Comrade Ila Mitra
Dr Ajoy Roy
The legendary Ila Mitra (1971), the leader of the Tebhaga movement of 50s, the legendary peasant leader of undivided Bangla, a veteran leader of the communist movement in the sub-continent, a dedicated friend to the cause of our war of liberation in 1971, breathed her last in Kolakata on Sunday, 13th October afternoon at PG hospital, Kolkata, West Bangla. It was learnt from ETV-Kolkata TV channel that following a severe heart attack some time back she had been under treatment in the PG hospital. She was 77. I remember her today with due respect and solemnity.
In Rajshahi district, Nachol, a police station at that time of greater Rajshahi became the centre of peasant movement, known as Tebhaga Andolan in the district. Ila Mitra, an athlete of no mean caliber before she was married to a zaminder son of that locality, deeply got involved in the movement encouraged by his husband and ultimately became 'Rani Ma' (queen-mother) of the peasants of the locality. But who is Ila Mitra to the present generation, particularly of Bangladesh? Does the name bear any significance to them? Perhaps not.
Who is Ila Mitra ?
Ila Sen, her maiden name, was a daughter of a simple middle class government service holder. Their original home was at the village named Bagutia in the then Jenidah Subdivision of Jessore district. Her father, Nagendra Nath Sen was an accountant of AGB office, Kolkata when Ila was born on 18 October 1925. She completed her education at Kolkata- studying at Bethun School and College under Calcutta University. She passed BA with honors in Bangla literature in 1944. She finally obtained her MA degree in Bangla literature and culture from Calcutta University as a private candidate in 1958 after long 13 years of passing BA. Why? That is part of her story.
It might appear strange to many of us such a political personality was a champion athlete in her school and college days. In the decade of thirties she was a star woman in the world of sports in Bangla. She was junior champion athlete in Bangla Presidency from 1935-1938. She was a good basketball player too. She was selected to represent India in athletics in Olympic games scheduled to be held in 1940 in Japan, which however could not be held because of World War II. In 1944, she got married to Ramendra Nath Mitra, son of a zemindar family of Ramchandrapur, then under Maldah district of British Bangla adjacent to present district of Nawabganj in Bangladesh. Ramendra however not only a son of a Zemindar family, but himself an organizer of the communist movement in Maldah. He was a district president of Peasant Association.
Ila Mitra's Political association
Through marriage she first became aware of the peasant movement in northern region of undivided Bangla. But even before her marriage she got involved with politics of left through Students Federation, a left oriented students' organization and Women Self Defense Association (Mahila Atama Raksha Samity). She became very much active in communist movement in early forties, as a result of which she got the membership of Communist Party of India (CPI) at the age of only 18 years. After marriage she moved to Ramchandrapur as a newly married bride of a conservative traditional Hindu family. The couple had their only son born in 1948, while Ila Mitra was organizing peasant movement in the locality of Nachol under the directives of CPI.
Ila Mitra came to prominence during 1948, just after partition of Bangla in 1947 for her revolutionary leadership to peasant movement, popularly known as 'Tebhaga Andolan', as we mentioned earlier.
The Banglai word 'Tebhaga' means division in three parts. The objective of the movement among the peasant class was that a cultivating peasant must get two-third share of the total yield divided into three and rest one third would go to the owner of the land. The necessary political leadership to the movement came from the Bangla Peasant Association, a front organization of the peasants and landless agriculture laborer of CPI. The movement took serious turn and reached its peak in 1946. It became very popular in north Bangla particularly in the districts of Jalpaiguri, Dinajpur, Maldah, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Bogra and adjacent part of Pabna.
In order to understand tebhaga movement we have to understand the land distribution system in that area. At the top of the land owning system was the class of zeminders who got lease of lands through permanent settlement of the British law. These zemindars have no direct link with the cultivation of lands owned by them. The link between the zemindars and the British government was that zemindars would pay a yearly tax fixed by the government depending on quantity and quality of the lands owned by the zemindars. How these lands would be cultivated, developed and what income would be generated was left to the zemindars. At the next bottom of etalon was the class jotdars to whom the zemindars distributed lands through a system called 'Pattani'. The pattani was achieved through negotiation on the basis of fixed taxes to be renewed and reviewed time to time. The jotdars class was the real people directly connected with lands and cultivation. Although outside the 'jotdari system' there were many land owning individuals, small and big who directly paid their land taxes to the zemindars through the 'Nayebi’ ‘Tahsildari' system of the zemindars, the jotdars in north Bangla used own vast lands to the tune of hundreds and thousands of acres and they were the real class of people whose fortune and fate were directly land linked. Therefore these people who had to look after cultivation and development of lands so far its yield were concerned. Thus the fate of the farmers were linked intricately with jotdari system. Now, jotdars used two system of cultivation: a. employ agricultural laborers to cultivate lands under the direct supervision of the jotdar himself. b. give lease of lands to individual farmers, a small land owning class of people who directly cultivate lands of their own or taken lease from a jotdar for a particular period of time which depended on the sweet will of the jotdar. The terms of conditions of such arrangement were: All investing cost of cultivation of leased land had to be borne by the farmer; the total yield of corps must be shared equally between the cultivator and the owner of the land i.e. jotdar. This system of cultivation of land was commonly known as 'Adhiary Pratha' (half-half system), mostly prevalent in north Bangla. This class of cultivating farmers was known as 'Adhiar' (half sharer). Through this mechanism, just because a jotdar owned a piece of land he used to derive benefit without investing any thing in the land. More over he used to exploit the labor of a cultivator in various forms- the poor man becoming almost a slave of the landowner. There was always a constant threat over his head that if he did not listen to the jotdar he would take away the land and he would have to starve. This was surely a system of exploitation to extreme limit.
Thus zemindari-jotdari system used to be a instrument of exploitation that had been agitating the people belonging to the peasant class. Their grievances grew as the economic situation in the country getting worse in the post war period that immediately followed a terrible famine (1942) throughout Bangla, at that time being governed by Muslim league with Shaheed Surwardy as chief minister. The economic situation, political unrest, and unbearable social conditions of the peasants led to the movement later known as Tebhaga Andolan. The communist leaders and Krishak samity leaders took full advantage of the unrest prevailing among the poor peasants and land less agricultural laborers.
The movement sparked off in an area under PS (admin unit in British system) Chirirbandar in the district of Dinajpur. The area had a local communist leader, Shri Rupnarayan Roy, himself a small land-owning farmer and local organizer of Krishak Samity, first and only MLA (member of the legislative assembly) of Bangla assembly elected from CPI ticket in 1946 election. He, together with other peasant leaders of the locality led a movement in and around his locality and organized the peasants mostly Hindus belonging to Kshatriya caste and some Muslim cultivators in a grand assembly on the day when jotdars men would come to collect 50% share of the corps. The assembled farmers refused to give 50% , instead they offered 33 % out of total yield. A serious fight flared up between the jotdars' armed men and the adamant peasants resulting in several injuries to both parties.
Police came to the rescue of the jotards' men and in doing so a peasant was killed in police fire. The event took serious turn; local villagers came on the side of the peasants and police had to retreat. But couple of days later reinforced police force set a reign of terrors in village after village in Chirirbandar police station- the leaders were haunted out, even common villagers including women were not spared from their physical torture and repressive action. Common methodology used by the police for physical torture were divestiture of clothes of womenfolk followed by beating with lathes (batons) and for men putting the man in between two hard bamboos and the sliding those bamboos over the body from feet to head apart from kicking with boots and charging with lathes (baton) and iron rods. Hundreds of villagers were arrested.
This was the ignition that sparked the tebhaga movement and spread throughout north Bangla and in some parts of southwest Bangla including Jessore, Khulna and 24 Parganas within a year. I myself saw, as a boy of class six in those days, hundreds and thousands of peasants, men and women from different villages were being arrested and brought to the Kotwali Police station in Dinajpur district town, not far from our residence. They were harassed, tortured and physically beaten. My father got involved in the movement, not as communist or peasant leader, but as a lawyer and as a humanist. He tried his best with others to defend the cases of tebhaga accused poor people and used to move numbers of bail petitions every day. I saw him how he spent his hectic days at that time.
