills, revolutionary ideology, and strategy. Gordon suggests that the dada system developed out of pre-existing social structures in rural Bengal. Dadas both co-operated and competed with each other for men, money, and material.
Many members of the Samiti came from upper castes. By 1918, nearly 90% of the revolutionaries killed or convicted were Brahmins, Kayasthas or Vaishyas. As the Samiti spread its influence to other parts of the country, particularly north India, it began to draw in people of other religions and of varying religious commitments. For example, many who joined the Hindustan Republican Socialist Association were Marxists and many were militant atheists. By the late 1930s, members with a more secular outlook were beginning to participate. Some components of the Samiti also included prominent participation from women, including Pritilata Waddedar who led a Jugantar attack during the Chittagong Armoury raid, and Kalpana Dutta who manufactured bombs at Chittagong.
The Samiti was influenced by the writings of the Bengali nationalist author Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. The name of the organisation, Anushilan, is derived from Bankim's works espousing hard work and spartan life. Bankim's cultural and martial nationalism, exemplified in Anandamath, along with his reinterpretation of the Bhagavat Gita, were strong influences on the strain of nationalism that inspired the early societies that later became Anushilan Samiti. A search of the Dacca Anushilan Samiti library in 1908 showed that Bankim's Bhagavat Gita was the most widely read book in the library.
The philosophies and teachings of Swami Vivekananda were later added to this philosophy. The "Rules of Membership" in the Dacca library strongly recommended reading his books. These books emphasised "Strong muscles and nerves of steel", which some historians consider to be strongly influenced by the Hindu Shakta Philosophy. This interest in physical improvement and proto-national spirit among young Bengalis was driven by an effort to break away from the stereotype of effeminacy that the British had imposed on the Bengalis. Physical fitness was symbolic of the recovery of masculinity, and part of a larger moral and spiritual training to cultivate control over the body, and develop national pride and a sense of social responsibility and service. Peter Heehs, writing in 2010, notes the Samiti had three pillars in their ideologies: "cultural independence", "political independence", and "economic independence". In terms of economic independence, the Samiti diverged from the Swadeshi movement, which they decried as a "trader's movement".
When the Samiti first came into prominence following the Muzaffarpur killings, its ideology was felt to be influenced by European anarchism. Lord Minto resisted the notion that its action might be the manifestation of political grievance by concluding that:
Murderous methods hitherto unknown in India ... have been imported from the West, ... which the imitative Bengali has childishly accepted.
However others disagreed. John Morley was of the opinion that the political violence exemplified by the Samiti was a manifestation of Indian antagonism to the government, although there were also influences of European nationalism and philosophies of liberalism. In the 1860s and 1870s, large numbers of akhras (gymnasiums) arose in Bengal that were consciously designed along the lines of the Italian Carbonari. These were influenced by the works of Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini and his Young Italy movement. Aurobindo himself studied the revolutionary nationalism of Ireland, France and America. Hem Chandra Das, during his stay in Paris, is also noted to have interacted with European radical nationalists in the city, returning to India an atheist with Marxist leanings.
Okakura and Nivedita
Foreign influences on the Samiti included the Japanese artist Kakuzo Okakura and Margaret Noble, an Irish woman known as Sister Nivedita. Okakura was a proponent of Pan-Asianism. He visited Swami Vivekananda in Calcutta in 1902, and inspired Pramathanath Mitra in the early days of the Samiti. However the extent of his involvement or influence is debated. Nivedita was a disciple of Swami Vivekananda. She had contacts with Aurobindo, with Satish Bose and with Jugantar sub-editor Bhupendranath Bose. Nivedita is believed to have influenced members of the Samiti by talking about their duties to the motherland and providing literature on revolutionary nationalism. She was a correspondent of Peter Kropotkin, a noted anarchist.
A major section of the Anushilan movement had been attracted to Marxism during the 1930s, many of them studying Marxist–Leninist literature whilst serving long jail sentences. A minority broke away from the Samiti and joined the Communist Consolidation, and later the Communist Party of India (CPI). The majority of the Anushilan Marxists were hesitant to join the Communist Party, however, since they distrusted the political lines formulated by the Communist International. They also did not embrace Trotskyism, although they shared some Trotskyite critiques of the leadership of Joseph Stalin.
