Remembering the last hero of Chittagong uprising

Remembering a warrior and a hero

Remembering a warrior and a hero
Benode Behari Chowdhury, the last warrior of the Chittagong uprising of 1930-34 passed away last Wednesday night (April 10) at the age of 104 in a hospital in Kolkata. The passing of this legendary figure comes at a time when Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan are facing a renewed wave of persecution and West Bengal is witnessing the growth and expansion of Islamist forces which feel a greater connect to the razakars and the Jamaat of Bangladesh than to their own fellow citizens in the state.

Remembering a warrior and a heroThroughout his long, active and eventful life Benode Behari essentially fought against such disruptive forces and indefatigably championed the cause of the Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh. Till the very end he remained concerned and disturbed at the fact that the Hindus of Bangladesh were being squeezed out by radical elements and that pro-Pakistan elements were on the ascendancy in the country.  Around a decade ago, when the BNP-led four-party alliance of which the Jamaat and its rabidly anti-Hindu leaders were the leading lights, was in power in Bangladesh, Benode Behari, at the advanced age of 93, had protested their treatment of the minorities in the country.

As early as 1972, when anti-Hindu attacks rocked newly liberated Bangladesh, Benode Behari’s advise to Sheikh Mujeeb was indeed crucial, he had warned the President that “he would not remain in power if Pakistani elements were not checked.” He clearly saw that these elements would never reconcile themselves to the emergence of a new Bangladesh which wanted to be free from the asphyxiating yoke of a wahabised Islam while yearning to forge a new religio-cultural identity for itself. Bangladesh today remains locked in an epic struggle between these forces of destruction and betrayal and those who yearn to go back to the original vision and ideals of the liberation movement.

When not yet 20, Benode Behari had thrown in his lot with Surya Sen – Masterda – the leader and ideologue of the Chittagong uprising. Passionately moved by the “golden dream – the dream of a free India” as his leader described it, Benode Behari braved British bullets – a bullet pierced his neck – and participated in raising the banner of armed revolt against the mighty Empire in far off Chittagong by declaring it liberated territory. Young Benode was transported to prison in distant Rajputana and then incarcerated in a deserted camp. The prolonged episode which had galvanised the entire area and other revolutionary movements across the subcontinent had badly shaken the Empire, till then firmly ensconced in its belief of invincibility. Yet the episode is neither remembered today in India – where empty chairs at the screening of Chittagong demonstrated the general apathy towards such riveting episodes of our history, nor in Bangladesh were Benode Behari would lament that in some quarters Surya Sen continued to be described “as a dacoit, a Hindu leader!” In fact, Bangladesh and India are yet to erect a suitable memorial to the martyrs of that uprising.

After partition, Benode Behari stayed on in East Pakistan and during a particularly dangerous time emerged as a rallying point for the minorities of that half of Pakistan. Steadfastly remaining in Chittagong, which over the years developed into a hotbed of radical elements including the Jamaat, Benode Behari remained unscathed and succeeded in organising the Hindus of the district. One of the then leading papers in Chittagong Azad had, pouring vitriol, proclaimed in early 1950 (February 8-9) that the “Real enemies of Pakistan are Hindus” and that “Hindus are not reliable.” It was against such odds that Benode Behari struggled for the rights, protection and dignity of his co-religionists and of other minorities of East Pakistan. Eventually, it was largely due to his efforts that Hindus in Chittagong became an important bloc in the region’s local politics.

Each time a compromise was made with Islamic fundamentalist forces, Benode Behari came out openly condemning the turn. He did not spare the Awami League either which had its phases of infatuation with the “Khelafatists”, as happened in 2006 when it came to an agreement with the fundamentalist Khelafat Majlish and agreed to support the issuance of fatwas by alems when it came to power.

Benode Behari Chowdhury’s life thus had two distinct parts, both of them revolutionary and full of struggle. The early part was a struggle against the idea and manifestations of an empire and the second was a ceaseless battle against a rising tide of Islamic fundamentalist consolidation and in support of efforts for protection of the Hindu voice in a continuously shrinking religio–political space in the land of his birth. He never considered the option of migrating, for a warrior that option was not even the last one, it never existed.

His example needs urgent and dedicated emulation across all parts of Bengal today, but does the Bengali Hindu bhadralok have time and tenacity for it?

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are the author's personal opinions. Information, facts or opinions shared by the Author do not reflect the views of Niti Central and Niti Central is not responsible or liable for the same. The Author is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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  • Priyadarshi Dutta

    Thanks for the timely article. Late Benod Behari Chowdhury’s life proves that the termination of the British rule – as naively believe by some- was not the end of every problem in India. Political Islam is a far greater challenge, which followed the end of British rule. I doubt if his mentor Master Surya Sen and his heroic ilk had foreseen it. BBC lived to see it.

  • Sayan Sen

    Benode babu belonged to the now extinct tribe of Hindu Bengali bhadralok who had fire in their bellies–a burning desire to serve their motherland. Nowadays Bengalis like myself also have fire in their bellies—a burning sensation after gulping too much junk food!! :) Today’s leaders of West Bengal—TMC, CPM, Congress are all hands-in-gloves with the Islamists. The state BJP leaders–Rahul Sinha, Prof Asim Ghosh, Tathagata Roy, Tapan Sikdar, Shamik Bhattacharya et al are an incompetent lot. They are like “Gharshatru Vibhishan” to the Bengali Hindus. Forget helping the Hindus of Bangladesh, the state BJP leaders cannot even visit the 240 Hindu families whose homes were burnt down in South 24 Parganas this year. (Refer Sandhya Jain’s article in Niti Central) The person who protected the Hindus–Tapan Ghosh of Hindu Samhati is in jail under false case by minority appeasing TMC government. The state BJP leaders (betrayers of Bengali Hindu cause) have never supported him. :( When Mamata Banerjee announced monthly salaries to imams from government treasury, the state BJP leaders did not organize a single protest. They were busy applying “Fair & Lovely” on their faces as they had to appear in TV studios. May Benode babu’s ideals inspire Rahul Sinha & Co. :)

  • Sandhya Jain

    Very moving account. May Durga Ma give solace to his soul and to the followers left orphaned by his passing away

  • Padmaja

    Absoulutely touching sure that none of the mainstream newspapers like Times of India etc would have even bothered to report the passing away of Benode Behari Chowdury. Cannot dream to expect the TV media to cover this.Brits have left us ,but they also left behind their most potent weapon in the armoury:’Divide and rule’, which the Congress has so steadfastly stuck to through “Secularism”. Even Masterda Surya Sen would have shed copious tears on the current “Secular /pseudo secular situation