The political change because of partition of Bangla in 1947 brought the end of Tebhaga Andolan, at least its intensity waned in the northern districts of the then East Pakistan. The new Muslim League government suppressed the movement with stern hand. The veteran communist leaders mostly being Hindus and the activists of the movement, were termed as enemies of the so called Islamic state of Pakistan, and as such were put either behind the bar or repulsed out of the country.
What happened at Nachol
In 1946 Ila Mitra was just a housewife in a conservative Hindu zemindar family at Ramchandrapur. But slowly, together with her husband, she was taking part in the peasant movement of the locality. Ramen Mitra wanted her wife to take part in communist movement as she did in the past as a student in Kolkata. Encouraged by her husband Ila Mitra gradually came out of the family boundary. When riot broke out in Kolkata, Bihar and some parts of East Bangla, Ila Mitra came down to Noakhali under the directives of CPI, extensively toured the affected areas together with Mahatma Gandhi and other Hindu-Muslim leaders and took part in rehabilitation work among the distressed people. This was the first time, being a housewife of a conservative Hindu family, she came out of the forbidden boundary of the family and came directly in contact with the common mass.
Then came the partition of Bangla in 1947 and Zemindari of Mitra family of Maldah fell within the territory of East Bangla, then a province of Pakistan. The family, particularly at the insistence of mother in law of Ila Mitra decided to stay back in Pakistan. The geographical area of the Zemindari was included in the district of greater Rajshahi. The partition created an unsteady state in the minds of the local people mostly inhabited by Hindus and so called Adibasis (aboriginals), the Saontal community. The decision of Zemindar family to stay back created a sense of relief to the non-Muslim population.
On the day of 14th August, 1947 in an assembly of villagers in Ramchandrapur, Ramen Mitra, the CPI local leader hoisted the Pakistani flag. The event acted as a reassuring antidote in the mind of the minority community. At the initiative of local peasant leader Altaf Hosain a school was established at the village Krishna-Gobindapur, about five minutes walk from the residence of Zemindar family. The villagers demanded that to educate their sons and daughters, the Badhumata i.e. Ila Mitra must become a teacher of the school to which Ila Mitra agreed.
The school started with 3 students, which rose to 55 within a year. She took it as a challenge and dedicated her life in removing illiteracy from the village- she gradually, centering the school, initiated a movement of 'education for all'. This gave her a unique opportunity to interact with peasants and their problems, their aspirations and needs. She became their 'Rani Ma' (Queen Mother). Krishna Govindapur is a non-Muslim dominated area of which Adibashis form an important component in the local population. The Adibashis belonged to cultivating class having no land of their own, most of them were adhiars. Apart from the Adibashis, other Hindu cultivators were from Kshatriya, Bhuindas and Kaibartas castes.
After partition of Bangla in 1947, five police stations of Maldah district came under Rajshahi district in Pakistan. Those five police stations were Nababganj, Bholahat, Shibganj, Nachol and Gomostapur. The Saontals of these areas had the great tradition of fighting against the British imperialism for their independent homeland under the leadership of Jitu Sardar. The Nachol Bidroha (Nachol rebellion) of 1950 against the Pakistanis was the legacy of that tradition.
Due to stern and repressive stance against the communist party by the Pakistani rulers, the party decided to work from under ground. All the leaders, including Ila Mitra, were asked to go underground. This was in 1948- Ila Mitra was then carrying. She silently crossed over to Kolkata where she gave birth to her son Mohan. The child was left under the care of her mother-in-law at Ramchandrapur.
Ila returned to peasant movement after 3/4 weeks. Under cover, she returned to Nachol to give leadership to peasant movement with her husband. But where is Nachol? As I said Nachol is a police station now in Nawabganj district. It is an inaccessible area even for today. It is about 35 km from Rajshahi town. It is better to approach Nachol from Rajshahi via Tanore ( about 15 km north from Rajshahi) crossing the border between Rajshahi and Nawabganj about 10 km from Tanore directly westward. The local peasant leaders with the help of the underground communist and Kishan Samity leaders worked relentlessly preparing the ground of tebhaga movement in those locality for two years from 1948-1950. In popularizing the movement among the peasants, apart from Ila Mitra and Ramen Mitra, the organizing leadership on the surface were provided by the local leaders. Those included among others were: Sibu Koramudi, a Saontal communist leader from Rajshahi, Matla Majhi, Tutu Hembram, Chitor Majhi, Sagaram Majhi, Sukra Madang, Chutar Majhi, Sukhbilas Barman, Bhagirath Karmakar etc. It may be remembered that at this time when Tebhaga Andolan was getting momentum under the fiery leadership of Ila Mitra the movement in other districts of East Bangla had been crushed by the Muslim league government.
In the area of Nachol of which Chandipur, Krishnapur, Kendua, Ghamura, Shibnagar, Manda, Golappara, Mallikpur, Kalupur, and Mahipur were the most sensitive area of the movement the jotdars used to get two-third share and one-third went to the cultivator instead of half-half as in other districts of north Bangla. For husking rice from paddy the laborers used to get 3 Aras (katha/dhama) only out of 20 Aras. Ila made her head quarter of the movement in the village of Chandipur at the house of veteran Saontal communist leader Matla Majhi. The objective of the movement was straightened out in very simple terms: two-third share will be for the cultivator and one-third will be for the jotdar, out of the total yield. For rice husking from paddy, out of 20 Aras of husked rice, the laborer would get seven Aras and the owner would get rest i.e. 13 Aras.
In local dialect the slogan was: ' Sat Ari jin o Fasaler tebhaga'
(for husking seven Ara and three share for cultivation ). In order to make the demand popular Ila Mitra extensively toured village after village, met the Khet majors (agricultural laborers), common cultivators, small farmers and publicly addressed the peasant meetings in the remote corners of the villages giving bluff to the police administration. In this way she earned the title 'Rani Ma'. A song was composed by a village poet :
'Lila Maitri Nari,
Ain Karlo jari
Adhi Jami Tekuti Bhag
Jin holo Sat Arire Bhai
Jin holo Sat Ari'
Thus a ground was ripe for launching the final phase of the movement to get their demand materialized. The leaders also organized a defense force from among the revolutionary peasants in which Hindus, Muslims and Saontals took part, although the Saontal community dominated the force. The force was equipped with bow with arrow, spears, lathe and home made different types of choppers with haft etc... The force was trained how to repulse the attacking police force and to make defense formidable. The force was also taught how to retreat safely. Another popular slogan among the peasants was: 'Whoever possesses plough, land belongs to him' (Langal jar Jami tar).
As the movement gained momentum leaders thought that that time was ripe to give effect of the tebhaga doctrine. The implementation of the principle began with Mitra zemindar family of Ramchandrapur. It was not an easy task. By persuasion and negotiation by the leaders including Mitra couple the family accepted tebhaga doctrine of distribution of yield. This happened in autumn of 1949 at the time of major harvesting season. The zemindar family had over 500 bighas of crops yielding lands. Encouraged by the initial success the leaders imposed the principle on other zemindars and jotdars one by one sometimes through persuasion, some times using threat and sometimes using force. By 1950 almost all landowners in and around Nachol were forced to accept the 'Sat Ari and Tebhaga doctrine'.
The method, the peasant leaders adopted for implementing the doctrine was a very simple but effective one. After harvesting the crops of particular field the owner of the land was invited to be present on the day in presence of the leaders of the movement, common villagers and the cultivator. In his presence or absence of the land owner total crops of the field was divided in three parts- keeping two-third for the cultivator, rest one-third was sent to the owner carried by cow driven cart. The landowners were forced to accept the distribution.
But in the eye of the administration and the landowners this was looked upon as illegal and 'looting of yields' by force. In most cases the process of implementation had been smooth except in one or two cases force had to be employed. One such case was the zemindars of Mahipur who refused to yield to the pressure of the leaders and used firearms to repulse the assembled peasants and leaders. But ultimately the zemindar had accepted the demand.