Police reaction and reforms
Shortly after its inception, the Samiti became the focus of extensive police and intelligence operation. Notable officers who led the police and intelligence operations against them at various times included Sir Robert Nathan, Sir Harold Stuart, Sir Charles Stevenson-Moore and Sir Charles Tegart.
The CIDs of Bengal and the provinces of Eastern Bengal and Assam were founded in response to the revolutionary movement led by the Samiti. By 1908, political crime duties took the services of one deputy Superintendent of Police, 52 Inspectors and Sub-Inspectors, and nearly 720 constables. Foreseeing a rise in the strength of the revolutionary movement, Sir Harold Stuart (then Secretary of State for India) implemented plans for secret service to fight the menace posed by the Samiti. A Political Crime branch of the C.I.D. (known as the "Special Department") was developed in September 1909, staffed by 23 officers and 45 men. The government of India allocated Rs 2,227,000 for the Bengal Police alone in the reforms of 1909-1910.
By 1908 a Special Officer for Political Crime was appointed from the Bengal Police, with the Special Branch of Police working under him. This post was first occupied by C.W.C. Plowden and later by F.C. Daly. Godfrey Denham, then Assistant Superintendent of Police, served under the Special Officer. Denham was credited with uncovering the Manicktala safe house of the Samiti, raiding it in May 1908, which ultimately led to the Manicktala conspiracy case. This case led to further expansion of the Special Branch in Bengal. The CID in Eastern Bengal and Assam (EBA) were founded in 1906 and expanded from 1909 onwards. However, the EBA police's access to informers and secret agents remained difficult. In EBA, a civil servant, H.L. Salkeld, uncovered the eastern branch of Anushilan Samiti, producing a four-volume report and placing 68 suspects under surveillance. However the Samiti evaded detailed intrusion by adopting the model of Russian revolutionaries. Until 1909, the police were unclear whether they were dealing with a single organisation or with a conglomeration of independent groups.
The visit of King George V to India in 1911 catalyzed improvements in police equipment and staffing in Bengal and EBA. In 1912, the political branch of the Bengal CID was renamed the Intelligence Branch, staffed with 50 officers and 127 men. The branch had separate sections dealing with explosives, assassinations, and robberies. It was headed by Charles Tegart, who built up a network of agents and informers to infiltrate the Samiti. Tegart would meet his agents under cover of darkness, at times disguising himself as a pathan or kabuliwallah. Assisting Denham and Petrie, Tegart led the investigation in the aftermath of the Dalhi-Lahore Conspiracy and identified Chandernagore as the main hub for the Samiti. Tegart remained in the Bengal police until at least the 1930s, earning notoriety amongst the Samiti for his work, and was subjected to a number of assassination attempts. In 1924, Ernest Day, an Englishman, was shot dead by Gopinath Saha at Chowringhee Road in Calcutta, due to being mistaken for Tegart. In 1930, a bomb was thrown into Tegart's car at Dalhousie Square but Tegart managed to shoot the revolutionary and escaped unhurt. His efficient curbing of the revolutionary movement earned praise from Lord Lytton and he was awarded the King's medal. In 1937 Tegart was sent to the British Mandate of Palestine, then in the throes of the Arab Revolt, to advise the Inspector General on security.
Criminal Law Amendment 1908
In its fight against the Raj, the Samiti's members who turned approvers (i.e. gave evidence against their colleagues) and the Bengal Police staff who were investigating the Samiti were consistently targeted. A number of assassinations were carried out of approvers who had agreed to act as crown witnesses. In 1909 Naren Gossain, crown witness for the prosecution in Alipore bomb case, was shot dead within Alipore Jail by Satyendranath Boseu and Kanai Lal Dutt. Ashutosh Biswas, an advocate of Calcutta High Court in charge of prosecution of Gossain murder case, was shot dead within Calcutta High Court in 1909. In 1910, Shamsul Alam, Deputy Superintendent of Bengal Police responsible for investigating the Alipore bomb case, was shot dead on the steps of Calcutta High Court. The failures of a number of prosecutions of violence linked to the Samiti under the Criminal Procedures Act of 1898 led to a special act that provided for crimes of nationalist violence to be tried by a special tribunal composed of three high-court judges. In December 1908 the Criminal Law amendments were passed under the terms of Regulation III of 1818, with the goal of suppressing associations formed for seditious conspiracies. The act was first applied to deport nine Bengali revolutionaries to Mandalay prison in 1908. Despite these measures however, the high standards of evidence demanded by the Calcutta High Court, insufficient investigations by police, and at times outright fabrication of evidence, led to persistent failures to tame nationalist violence. The police forces felt unable to deal with the operations of secretive nationalist organisations, leading to demands for special powers. The Indian press opposed these demands strenuously, arguing against any extension of the already wide powers enjoyed by the police forces in India, which they claimed were already being used to oppress the Indian people.
