Harish Chandra Mukherjee
|Harish Chandra Mukherjee
Kolkata, Bengal, British India
|Died||June 16, 1861
Kolkata, Bengal, British India
Harish Chandra Mukherjee (Bengali: হরিশ্চন্দ্র মুখোপাধ্যায়) (1824 – 1861), was an Indian journalist and patriot, who fought tooth and nail for the indigo cultivators (and against the indigo planters) and forced the government to bring about changes.
Son of Ramdhan Mukherjee, the family hailed from Sridharpur in Bardhaman district but he was brought up in his maternal uncle’s place at Bhowanipur in Kolkata. As per the custom of the day, his father had three wives. Harish Mukherjee was son of the third wife Rukmini Devi. He was a free student at Union School but had to give up studies because of poverty. He started working in a small firm but later found employment, through competitive examinations, as a clerk in the office of the Military Auditor General. He gradually rose to a high position in that office and worked there all his life.
A self-taught person he attained proficiency in history, politics, law and English. He severely criticised the government in such newspapers as Hindu Intelligencer edited by Kashiprasad Ghosh and The Bengal Recorder edited by Ramgopal Ghosh. He was associated with the Hindu Patriot right form its start in 1853. In 1855, he secured the ownership and became the editor of the newspaper. Sambhunath Pandit used to write articles on legal matters in it.
When the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 struck, the political reaction in Bengal was not well defined. “There were, however, bold adventurers who could perceive dimly the inevitable trend in India’s political evolution.” He wrote in the Hindu Patriot, “The time is nearly come when all Indian questions must be solved by Indians. The mutinies have made patent to the English public what must be the effects of politics in which the native is allowed no voice.”
After his death in 1861, Hindu Patriot was badly in want of resources, when Kaliprasanna Singha bought the magazine and saved it from extinction. Kaliprasanna initially handed over management of the magazine to Shambhu Chandra Mookerjee. Hindu Patriot was edited for 23 years by Krishnadas Pal.
Revolt of indigo cultivators
Indigo cultivation had been greatly increased from the 18th century. The cultivators were forced to undertake indigo cultivation for which they hardly got anything in return. The oppression gradually increased and when the cultivators could no longer bear it they revolted and refused to undertake indigo cultivation. It was then that the intelligentsia in Kolkata took up the matter. Harish Mukherjee played a vital pioneering role in that movement with his brilliant writing in the Hindu Patriot. His writing roused public opinion and finally Dinabandhu Mitra came out with his play Nil Darpan in 1860.
The indigo planters wanted to throttle the Hindu Patriot first. The case fell through because Bhowanipur was outside the jurisdiction of the English Supreme Court then functioning in Kolkata. So great was the wrath of the indigo planters that even after his death, they wanted to punish his widow with court cases. Subsequently, James Long was jailed but the net benefit was the setting up of an Indigo Enquiry Commission by the government that went into the entire problem. It did not solve the problem but put in some checks on the untold misery.
The fallout of overwork during the period killed Harish Mukherjee in 1861. He died aged 37. A sad song circulated in those days:
- Neelkarera Sonar Bangla korle ebar charkhar
- Asamay Harish mollo,
- Long-er holo karagar
- Chasir ebar pran banchano bhar.
- Indigo planters now tore out Golden Bengal without fail
- Harish died an untimely death,
- Long was sent to jail
- For the farmers now living became a travail.
One of the main thoroughfares and a large public park in Bhowanipur, Kolkata, are named after Harish Mukherjee.
Harish Chandra Mukherjee died on 14 June 1861. As he had contributed handsomely towards the society, he could not leave behind anything else except his house and the Hindu patriot Press. Even his house went on auction for a case filed against him earlier in connection with a report published in Hindu patriot on atrocities of indigo merchants. Girish Chandra Ghosh appealed to the nation for preservation of the house, Kaliprasanna Singha and others contributed handsomely to the fund.
- Sengupta, Subodh Chandra and Bose, Anjali (editors), 1976/1998, Sansad Bangali Charitabhidhan (Biographical dictionary) Vol I, (Bengali), p621, ISBN 81-85626-65-0
- Sastri, Sivanath, Ramtanu Lahiri O Tatkalin Banga Samaj, (Bengali)1903/2001, pp129-130, New Age Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
- Sengupta, Nitish, History of the Bengali-speaking People, p285, UBS Publishers’ Distributors Pvt. Ltd., ISBN 81-7476-355-4.
- Sengupta, Subodh and Bose, Anjali, p104.