But the government could not sit idle particularly when the landowners, jotdars, and zemindars both collectively and individually appealed to the administration (Muslim league was essentially a party of the landed gentry of conservative Muslims) to end this 'terrorism' of the peasants. The zemindars and jotdars now with help of the police force started to take revenge. The police let loose reign of terror and oppression in the rural Bangla to suppress the movement. Many peasant activists and innocent people were tortured and taken to police custody. The police also started combing operation after surrounding a locality. The life of underground leaders gradually became unbearable and unsafe. The movement reached its peak. A showdown became evident.
Date line 5 January 1950
On 5 January 1950, a group of constables led by an officer in charge (OC) of Nachol PS arrived in village Chandipur, the nerve center of the movement. They arrested two activists and tortured them to get information of tebhaga movement and its key leaders. Some villagers, as per planed method of sending message of danger raised a red flag on top of a long bamboo and started beating tom-tom (madal), a kind of drum usually played by Saontal community. Hearing the message of danger thousands of villagers assembled at Chandipur equipped with native weapons described earlier. The small police force was captured by the angry villagers and 5 constables as well as the OC was killed in an ensuing fight as the police opened fire to disperse the armed mob. This incident caused great panic at Nachol police station in particular and the surrounding police stations in that area. The precarious position of the police was signaled to higher authority.
Two days after the incident, i.e. on 7 January 1950, nearly 2000 soldiers arrived at Amnura Railway station. The army surrounded all villages of Nachol, set fire 12 on villages, ransacked houses after houses and gunned down many villagers as they tried to move towards Chandipur village. The army was supported by armed police and Ansars (a para-militia force organized after the model of the people of Medina, in Saudi Arabia, who helped and defended Mohammad when he took political asylum in Medina following a threat of persecution by the people of Mecca who opposed his new religion). They moved in door to door in search of the wanted leaders, as usual looted and set fire on the houses, tortured the male members of each and every family of the village, women were raped indiscriminately, even children were not shown any mercy.
An unequal fight started- on one side thousands of Saontals-Hindus and Muslim peasants comprising the defense force of tebhaga, and on the other, were army, riot police and Ansars armed with modern weapons. The peasants could not hold the ground for long- they had to give in. Hundreds of saontals were killed. Bow and arrow could not be a match against the sophisticated guns. Group by group they retreated and finally crossed over to India. Villagers were forced to leave the country to escape inhuman repression at the hands of law enforcing agencies.
The exodus of the villagers left the underground leaders of the movement exposed to the police. Comrade at arms Matla Majhi asked Ila Mitra to accompany his team for safe place, which she declined as Matla himself was not in a good condition to move. The peasant comrades suggested their Rani Ma that they would safely take her to other side of the border under cover of rice paddy in a cow-driven cart. But Ila Mitra did not agree until all her comrades at arms and volunteers of her defense force could move to relatively safer zones from Nachol.
Other tebhaga leaders of Nachol including Azahar Hosain, Animesh Lahiri and Chitta Chkraborty were arrested while trying to escape from the locality on 8 January 1950. In the process of escaping and taking shelter in safer places Mitra couple got separated from each other in two groups. The group led by Ramen Mitra could safely cross the border. The other group with Ila Mitra and Brindaban Saha and hundreds of Saontal followers of the Rani Ma, dressed in Saontal dresses left the last village of Nachol Police station on 7 January towards Indian border westward. They took shelter near Rohanpur Railway station for rest. But unfortunately, even though she was dressed as Saontal woman and were found to speak in Saontali dialect, she was detected as non Saontal by the detective police moving around the assembled Saontal people. The police immediately arrested her with all her companions. Hundreds of them were brought to Nachol police station. At the police custody the police inflicted brutal torture on the captives.
The police unleashed inhuman torture on the peasants to make them confess that it was Ila Mitra who led the fight on that day and she ordered to kill five policemen and the OC. But none confessed- one comrade succumbed to death due to police torture. Several others met the same destiny soon. According to rough estimation the number of death by police torture lies between 70-100. Once all her comrades at arms and followers were dead under police torture they turned to Ila Mitra. They inflicted all types of physical torture at their disposal on her for 3-4 days at Nachol PS. Her faults were- she was woman, she was a Hindu, she was a communist and above all she led the tebhaga rebellion with arms. She was a dangerous element. She survived this inhuman police torture only because she was an athlete and used to tough life style. After 4 days of torture at Nachol she was brought to Nawabganj police station: unconscious, delirious and smeared with blood.
Given below are some examples of brutal torture inflicted on Ila Mitra the agents of so-called Islamic state-Pakistan. The types of torture are recorded in her statement given to the Rajshahi Court.
§ Non stop beating hanging her on a bar or hands and feet tied.
§ Pressing hands and legs in between two bamboo sticks.
§ Beating on heads with rifle butt.
§ Kicking delicate parts of the body with boots on.
§ Stripping of cloths followed by beating on naked body.
§ Starvation, even drinking water was denied.
§ Solitary confinement within a cell.
§ Piercing iron nails through heels.
§ Pushing foreign body (hot boiled egg) in her private parts.
§ Raping her in group.
§ Insulting remarks and abuse
On 10 January 1950 she was brought to Nawabganj in unconscious and delirious condition. At the Nawabganj police jail gate the sepoys received her with blows on her forehead. She however here received much better treatment compared to what happened at Nachol police custody. She got medical treatment and finally was transferred to Nawabganj public hospital on 12 January 50 as is evident from her jabanbandi (statement). The OC of Nawabganj PS, happened to know Ila Mitra at Kolkata. He treated her well and made sure that no such brutal oppression was repeated. Ila Mitra later on remembered his kind behavior with gratitude. She later on recalled: the OC of that police station Mr. Raham knew me. When I was studying at Bethune he was a student of Scottish Church College. My fever at that ran very high. Blood was streaming out from my whole body. Under such condition I was left alone in a cell. OC Mr Rahman used come at night unnoticed and used to pour water on my head and freshened me up; he also feed me with fruits. I shall never forget his greatness. I was there at Nawabganj for 7 days. Every night throughout seven days he nursed me with care and love and gave medicine. Otherwise I would have died there. Many came inside the cell to beat me up, but he sternly resisted all saying that she was under trial and no one should raise any hand on her. The attending doctor Mr. Ayub Ali was also very sympathetic to her. Even then on 16 January she was forcibly taken to a house to sign a blank paper under threat and physical torture.
Communal tension: hunger strike of the security prisoners
As the condition of comrade Mitra continued to deteriorate she was brought to Rajshahi Central jail in a very poor state of health on 21 January 50 and was directly admitted to Rajshahi Central Jail Hospital. The matter did not end there the attempt was being made at the instigation of Muslim League government to color the Nachol rebellion as Hindu-Muslim conflict in which the Hindus and Saontals deliberately killed the Muslims including the ASI of Nachol police station. The widow of the deceased was brought to Rajshahi jail gate by the interested quarters that wanted to make it a political issue in favor of the vested interest of the ruling Muslim league government. She tried to agitate the common prisoners and sepoys by saying that her husband was killed by the Hindus and Saontals. So they must take revenge against the Hindu prisoners particularly those who were accused of Nachol episode. The jailor Mannan played a significant role in this matter. Often he used to bring Ila Mitra from the jail hospital to the jail gate, in semi naked condition, showing her to the sexually starving prisoners: “Look at your Rani Ma. She even became a queen”. This created a tense communal situation inside Rajshahi jail among the prisoners. For this reason the Hindu security prisoners dared not to come out of their wards during those days. Seeing no alternatives the security prisoners submitted a memorandum to the chief minister Nurul Amin giving him a 15 days ultimatum to ease communal tension in side the jail- otherwise they would go for hunger strike to redress the situation. As nothing was heard from the chief minister the security prisoners resorted to hunger strike from 2 February 1950.