Defence of India Act
The threat posed by the activities of the Samiti in Bengal during World War I, along with the threat of a Ghadarite uprising in Punjab, led to the passage of Defence of India Act 1915. The act received universal support from Indian non-officiating members in the Governor General's council and from moderate leaders within the Indian political movement. The British war effort had received popular support within India and the act received support on the understanding that the measures enacted were necessary in the war situation. These measures enabled the arrest, internment, transportation, and execution of a number of revolutionaries linked to the organisation, which crushed the East Bengal branch of the Samiti. Its application led to 46 executions, as well as 64 life sentences given to revolutionaries in Bengal and Punjab in the Lahore Conspiracy Trial and Benares Conspiracy Trial, and in tribunals in Bengal, effectively crushing the revolutionary movement. By March 1916, widespread arrests had helped Bengal Police crush the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti in Calcutta. The power of preventive detention was used extensively in Bengal, and revolutionary violence in Bengal plummeted to 10 incidents in 1917. By the end of the war there were over 800 detainees under the act in Bengal under the act. However, indiscriminate application of the act made it increasingly unpopular with the Indian public.
The 1915 act was designed to expire in 1919, and the Rowlatt Committee was appointed to recommend measures to continue to suppress the revolutionary movement. The committee recommended an extension of the provisions of the Defence of India Act for a further three years with the removal of habeas corpus provisions. However this was met with universal opposition by the Indian members of the Viceroy's council, as well as the population in general, and Gandhi called the proposed act "The Black Bills". Mohammed Ali Jinnah left the Viceroy's council in protest, after having warned the council of the danger of enacting such an unpopular bill. Nevertheless, the recommendations were enacted in the Rowlatt Bills. Gandhi then led a protest, the Rowlatt Satyagraha, one of the first civil disobedience movements that would become the Indian independence movement. The protests included hartals in Delhi, public protests in Punjab, and other protest movements across India. In Punjab, the protests culminated in the Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre in April 1919. After nearly three years of agitation, the government finally repealed the Rowlatt act and its component sister acts.
Bengal Criminal Law Amendment
A resurgence of radical nationalism linked to the Samiti after 1922 led to the implementation of the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment in 1924, which reinstated the powers of incarceration and detention from the Defence of India Act. The act re-introduced extraordinary powers of detention to the police, and by 1927 more than 200 suspects had been imprisoned, including Subhas Chandra Bose. The implementation of the act successfully curtailed a resurgence in nationalist violence in Bengal, at a time when the Hindustan Republican Association was rising in the United Provinces.
After the 1920s, the Anushilan Samiti gradually dissolved into the Gandhian movement. Some of its members left for the Indian National Congress, then led by Subhas Chandra Bose, while others identified more closely with Communism. The Jugantar branch formally dissolved in 1938. In independent India, the party in West Bengal evolved into the Revolutionary Socialist Party, while the Eastern Branch later evolved into the Sramik Krishak Samajbadi Dal (Workers and Peasants Socialist Party) in present-day Bangladesh.
The nationalist publication Jugantar, which served as the organ of the Samiti, inspired fanatical loyalty among its readers. By 1907 it was selling 7,000 copies, which later rose to 20,000. Its message was aimed at elite politically conscious readers and was essentially a critique of British rule in India and justification of political violence. Several young men who joined the Samiti credited Jugantar with influencing their decisions. The editor of the paper, Bhupendranath Datta, was arrested and sentenced to one year's rigorous imprisonment in 1907. The Samiti responded by attempting to assassinate Douglas Kingsford, who presided over the trial, and Jugantar responded with defiant editorials. Jugantar was repeatedly prosecuted, leaving it in financial ruins by 1908. However, the prosecutions brought the paper more publicity and helped disseminate the Samiti's ideology of revolutionary nationalism. Historian Shukla Sanyal has commented that revolutionary terrorism as an ideology began to win at least tacit support amongst a significant populace at this time.
Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of the Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was an alumnus of the Anushilan Samiti. He was sent to Calcutta by B. S. Moonje in 1910 to study medicine, and to learn techniques of violent nationalism from secret revolutionary organizations in Bengal. There he lived with independence activist Shyam Sundar Chakravarty, and had contacts with revolutionaries like Ram Prasad Bismil.
Indian independence movement
James Popplewell, writing in 1995, noted that the Raj perceived the Samiti in its early days as a serious threat to its rule. However, historian Sumit Sarkar noted that the Samiti never mustered enough support to offer an urban rebellion or a guerrilla campaign. Both Peter Heehs and Sumit Sarkar have noted that the Samiti called for complete independence over 20 years before the Congress adopted this as its aim. A number of landmark events early in the Indian independence movement, including the revolutionary conspiracies of World War I, involved the Samiti, as noted in the Rowlatt report. Later the ascendant left-wing of the Congress, particularly Subhas Chandra Bose, was suspected of having links with the Samiti. Heehs argued that the actions of the revolutionary nationalists exemplified by the Samiti forced the government to parley more seriously with the leaders of the legitimate movement, and that Gandhi was always aware of this. "At the Round Table Conference of 1931, the apostle of non-violence declared that he held 'no brief for the terrorists', but added that if the government refused to work with him, it would have the terrorists to deal with. The only way to 'say good-bye to terrorism' was 'to work the Congress for all it is worth'".
The founders of the Samiti were among the leading luminaries of Bengal at the time, advocating for social change in ways far removed from the violent nationalist works that identified the Samiti in later years. The young men of Bengal were among the most active in the Swadeshi movement, prompting R.W. Carlyle to prohibit the participation of students in political meetings on the threat of withdrawal of funding and grants. Bengali intellectuals were already calling for indigenous schools and colleges to replace British institutions, and seeking to build indigenous institutions. Surendranath Tagore, of the Tagore family of Calcutta financed the establishment of Indian-owned banks and insurance companies. The 1906 Congress session in Calcutta established the National Council of Education as a nationalist agency to promote Indian institutions with their own independent curriculum designed to provide skills in technical and technological education that its founders felt would be necessary for building indigenous industries. With the financial backing of Subodh Chandra Mallik, the Bengal National College (which later grew to be Jadavpur University) was established with Aurobindo as Principal. Aurobindo participated in the Indian National Congress at the time. He used his platform in the Congress to present the Samiti as a conglomeration of youth clubs, even as the government raised fears that it was a revolutionary nationalist organisation. During his time as Principal, Aurobindo started the nationalist publications Jugantar, Karmayogin and Bande Mataram. The student's mess at the college was frequented by students of East Bengal who belonged to the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti, and was known to be a hotbed of revolutionary nationalism, which was uncontrolled or even encouraged by the college. Students of the college who later rose to prominence in the Indian revolutionary movement include M. N. Roy. The Samiti's ideologies further influenced patriotic nationalism.
Communism in India
Through the 1920s and 1930s, many members of the Samiti began identifying with Communism and leftist ideologies. Many of them studied Marxist–Leninist literature while serving long jail sentences. A minority section broke away from the Anushilan movement and joined the Communist Consolidation, and later the Communist Party of India. Former Jugantar leader Narendranath Bhattacharya, now known as M. N. Roy, became an influential member of the Communist International, helping to found the Communist Party of India. The majority of the Anushilanite Marxists hesitated to join the Communist Party. Instead, they joined the Congress Socialist Party (CSP), but kept a separate identity within the party as the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP). The RSP held a strong influence in parts of Bengal. The party sent two parliamentarians to the 1952 Lok Sabha elections, both previously Samiti members. In 1969, RSP sympathizers in East Pakistan formed the Shramik Krishak Samajbadi Dal (SKSD). RSP and SKSD have maintained close ties ever since. The RSP is currently a minor partner in the Left Front, which ruled the Indian state of West Bengal for 34 uninterrupted years. It also holds influence in South India, notably in parts of Kerala. The SUCI, another left-wing party with a presence in Bengal, was founded in 1948 by Anushilan members.