On the ninth day ( 10th February) the district magistrate came to see the conditions of hunger strikers and assured them that the administration was taking appropriate steps to ease the tension and bring back normalcy. Since then the wife of the deceased ASI stopped coming at the jail gate and jailor Manna was cautioned for his communal utterances.
Notorious Jail Killing at Khapra Ward, Rajshahi Jail
After some time Ila Mitra was brought to Rajshahi central jail from the hospital in a slightly better condition. She was put in a small cell in a sick condition. The security prisoners already came to know about her and Nachol rebellion. Ila Mitra also came to know the conditions of the security and common prisoners. The general prisoners were demanding better conditions inside the prison. Their demand for improved diet was supported by the security prisoners, who began a hunger strike on 5 April 1950 in support of the common prisoners’ demands. This ultimately led to the notorious jail killing in Khapra Ward on 24th April. The sepoys opened fire when the jail superintendent Mr Bill accompanied by the jailor and two deputy jailors came to visit the jail. On that day seven security prisoners, Hanif Shaikh, Sukhen Bahattacharya, Delwar, Sudhin Dhar, Bijan Sen, Kamparam Singha, and Anwar Hosain died on the spot. There were 31 security prisoners in the jail out of which seven met death and many others received serious injuries including Mansur Habib, Nurunnabi Choudhury, Abdul Haque, Amulya Lahiri, Babar Ali and Abdus Shahid.
Nachol Case opened at Rajshahi Court
In November 1950 the case of killing ASI of Nachol was formally opened at the court of first class magistrate Mr. Ahmad Mian. There were 31 accused of which most prominent of course was comrade Ila Mitra. Others were: Animesh Lahiri, Azahar Shaikh, Brindaban Saha, Sukra Kamar, Renga Bali, Sukh Bilas Singha, Chatur Majhi, Jadu Majhi, Chhanu Majhi, Bhadu Mandal alias Bhadu Barman, Dulu Majhi, Upen Koch, Mangla Mandal, Indria Morsu, Suren Barman, Toton Majhi, Lalo Ray, Skifem Majhi, Gopal Singha, Mohanta Mallik, Syfal Majhi, Deben Ray, Smay Jaren, Kishan Tadu, Chinu Ray, Khoka Ray, Nagen Sardar, Durga Bakshi. Later on out 31 last eight were dropped making the list of 23 accused. Comrade Mitra recalled the event: After medical treatment for more than a year as I recovered slightly- I was attacked with Malaria and Kalajar (Typhoid). At that time if I were not properly taken care of by Manoroma Masima and Lily I would have not survived. When I resumed the strength the trial began. As I still could not walk properly I had to go to the court in horse driven cart with police protection. The very day I returned from the court I forcibly entered the female ward where the general female prisoners and security prisoners lived. Since then I did not return to the solitary cell. Other security prisoners also helped me in this respect, otherwise I could not have stayed there. I found many security prisoners in the ward among whom I still remember Manoroma Bosu, Pultul Dasgupta, Sujata Dasgupta, all of them from Barisal, Bhanu Debi of Khulna, Lili Chakraborty of Pabna, Amita Datta, Susama Debi, Aparna Roy Choudhury of Sylhet, Bhdra Mani Hajang and Arsa Manigupta of Mymensingh and Rekha of Naogaon, in total 14. They all tried to help me survive and keep my strength to face the trial.
Although the case was initiated in November 1950, the hearing started in January 1951. A noted lawyer of Rajshahi bar Mr Biren Sarkar and others defended her case. Manoroma Masima insisted that she must give a vivid statement of what happened at Nachol police station. Bhanu Devi cautioned her if she did not disclose the full truth of torture on her body including sexual violence she would recommend to the party leadership for discontinuing Ila’s membership. All her co-prisoners including the common prisoners encouraged her to tell the truth. Inspired by their advice she decided to give a factual statement of the police torture even at the expense of her personal and family honor. She admitted later that although she was a communist but still then as a Hindu girl she was in a dilemma and was confused. She faced immense difficulty to overcome the social barrier. Finally she spoke out the whole truth of the event.
Reproduced below is the statement of Ila Mitra given before the court of Rajshahi January 1951:
I know nothing about the case. On 7 January 1950 last I was arrested in Rohanpur and taken to Nachole the next day. The police guards assaulted me on the way and thereafter I was taken inside a cell. The SI (Sub Inspector) threatened to make me naked if I did not confess everything about the murder. As I had nothing to say, all my clothes were taken away and I was imprisoned inside the cell in stark naked condition. No food was given to me, not even a drop of water. The same day in the evening the sepoys began to beat me on the head with butt ends of their guns, in the presence of SI. I was profusely bleeding through nose. Afterwards my clothes were returned to me, and about 12 midnight I was taken out of the cell and was led possibly to the quarters of the SI, but I was not certain.
In that room where I was taken they tried brutal methods to bring out confession. My legs were pressed between bamboo sticks, and the people around me were saying, I was being administered a Pakistani injection. When this torture was going on they tied my mouth with a napkin. They also pulled off my hairs. But as they could not force me to say anything, I was taken back to the cell carried by the sepoys because I could not walk due to the brutal torture they inflicted on me that night. Inside the cell again the SI ordered the sepoys to bring four hot eggs, and said, now she will talk. Thereafter four or five sepoys forced me to lie down on my back, and one pushed a hot egg through my private parts. I was feeling like being burnt with fire, and became unconscious. When I came back to my senses in the morning of 9 January 1950, the SI and some sepoys came into my cell and began to kick me on my lower abdomen with boots on. Thereafter a nail was pierced through my right heel. I was then lying half conscious, and heard the SI muttering: We are coming again at night, and if you do not confess, one by one the sepoys will ravish you. At dead of night, the SI and his sepoys came back and the threat was repeated. But as I still refused to say anything, three or four men got hold of me, and a sepoy sexually began to rape me. Shortly afterwards I became unconscious.
Next day on 10-1-50 when I became conscious again, I found that I was profusely bleeding and my cloth was drenched in blood. I was in that state taken to Nawabganj from Nachol. The sepoys in Nawabganj jail gate received me with smart blows. I was then in a prostate condition and the Court Inspector and some sepoys carried me to a cell. I had high fever then and I was still bleeding. A doctor, possibly from the Govt. Hospital at Nawabganj had noted the temperature of my body to be 105F. hen he heard from me of profuse bleeding I had he assured me that I’d be treated with the help of a female nurse. I was given some medicine and two pieces of rugs.
On 11 January 50 the female nurse of the Govt. Hospital examined me. I do not know what report she gave about my condition. After she came, the blood stained piece of cloth I was wearing was changed for a clean one. During all this time I was in a cell of the Nawabganj PS under the treatment of a doctor. I had high fever and profuse bleeding and was unconscious from time to time.
On 11 January 1950, a stretcher was brought before my cell in the evening and I was told that I would have to go elsewhere for examination, on my protest that I was too ill to move about, I was struck with a stick and forced to get on the stretcher after which I was carried on it to another house. I told nothing there, but the sepoys forced me to sign a blank paper. I was at that time in a semi-conscious state with high fever. I was, on the following day, transferred to the Nawabganj Govt. hospital, and on 21 January 1950 when the state of my health was still very precarious, I was brought from Nawabganj to Rajshahi Central jail, and was admitted to the jail hospital. I had not under any circumstances said anything to the police, and I have nothing to say than I have stated above.
NB: The statement was issued in Banglai. As it was not published in any dailies, it was translated into English and was circulated throughout East Bangla as an Istahar (Pamphlet) during early 1950. The worst parts of torture were of sexual violence. It had two kinds: (i) forcibly pushing a hot egg inside her genitalia and (ii) violent raping by a sepoy. Both of these offensive actions were imparted at the instruction and presence of S.I. of Nachol.
What happened to Ila Mitra's Co-fighters and other comrades?
After the arrest of the Queen Mother of the rebellion, the police force became all the more ferocious. The Saontals and poor peasant villages became their target of atrocities. Hundreds of Saontals, after arrest, were brought to Nachol police station. They were put in a single cell without food and drinking water. Some were left outside on open field with their hands and legs tied up. More over non-stop beating with batons and rifle butts and kicking with boots by the sepoys continued. At least 24 Saontals were succumbed to death due to physical torture and starvation. Even after such brutality, they were brought to Nawabganj police station headed by an OC of relatively kind hearted man. The brutal torture on the Nachol peasants continued at the Nawabganj Police Station and many died in the police custody. A few days later the entire arrested group of the arrested Saontals of Nachol were transferred to Rajshahi Central jail wherein they were confined in a small room. They were constantly physically tortured, kept half fed and even some were killed.
These brave soldiers of the Nachol movement were not only tortured by the police, but they were also harassed by and met with unkind behavior from the common people, ignorant of facts of Nachol episode. They believed in the propaganda and fabricated false stories made by Muslim League government and Muslim League volunteers: these people are Hindus, anti Pakistani, members of Hindustani army and agents of the enemy country (India). Influenced by this kind of propaganda the common workers of jail did not supply drinking water even to the dying accused. Such was the communal tension prevailed at that time inside Rajshahi Central jail.
Most of the under ground leaders of Communist Party and Kishan Samity could escape to India including Ramen Mitra (alias Habol Mitra). But many were arrested while trying to escape, notable among them were Azahar Hosain, Animesh Lahiri- both were then at the residence of Azahar, and Chitta Chakraborty while he was addressing an assembly of Saontals in the Badarpur village on 8 January 1950. Most of them later were brought to Rajshahi central jail.
Nachol Event not Discussed in East Bangla Legislative Council
The story of Nachol rebellion never appeared in any newspapers either in East Bangla or in Pakistan Observer. A few opposition leaders (three of them) belonging to Pakistan Congress Probhash Chandra Lahiri, Manoranjan Dhar, Gobindalal Banerjee, Bhabesh Nandi (?), Manohar Dhali, and BK Das gave a notice to the speaker to move certain adjourn motions in connection of police excess following killing of police officer at Nachol. When the assembly met on 6 January 1950, Mr. Prabhash Lahiri enquired about the fate of their notice. The speaker at the advice of the chief minister Nurul Amin disallowed the adjourn motions to move in the assembly. The argument of the CM was that since the matter of killing of a few constable and an ASI was under trial, it could not be discussed in the assembly to which Mr. Lahiri replied that they were not willing to discuss the killing event but would like to discuss the matters that happened afterwards when the police and military let loose the reign of terror on the innocent villagers. Mr. BK Das, leader of the opposition, contended in reply to CM's objection: ' The Nachol excess by police is a public matter and as such it must be discussed in the assembly in the interest of the public. After the killing of the police officer, the police, army, EPR and Ansars went to the place of occurrence with the intention of restoring law and order. But our contention is that in the name of restoring peace and order they have been committing inhuman repression on the general peace loving mass. The opposition wants to discuss the matter relating to atrocious police action as a separate issue treating the event of police killing totally isolated.
Mr. Manoranjan Dhar, another prominent opposition member pointed out, ' even the killing of police men could be discussed because as yet no case has been filed in any court in Pakistan- mere police investigation is being conducted. Police investigation and pending case of trial in a court are two different things. Let the government put proper documentary evidence from the court that such case is under trial.
But the speaker remained unmoved to please the CM and gave a ruling in favor of the CM's desire. What happened to the case against Ila Mitra and her co-accused?
Ila Mitra was the chief accused. She was charged with directly murdering sepoys and an ASI. The charge sheet reported that she was the main leader of agitating the peasants against the landowners, jotdars and zemindars, organizing the so-called Tebhaga Movement, looting forcibly yields etc. She also led the unlawful assembly of peasants in Chandipur village on 5 January 1950. The accused were charged with the offence committed under sections 148, 302/149 of Pakistan Penal code.
The trial continued for three months in the magistrate court of Rajshahi. The then district session judge S Ahmed gave the verdict of the case on 11 January 1951 pronouncing life imprisonment to all the accused including their leader Ila Mitra under the section 302/149 of Pakistan penal code. The learned judge observed in his verdict: "Although all the accused took part in the unlawful assembly and some of them were party to killing, yet as it could not be definitely ascertained who were they, and as it could not be ascertained at whose strike or strikes the victims succumbed to death, the court therefore refrained from pronouncing capital punishment."
Appeal to High Court
An appeal was moved to Dacca High Court. The famous advocate of Comilla Bar Mr. Kamini Kumar Datta appeared for her with active cooperation from a famous lawyer of Kolkata Mr. Yusuf Jalal and others. Ila Mitra was then at Rajshahi central jail, almost verging on mental break down apart from physically disabled to move freely. She described her condition of those days in this way:
"Some time the happy moments of giving birth of my son and the following sixteen days flashed, but immediately faded out. ..... I didn't know where was my husband, who was then still hiding with a warrant of arrest ... couldn't remember any sweet memory of my past life... all seem to be lost in the darkness. .... Some time I could hear the voice of the judge, but again everything goes to nothingness. "
Simultaneously a writ petition was moved at the Dacca High court bench for retrial of the murder case of ASI and sepoys at Nachol on the ground that fair trial was denied at the magisterial court of Rajshahi. The high court bench, constituted of Justice Elis and Justice Isphani, in its judgment (22. 04. 52) asked the government not to implement the verdict of the lower court and ordered for retrial of the case. This was a great moral victory on the part of the people of Nachol who whole-heartedly supported the cause of the movement and their leaders. As government couldn't bring any more new evidences for retrial the high court reduced the tenure of imprisonment to 10 years. This is a partial relief to the accused. But to ILa Mitra it meant nothing as she was in a terrible state of health physically as well as mentally.
Ila Mitra brought to Dhaka Central Jail
As her condition at Rajshahi jail deteriorated, she was brought to Dhaka Central Jail and subsequently moved to Dhaka Medical College almost in a dying condition with broken health and total physical disability. She was placed under a small medical board headed by Dr SK Alam for thorough investigation and treatment. This was in 1953.This was the time when East Bangla was bubbling with movement for democracy, students have made supreme sacrifice for language in 1952 and people were fighting against the repression of Nurul Amin Government of Muslim League. In the minds of the people the language martyrs, Shahids of Khapra ward of Rajshahi jail, Ila Mitra and the co-sufferers were the heroes of the day. Demands were raised for the release of the security prisoners and Ila Mitra. Treatment at DMC did not improve her condition significantly, although she regained her walking ability very slowly.
Her condition became a great concern of conscious people. On 5 April 1954, five members of the East Bangla Legislative Assembly issued a statement expressing their concern in which they stated : On 3rd and 4th April we saw Mrs. Ila Mitra in Dacca Medical College. Being constantly in jails and police custodies she had been suffering from incurable decease that had brought her to dying state. At present she was totally disabled to walk and completely bed ridden. She could not take any thing. Adopting an alternative way of feeding is prolonging her life. Her 5-year-old son is now with a relative of hers. If she were not released without any condition, it would be difficult to save her life. "
Moulana Bhasani and some other leaders also issued similar statements. When Ila Mitra was brought to DMC hospital every day hundreds of students, elites, and political leaders of all shades used to visit her. Looking at her wretched condition it was difficult for any one to resist tears. To what extent a state machinery could be cruel - case of comrade Ila Mitra is a glaring example.
Ila Mitra, daughter of Kolkata, 'Rani Ma of Banglar Krishak' returned to Kolkata.
Some time in mid June, 1954 Ila Mitra was released in a parole and was allowed to go to Kolkata for medical treatment. Dr. Alam of DMC with whom Ila Mitra developed a friendly relation himself accompanied her to Kolkata and he was with her till she got admitted at Calcutta Medical College Hospital. Ila Mitra did remember this noble hearted doctor throughout her life in different ways. She was taken to Kolkata by plane- she recalled the day this way: ' The day I departed from East Bangla by plane is still in my memory. The gentle me who sat beside me was not only a Pakistani citizen but also a highly educated well placed officer. Drawing my attention to the scenic beauty of watery, flat riverine East Bangla, he repeatedly asked me if I, being a foreigner, would forget my love to the soil of this country. He requested me with utmost sincerity to return, saying that Pakistan needs daughter like me. I don't remember what was my reply. ' The Government of Pakistan did not like the very sympathetic attitude of Dr. Alam shown to Ila Mitra for which he had to suffer in his professional life.