In popular culture
The revolutionaries of the Samiti became household names in Bengal. Many of these educated and youthful men were widely admired and romanticised throughout India. Ekbar biday de Ma ghure ashi (Bid me farewell, mother), a 1908 song written by Bengali folk poet Pitambar Das that describes the execution of Khudiram Bose, was popular in Bengal decades after Bose's death. The railway station where Bose was arrested is now named Khudiram Bose Pusa Railway Station in his honour.
The 1926 nationalist novel Pather Dabi (Right of the way) by Bengali author Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay tells the story of a secret revolutionary nationalist organisation fighting the Raj. The protagonist of the novel, Sabyasachi, is believed to have been modelled after Rash Behari Bose, while the revolutionary organisation is thought to have been influenced by the Bengali Samiti. The novel was banned by The Raj as "seditious", but acquired wild popularity. It formed the basis of a 1977 Bengali language film, Sabyasachi, with Uttam Kumar playing the lead role of the protagonist.
Do and Die is a historical account of the Chittagong armoury raid published in 2000 by Indian author Manini Chatterjee. It was awarded the Rabindra Puraskar, the highest literary award in Bengal. The book formed the basis of Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (We Play with Our Lives), a 2010 Bollywood film with Abhishek Bachchan playing the role of Surya Sen.
A marble plaque marks the building in Calcutta where the Samiti was founded. A plaque at the site of Barin Ghose's country house (in present-day Ultadanga) marks the site where Ghosh and his group was arrested in the Alipore bomb case. Many of the Samiti's members are known in India and abroad, and are commemorated in different forms. A number of Calcutta suburbs are today named after revolutionaries and nationalists of the Samiti. Grey Street, where Aurobindo Ghosh's press office stood, is today named Aurobido Sarani (Aurobindo Avenue). Dalhousie Square was renamed B.B.D Bag, named after Benoy, Badal, and Dinesh who raided the Writer's Building in 1926. Mononga lane, the site of Rodda & Co. heist, houses the busts of Anukul Mukherjee, Srish Chandra Mitra, Haridas Dutta, and Bipin Bihary Ganguly who participated in the heist. Chashakhand, a location 15 km east of Balasore where Bagha Jatin and his group made their last stand against Tegart's forces, commemorates the battlefield in Jatin's honour. The locality of Baghajatin in Kolkata is named after Jatin. In Bangladesh, the gallows where Surya Sen was executed are preserved as a historical monument.
- Mitra 2006, p. 63
- Desai 2005, p. 30
- Yadav 1992, p. 6
- Heehs 1992, p. 2
- Sen 2010, p. 244 The militant nationalists thought of more direct and violent ways of ending British rule in India ... The chief apostle of militant nationalism in Bengal was Aurobindo Ghose. In 1902, there were three secret societies in Calcutta - Anushilan Samiti, founded by Pramatha Mitra, a barrister of the High Court of Calcutta; a society sponsored by Aurobindo Ghose and a society started by Sarala Devi ... the government found it difficult to suppress revolutionary activities in Bengal owing to ... leaders like Jatindranath Mukherjee, Rashbehari Bose and Jadugopal Mukherjee.
- Mohanta, Sambaru Chandra (2012). "Mitra, Pramathanath". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
- Popplewell 1995, p. 104
- Heehs 1992, p. 6
- Gupta 2006, p. 160 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFGupta2006 (help)
- Sanyal 2014, p. 30
- Roy 1997, pp. 5–6 The first such dacoity was committed by Naren ... Around this time, revolutionaries threw a bomb at the carriage of Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy ... in Muzaffarpur, under the mistaken notion that the 'notorious' Magistrate Kingsford was in the carriage. This led to the arrest of Kshudiram Bose and the discovery of the underground conspiratorial centre at Manicktala in eastern Calcutta ... Nandalal Banerjee, an officer in the Intelligence Branch of the Bengal Police was shot dead by Naren ... This was followed by the arrest of Aurobindo, Barin and others.