Life in Kolkata
She was at Calcutta Medical College Hospital for about 8 months under the treatment of Dr. Shishir Mukherjee. The family was reunited - she saw her son after 1948. In the mean time while her mother-in-law died. Ramen Mitra, her husband, was her source of inspiration at this critical hour of her life. Apart from party leaders, the elites of Kolkata visited her almost every day at the hospital. The condition of Ila Mitra at Calcutta Medical hospital has been described by novelist Dipendra Bandopadhyay in a touchy language in the following manner: During those painful days "the bed sheet is lying on the floor. There is a pain in the bunch of hair in her head. The agony is very much evident in her eyes. There is an unbearable pain in her small girlish body. Agony in her intensive and sharp cry. Unbearable pain in her sufferings- and agony in her twisted body trying to bear the terrible torment are quite evident."
During those painful days many provided inspiration. Suchitra Mitra solaced her by singing Tagore's song at her bedside- Subhash Mukhopadhyay inspired her to fight out her agony by reading from Sukanta. He composed a poem on her ' Keno Bon Parul Dako Re'. In some portion of the poem it reads:
“Shiyare jege satti bhai
Mrityuke aaj taray
Futibe Phul Laksha Ashar
Jeeban hat baray
Shikale ba(n)dhe spardha kar ?
Parul bon aamar "
Within 4-5 years Ila Mitra came back to life - joined the party activities slowly, passed MA in Bangla in 1957 as a private candidate. She joined Calcutta City College (south) as a professor of Bangla. This she had to take up for a living, as her husband was a full timer in CPI politics. She gradually involved in West Bangla politics getting elected as member of West Bangla Assembly four times from 1967-78.
Bangladesh and Ila Mitra
When it became known to Pakistan Government that Ila Mitra had recovered from illness, the central government repeatedly asked the Indian government to send her back to Pakistan as she was still a convict of murder case. But her well-wishers resisted the move, never to Pakistan again under the then political structure. Since there was a significant change in political atmosphere in East Pakistan, non Muslim league provincial government(s) did not take any notice of the central government's desire.
Although Comrade Mitra could not return to East Pakistan, she throughout her life, never forgot the people of East Bangla, her second homeland- she constantly monitored political and social development in East Bangla. She had developed deep love and sympathy for the common people of Bangladesh and all along cherished a desire that a day would come when she would be able to visit this land. But for this day she had to wait till Bangladesh emerged as a free independent country through bloody war of liberation in which she and her party in West Bangla had significant contribution.
During Our liberation war in 1971 her house and party office was an open shelter for many of us. She was a friend- a co-fighter. She acted like a true daughter of Bangladesh - it was her war also for liberating the occupied land and its people. She remembered those days in this way: " To fight as co-fighter with the people of Bangladesh for attaining their friendship it became my foremost duty; to me it was an opportunity to repay my debts to the people of Bangladesh from I received so much- my life, my own liberation. Those people had released me from the periphery of in law's house and from the prison of Pakistani jail- how could I forget them in their distress. Can I lag behind in their freedom of war ?"
We remember comrade Ila Mitra as a legendary personality of Bangladesh. She made sacrifice for the oppressed peasants and common mass. Her role even before her death in sharing the struggle of people of Bangladesh would be remembered by us for many years and she would be our constant and infinite source of inspiration in our struggle for democracy, secularism and equality of man.
Comrade Mitra not only remembered bad and turbulent days in East Pakistan, she also remembered some sweet memories too- its people who raised their voice for her release, many well wishers who tried to bring solace to her distress in those days at the risk of their own safety. We spoke of Dr Alam to whom she had immense gratitude. She had not forgotten the care, nursing, and love she received from Mr. Rahman, OC of Nawabgang police station. When after a few days in Nawabganj she was brought to house from the Thana cell, she was asked to sign a paper of confession. Even at the semi unconscious state she refused. She remembered that Mr. Rahman at one stage whispered to her 'you must not sign'. This brought back her courage and could tolerate the repressive measure applied to get the signature. She later on narrated the event in this way: " being encircled within this persuasive and oppressive police officers and sepoys only one man and his one sentence saved me that day. He whispered to me this order ' one must not put signature on papers like these. ' This grave words, as if appeared as revealed message' I needed most on that moment-elaborate explanation was necessary. By the side of death if those messengers of life and civilization were not present I would have extinguished for sure. "
Ila Mitra remembered help of another unknown gentleman. Let us hear from her own language: " Another event that I have not witnessed my self, but heard later on. A famous lawyer of Kolkata made some papers to fight the appeal case of ours at Dacca High Court. One of our well-wishers was carrying these documents to Dhaka by rail. During search at the border documents were discovered. The police officer seized the documents and left the railway compartment. While my friend was waiting for arrest, just before the train started moving the papers were thrown to his lap through a window and the officer immediately vanished. ... He is still unknown to me. "
Ila Mitra Visits Bangladesh
She had never forgotten Bangladesh. Immediately after independence in 1972 and then again in 1974 to attend a conference of Bangladesh Teachers' Association. On the last occasion, during a courtesy meeting with the Bangabandhu he told her that Bangladesh considers Mitra couple as its son and daughter. He further told her that he would bring them back as citizens of Bangladesh. However, before his plan could be materialized Bangabandhu himself was assassinated by anti Bangladesh force within a year. We turned one eighty degree in our nation aspiration. In ret rogation we started from that moment from liberalism to fundamentalism, from secularism to Islamization, from democracy to autocracy and military dictatorship.
Ila Mitra and People of Bangladesh
Comrade Ila Mitra, although never returned to Bangladesh permanently, we consider her as our own daughter as Dr. S K Alam said once to her ‘East Bangla needs daughter like you’ ‘Won’t you ever come back?’ This appeal of Dr. Alam, her life long friend, was since then remained a symbol of love of the people of East Bangla in her heart and mind. When she visited Bangladesh in 1972 and again in 1974- on both occasion she spent wonderful day with him and his family members.
She never forgot the people of East Bangla who, she remembered with extreme gratitude, their love to her and movement they built up for her release, and their fight for secularism, democracy, autonomy and finally independence. She considered till her death East Bangla as her sacred land, holy place (thirtha bhumi). Although she could not participate physically in our movements for our identity and emancipation she mentally involved herself with our struggle as her own. That she could not participate in it physically caused much pain in her. She wrote at least 3 articles on East Bangla expressing her sentiments before and after our independence. In those articles her love and affection for our people have been beautifully pictured.
In one of her article, Purba Bangla Ajo Amar Thirtha Bhumi she wrote: .... Almost all knew that I was tortured in Pakistani state. Even today if that repressive demon force did not exist with its overwhelming power how could the relation between East and West be so venomous? What was then a torture on an individual now spread everywhere likes a bush -fire. At that time we were in peasant movement and were treated as accused of murdering of policemen. We knew that no state power when it caught its class-foes would treat them as daughters. But the unjust and inhuman state cruelty, we witnessed, had its root elsewhere. In the blind unjust consideration of Pakistani state policy we the non-Muslims are not worth becoming trusted citizens of Pakistan. This erratic Pakistani view provoked to commit social sin. That the Hindus and Muslims live in social harmony, both have equal status in the eye of law and state if are not appreciated and recognized then in this state, the capital of netherworld, terrible hatred among different people are bound to germinate from which we all have no escape. The same process of procreation of hatred is in the root of unrest and time-to-time volcanic eruption we find in the subcontinent. If this sin were not uprooted totally there would be no peace anywhere. But even then, when the people of that same Pakistan, not only those who are oppressed by the state, but those are in the administration, attracts my mind with love and affection; is that just an infatuation (moha)? I have a mixture of variegated experience in my blood. This is true that I was beaten with rifle-butts that caused wound in my respiratory pipe from where blood was oozing out. How could I forget the bloodshed of dishonor of my womanhood, and why should I? But this is also true that bloodless pale body of Mine gradually return to life- where did I get it, what elixir was administered ? On side-by-side of the inhuman treatment, I received from the powerful state machinery, there were many souls who surrounded me with their love and nursing- their stories are also equally true. Day after day blood had to be transfused to my veins from out side. How could I forget that was collected from my Muslim brothers? I don’t know if blood have any caste, - if there is any then I am an outcaste. ...
Such civilized days have not yet come in Pakistan that if I disclose their names they would be safe there. I found many sympathizers among the officials in Pakistan without whom there was none who could save me. I remember very much a day and a man. After the arrest, when I was devoid of consciousness, lack in perception, and almost dumb because of brutal torture. ... At that moment, surrounded by police, only one man and only a word from him saved me. ...; Today I am telling about some selected top officials, if I omit the consciousness and rebellious spirit among the mass then the behavior of those kind hearted officials to me would not be clear.
The movement that was created for our release is incomparable. As a result before I was really set free I could freely mix with the people; spectacular thing in my life. I was then at Dacca Medical Hospital under severe police security. Even then when hundreds of people, even from villages started pouring in them my guards themselves were drowned in stream of people and I just got lost in the ocean. In one such day I was astonished to see my husband on my bedside, who was then hiding to evade police arrest, as he was the number-one accused of our case. But police could not identify him.
The students who brought him were more alert than the police- they all the time kept him surrounded among themselves. The safely took him back. One interesting thing about our case the Nurul Amin Government could not produce a single Muslim witness against us. I asked myself many a times who are these people, being deeply religious themselves, opposing madness of the religious state? Are they enemies of Pakistan? Are they foreign agents? But my answer is- no, they have endless love for Pakistan. And for this very reason they are fighting with their back at the wall against the danger of Pakistani Government’s attempts to eliminate humanism and democracy from the soil of Pakistan.
To me Pakistan is even today a land of pilgrimage (thirthabhumi). A place of pilgrimage- because I knew very well that aspect of the characters of those people of the land who know how to fight in the midst of diplomacy of animosity and danger of politics between men and men. To have faith in men- this great force I acquired in Pakistan. Those who taught me this doctrine are my teachers. The two-nation theory based on religion has done greatest damage to Pakistan. This subcontinent of ours has evolved, nourished and developed as a land of pilgrimage of great men. Before the English took over, Muslim Emperors reigned in here for a long long time. In those days seeds of nation sates were germinated. Without great contribution of Muslim Emperors concept of oneness in India would not had crystallized.
History is very cruel. What I aspire for could not be achieved out of nothing. Relentless fight is another name of life. Without resisting process of decay, immortality could not be established. When I remember those people of East Bangla, known as well as unknown then I knew those who tried to discover a daughter in me as I fought from within Pakistan, even though I was a Hindu are themselves now in endless fighting as much bigger heroes. They are Pakistani nationals. But they have no alternative but fight as they themselves have seen the venom of two-nation theory based on religion. This struggle in first phase was against their own heart.
Since they recognized that freedom, liberty and unity of all human beings lie in democratization of the sate and in the hollow and false sound of theocratic state, they are tuning their religion with a new string. When I received such news of processions of East Bangla, I feel glorified, as I had spent a few most memorable years of my life in association with these heroes.
NB: The article of Ila Mitra Purba Bangla Ajoo Amar Thithabhumi was published in Sharadiya Kalantar in 1965.
In another of her writings on East Bangla titled Amar Jana Purba Bangla (The East Bangla as I knew) she once again expressed her gratitude to the common people of East Bangla, then a province of Pakistan who taught him how to fight against tyranny, oppression and for one’s own right. These common peasants made her what she became in later period. She began her article in the following way: How the poor and common peasants of East Bangla wanted to mould newly created Pakistan I am a witness to it. In fact I fell in warm furnace of these blacksmiths who wanted to make Pakistan according to their vision like a blacksmith does by beating hot iron flakes to give his desired shape. Then I saw those people who cried for portioning the country on Hindu-Muslim line after the birth of Pakistan had undergone a change in their face and behavior. Now it is time to show responsibility- this is a time for construction. There should not be any more division among the people. Those were the general thinking of the common Muslim mass- as Ila Mitra experienced while still she was just a bride in a traditional Hindu Zemindar family of Rajshahi. An educated and champion athlete of Bangla became captive in a remote village of Rajshahi. She expressed her feelings of those days in the article as: “I can’t make any one understand the saddest captivated condition of mine in those days after the marriage. My past life full of youth and reverberation was buried inside the seven segmented self contained zemindar building (Saat Mahal Jamidar Bari). Mother in law of Ila Mitra decided to stay back in Pakistan. She was not afraid to live in Pakistan as most Hindus were at that time. She declared, as reported by her daughter in law that “ we spend our whole life with Muslims, except them no one is coming within our estate - why should then the family migrate to India? She posed a question. This one sentence of her, said Ila Mitra, made us Pakistani citizens. No member of the family raised any objection.
She recalled the 14th August of 1947. When the zemindar family decided to stay in Pakistan the common mass rejoiced. On the day a big assembly was held- no one had seen such a big mass meeting ever before in that remote village. Ramen Mitra was given the responsibility of hoisting the national flag of Pakistan. She recalled the day in this manner : ... In the assembly my husband Ramen Mitra got the rare opportunity of raising the Pakistani flag. The animosity against Hindus sublimed in the air like piece camphor. .. this is not the story of a family. At that time my mother-in-law’s thought was that if stayed back, thousand of families of Hindus and Muslims equally, would have courage and feel secured. .... Now this is the time to build Pakistan with hand in hand. This was the sentiment of the common people at that time. She recalled her most fruitful days of her life there : .... Then within only two years I was swayed away at the overwhelming sentiments, violent exuberance, intense activism and waves of exultation of the minds of the people of East Bangla; when the boundary walls of the zemindari house had been withered away; I didn’t know; I was liberated; I became a worker of the peasant movement and then finally I was thrown into the darkness Pakistani prison as I was considered to be an obstacle to the aspiration of the Pakistani rulers. After more than one and half decades days of the past flashed in my mind as scenes of a motion picture with a romantic feeling even to me.
Comrade Ila Mitra began her public life in the village female education. A school was opened not far from her house. She launched a movement urging the girls of the locality to take education seriously. She in fact started teaching the girls at the school. Within a year the movement became very popular. Hundreds of girls and adult women joined schools. Many schools were opened at different villages. The Muslim social leaders that included Maulavis, Mullahs, and elites of the Muslim class no more took this movement as some sort of fancy or play of the daughter in law of the zemindar family. They objected girls attending school as according to their interpretation of Islam. It is against Shariah.
Ila Mitra later remembered those days in this fashion in her article: The Muslim society became divided in two groups opposing each other on the issue of girls coming to school. ... they (elite class) launched, quoting from Shariat, a campaign against the exposed and sinful` education (be-parda mlechha shiksha). Against them the common villagers took a stand in bigger assembly. Those so called illiterate poor villagers shattered the arguments against female education put forward by the rich and elite class with such counterarguments that had no parallel. Here is an example. The landless, poor and himself an illiterate- the agriculture-labourer (Kshet Majur) Wazed Marol in an inspiring speech in an assembly of people debating on the issue of Girls’ School said: “ That Amina Bibi is working as maidservant in the agricultural farm of Sahibs of Mian Para. Isn’t she a Muslim woman? Are the Muslims girls who fetch water from the river to the harem for the wives of the Sahibs untouchables to Allah ?
It is quite apparent from her writings that although physically she was absent from East Bangla, she had participated in all progressive movements mentally as well as spiritually. In some place of the article she wrote: People of East Bangla are still fighting. There is however no alternative- and fighting is never a bed of roses. In those days I was with them, am I not with them even today? It is a misfortune that to day I am here. ..... In fact to repay my debt of my freedom, it is imperative that I must fight to earn the friendship of people of Pakistan. These people had in the past twice earned my freedom once from the captivity of my in-laws’ house and second time from the Pakistani jail. Could I stay behind at this hour of their liberation movement ? Am I that ungrateful?