- Popplewell 1995, p. 108
- Roy 1997, p. 6 Aurobihdo's retirement from active politics after his acquittal ... Two centres were established, one was the Sramajibi Samabaya ... and the other in the name of S.D. Harry and Sons.
- Popplewell 1995, p. 111
- Roy 2006, p. 105
- M. N. Roy's Memoirs p3
- Roy 1997, pp. 6–7 Shamsul Alam, an Intelligence officer who was then preparing to arrest all the revolutionaries ... was murdered by Biren Datta Gupta, one of Jatin Mukherjee's associates. This led to the arrests in the Howrah Conspiracy case.
- Popplewell 1995, p. 112
- Popplewell 1995, p. 167
- Popplewell 1995, p. 114
- Roy 1997, pp. 7–8 The group foresaw the possibility of a world war and planned to launch a guerrilla war at that time, expecting assistance from Germany. ... Lala Hardayal, on his return to India in 1908, also became interested in the programme of the Bengal revolutionaries through Kissen Singh.
- Desai 2005, p. 320
- Samanta 1995, p. 625
- Popplewell 1995, p. 201
- Popplewell 1995, p. 210
- Bates 2007, p. 118
- Sarkar 2014, p. 107 "Hemchandra Kanungo, to cite the earliest example, came back from Paris as an atheist with some interest in Marxism ... a street-beggar's lament for Kshudiram, for instance, could still be heard in Bengal decades after his execution ... In a 1918 official list of 186 killed or convicted revolutionaries, no less than 165 came from the three upper castes, Brahman, Kayastha, and Vaidya".
- Morton 2013, p. 80 "Following ... the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Indian government's law enforcement officials had claimed that the detention of alleged Bengali terrorists was a success, a claim that served to justify the Rowlatt Report's recommendation of emergency measures in 1918. In response to this, many leaders of the revolutionary movement went underground in the 1920s and fled Bengal to other British territories, particularly Burma."
- Heehs 2010, pp. 171–172 "The activity and influence of the Bengal terrorists led to the passage in 1924 of the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, extended the next year as an Act. This again gave the police extraordinary powers, and between 1924 and 1927 almost 200 suspects were imprisoned, among them Subhas Bose. Acts of terrorism in Bengal dropped off, but an Anushilan-linked group in the United Provinces [the Hindustan Republican Association] grew to some importance."
- Chowdhry 2000, p. 138
- "Bollywood & Revolutionary Bengal: Revisiting the Chittagong Uprising (1930-34)". History Workshop.
- Ray 1988, p. 83: "To explain the direct reason for the conversions to revolutionary terrorism, one must turn to the intellectual origins of the movement. Perhaps the single most efficient instrument of conversion was the Bhagavad Gita ... An entirely new Gita emerged from the reinterpretation of Bankim."
- Ray 1988, p. 84: "A sudden search of the Dacca Anushilan Samiti library in November 1908 by the police ... shows the books that were most read by revolutionaries ... the library issue book proved that the Gita was in great demand ... Among the books recommended in rule 7 of the "Rules of Membership" discovered in the library, the works of Vivekananda were given first place."
- Bandyopadhyaya 2004, p. 260 The physical culture movement became a craze ... this was a psychological attempt to break away from the colonial stereotype of effeminacy imposed on the Bengalees. Their symbolic recovery of masculinity ... remained parts of a larger moral and spiritual training to achieve mastery over body, develop a national pride and a sense of social service.
- Heehs 1992, p. 3
- Heehs 2010, p. 161 "The ideology of revolutionary publicists such as Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghose ... had three major components: political independence or swaraj; economic independence as promoted by the swadeshi-boycott movement; and the drive for cultural independence by means of national education ... A circular of the Anushilan Samiti states: "This Samiti has no open relationship with any kind of popular and outward Swadeshi, that is (the boycott of) belati [foreign] articles ... To be mixed up in ... such affairs is entirely against the principles of the Samiti" (Ghosh 1984: 94). Members of Barin Ghose's group likewise stigmatized the swadeshi-boycott movement as bania (shopkeeper) politics."