NB: The article of Ila Mitra Amar Jana Purbabangla was published in Nabajatak, 2nd year, 3rd Volume, Kolkata, 1372 BS.
She wrote yet another article on East Bangla Shaheed Divas and Mass-Movement in which once again she paid profound tributes to the people of East Bangla expressing her deep love for them and solidarity with their struggle against tyrannical Pakistani rulers.
Writings of Ila Mitra
Apart from many articles on socio political problems she had translated a few books from Russian language:
Jel Khanar Chithi (A Girl from History)
Hiroshimar Meye (Daughter of Hiroshima)
Rashiar Chhoto Galpa (Russian Short Stories)
Mone Prane 2 vols (Heart and Soul)
Leniner Jibani (Life of Lenin)
Others on Ila Mitra
We have already referred to Subhash Mukhopadhyay’s poem Keno Bon Parul Dako Re composed while comrade Mitra was fighting for her life at Calcutta Medical College Hospital. The last few lines of the poem states:
Kakiye otha yantrana Neel
Agune yak pure
Bataser saab duswapna
Akashe yak ure
Shuye Shuye din gunchhe, Parul bon Aamar
Another Banglai Poet Golum Kuddus composed a long poem titled Ila Mitra. The entire poem gives a vivid picture how the East Pakistani Government of Nurul Amin inhumanly tortured Comrade Mitra. Some portions of this poem are presented here for those who did not read the poem. It begins with:
Ila Mitra Rajshahi jele |
Swami ta(n)r shanto riju drirah
Ferari ekhano pakistane,
Ubhayer shisuputra kotha
Matapita sngiheen bare |
In another place the poem reads:
Purbabange lok dehatyagi,
Tumi gele desher gabhire
Krisaker Hridayer Kachhe !
Otho, Jago, Nacholer Chasii
Ghare Ghare dile tumi dak |
Jago lal jhanda niye, Jago !
.......... then again the poet goes on-
Ila Mitra Ispater gara !
Ila Mitra sangathan gare !
Pulish gherao kare bari
Duhshasi meye akatare
Jhap dilo kuyor bhitore !
Khubdha Sao(n)taler teer lege
Pulish Moreche char jan,
Krisak ye mare kata jana
Hiseber nei proyojan |
Prathame thanay nie yay,
Bal tor sangi-sathi kotha?
Ila Mitra nirbak, nischup |
Kothay lukiye achhe bal?
Ila Mitra nihsabda kathin |
Tarpar ye kahini seta
Bhai haye baliba kemaone ?
Bastra gelo, lajja gelo, gelo
Ja kichhu jabar pashu grase
thanar dewalgulo jadi
Hridpinda hoto, jeto fete !
Sthabdha ratri, bayu gatiheen
Nacholer mathe teebra jwala |
In another place the poet accuses the then Muslim League government:
Aparadhee Leeg Sarkar
Aparadhee Nurul Amin
Aparadhee tahari pulish
Khuni tara, tara byavichari |
Korte aaj tarai asamii !
Ila Mitra krisaker pran
Ila Mitra Fuchiker bon
Ila Mitra Stalinnandinii !
Ila Mitra tomar aamar
Sangramer sutikhna bibek |
The poet ends his poet saying once again-
Ila Mitra narii tobu aajo
Swami ta(n)r shanto riju drirah
Ferari ekhano pakistane,
Ubhayer shisuputra kotha
Matapita sangiheen bare |
When Ila Mitra was in Rajshahi jail, at the same time one of our dedicated communist worker poet Shaheed Saber was in Chittagong jail as a security prisoner. When the jababandi in the form of a Istahar reached the jail he reacted violently. Immediately he composed a poem in memory of the event addressing Ila Mitra (25-01-51). The name of the poem is Shokarto Mayer Prati . Perhaps the poem was sent to Ila Mitra to her Rajshahi jail in the form of a letter. The poem begins as :
Mayer kachhe lekha janaika rajbandeer chithi (A letter to mother from a political prisoner). Chattagram Jail: 25-1-51
Ma go, Ma aamar ka(n)dchho tumi ?
Aamake ekbar dekho
Dekho, aami sthir, atal chokher patati nare na
Cheye dekho, aamar hate lal malater bai
Karaprachirer arale, lukiye ana baiti |
Ma go ukrener bachha chelera
tader Alga make kakhonou bhulbe na |
Ma go tumi tader ma
The poet then goes on describing the brutal treatment she had received from Pakistani rulers. In one place the poet says:
Ma go aar to sahe na prane tomar nirjatan
Nacholer krisak ramanii ma
Leeg natsi atyacharita Ila mata
tomar jabanbandii esechhe hate
Natsi kathgaray Dimitraver jabanbandiir mato
Khodar aras kapano kee bhisan tomar jabanbandii Ma go !
Ma go tumi sei Alga mata
British rajar banano pha(n)rite
Leeg sarkarer natsi santrasiira
Tomake anlo dhare ek shheter dine
Natun verner bara daroga pashu,
Aabar jingasa shuru
Nurul Liakat Khrga jhole
Jamii bhukh krisaker ka(n)dhe |
It may be mentioned here that Shahid Saber was burnt to death in the dreadful night of 25th March, 1971 when Pakistani army set fire on Sangbad office at Dhaka.
It was in 1953 I saw Ila Mitra at Dhaka Medical college hospital. I was then a student of Dhaka University closely associated with left wing students’ organization like Chhatra Union. We heard the story of Nachol queen Ila Mitra, already a legendary figure to us, the romantic revolutionaries of fifties. We, group by group, used to distribute the Jabanbandi (statement) of Ila Mitra secretly in the form of Istahar (manifesto). She was probably brought to DMCH some time in June or July. The news spread like a fire. We used to go to visit her during visiting hours. We stayed back even beyond the scheduled hour. I still remember her pale face lying in a bed like a skeleton. But she used to give us a smiling reception- we kept standing around her bed. Many of us used to take fruits and, some times, flowers. Like these days flowers were not easily available in Dhaka. I had to go to Islampur- near an old sweet meet of Kalachand Gandhabanik to fetch flowers for her. I could see the glimpses of momentary joy in her eyes as I presented her a bunch of flowers. Or was it my imagination? Gradually we saw her improving- slowly walking with the help of stick ( lathe ). We brought her in a open green lawn in front of the main entrance of the then Medical hospital and she used to walk slowly surrounded by us. Some time we used to push her sitting on a wheel chair as the sun was setting in the western sky. She looked beautiful as the reddish light of twilight illuminated her pale but smooth face. The police kept watching from a distance but never bothered us. I think even the duty officers and police on duty had great sympathy for her. She was then hardly 25 years old, but looked quite old, such was the torture she had gone through at the jail and police custody.
Finally the day came. We bade her farewell the day before she left for Kolkata for treatment. We didn’t know if she was released- Ila Di simply told us she had to go to Kolkata for treatment. We prayed for her fast recovery and begged her to come back as soon as she restored her health. We could not hold our tears. I came back that evening to our dormitory with a heavy heart. We developed so much love and respect for her.
In 1971 I saw her in a meeting of the Calcutta University Bangladesh Sahayak Samiti, an organization formed of the teachers and officers of the Calcutta University and its affiliated colleges. Comrade Mitra was one of the Vice Presidents, representing senate members of the university. She had advised us on many issues in those critical days of ours. Many a times I went to her residence.
Last time I saw her at the CPB office in 1999 (?) when she came to attend the CPB conference as guest of honor representing CPI. Whenever I saw her she used to talk about Bangladesh on various issues. As far as I remember she visited Bangladesh three or four times- 1974, 1992, 1996 and perhaps in 1999.
I shall never forget this great lady of our time. She will remain evergreen in the memory of us who had the opportunity to come to see her from closely. To day we need hundreds of Ila Mitras.
Adapted from Dr Ajoy Roy’s Comrade Ila Mitra: A tribute to her
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