- Heehs 2010, p. 160, paras 1–2 "[Morley] wrote to Viceroy Lord Minto, 'that Indian antagonism to Government would run slowly into the usual grooves, including assassination' ... he considered Bengali terrorism to be an almost natural result of political discontent. Minto, on the other hand, considered it entirely imitative. Writing to Morley after the Muzaffarpur attempt, Minto declared that the conspirators aimed 'at the furtherance of murderous methods hitherto unknown in India which have been imported from the West, and which the imitative Bengali has childishly accepted' ... the terrorists were playing at being 'anarchists.'"
- Heehs 2010, p. 160 para 3 "There were ... some foreign influences on Bengali Terrorism ... Aurobindo Ghose's study of the revolutionary movements of Ireland, France, and America. Members of the early 'secret societies' drew some of their inspiration from Mazzini ... The Japanese critic Kakuzo Okakura inspired Pramathanath Mitra and others with revolutionary and pan-Asiatic ideas just when the samiti movement was getting started. The Irishwoman Margaret Noble, known as Sister Nivedita after she became a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, had some contact with Aurobindo Ghose and with younger men like Satish Bose and Jugantar sub-editor Bhupendranath Bose. Nivedita was in correspondence with the non-terroristic anarchist Peter Kropotkin, and she is known to have had revolutionary beliefs. She gave the young men a collection of books that included titles on revolutionary history and spoke to them about their duty to the motherland ... undoubted connection of Hem Chandra Das with European revolutionaries in Paris in 1907."
- Heehs 1994, p. 534 "[Around 1881] a number of self-styled 'secret societies' were set up in Calcutta that were consciously modelled on the Carbonari and Mazzini's Young Italy Society ... They were in fact simply undergraduate clubs, long on nebulous ideals but short on action."
- Samanta 1995, p. 257
- Heehs 1993, p. 260
- Saha, Murari Mohan (ed.), Documents of the Revolutionary Socialist Party: Volume One 1938–1947. Agartala: Lokayata Chetana Bikash Society, 2001. pp. 20–21
- Popplewell 1995, p. 105
- Popplewell 1995, pp. 105–107
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- Riddick 2006, p. 93
- Horniman 1984, p. 42 [There are] records of cases during the years from 1908 to 1914 which were abortive ... due to the usual faults of police work in India—the hankering~after approvers and confessions, to be obtained by any means, good or bad; the concoction of a little evidence to make a bad case good- or a good case better; and the suppression of facts which fail to fit the theory.
- Horniman 1984, p. 43 Police authorities took up the attitude that ... they were helpless in the face of a secret organisation ... Demands were put forward for special powers, the lowering of the standard of evidence, and other devices for the easy success of the police ... the whole Indian Press anticipated with the liveliest apprehension the prospect of any extension of those wide powers which already enabled the police to oppress the people.
- Sanyal 2014, p. 89 "The Jugantar newspaper served as the propaganda vehicle for a loose congregation of revolutionaries led by individuals like Jain Banerjee and Barin Ghose who drew inspiration from ... Aurobindo Ghose."
- Sanyal 2014, p. 93 "This attitude cost the paper dearly. It suffered five more prosecutions that, by July 1908, brought about its financial ruin … The trials brought the paper a great deal of publicity and helped greatly in the dissemination of the revolutionary ideology ... testimony to the fanatical loyalty that the paper inspired in its readers and the deep impression that the Jugantar writings made on them ... revolutionary terrorism as an ideology began to win if not overt, then at least the tacit, support of Bengalis."
- Sanyal 2014, pp. 90–91 "[Sanyal translates from Jugantar:] "In a country where the ruling power relies on brute force to oppress its subjects, it is impossible to bring about Revolution or a change in rulers through moral strength. In such a situation, subjects too must rely on brute force." ... The Jugantar challenged the legitimacy of British rule ... [its] position thus amounted to a fundamental critique of the British government ... By 1907 the paper was selling 7000 copies, a figure that went up to 20,000 soon after. The Jugantar ideology was basically addressed to an elite audience that was young, literate and politically radicalized."
- Sanyal 2014, pp. 91–92 "Bhupendranath Dutt, the editor and proprietor of the Jugantar was arrested in July 1907 and charged under section 124 A ... Bhupendranath was sentenced to a year's rigorous imprisonment ... The Jugantar's stance was typically defiant ... The paper did nothing to tone down the rhetoric in its future editions."
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