Comrade Ila Mitra: A tribute [Part II]
- Ajoy Roy
What happened to Ila Mitra's Co-fighters & 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 hand & legs tied up. More over constant beating & other brutal torture including beating with rifle butts and kicking with boots by the sepoys. At least 24 Saontals were succumbed to death due to physical torture and starvation. Even after they were brought to Nawabganj police station headed by an OC of relatively kind hearted man, the brutal torture on the Nachol peasants continued and many died at the police station. After a few days 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 feed and even some were killed.
These brave soldiers of the Nachol movement were not only tortured by the police, but they were even harassed by and met with unkind behavior from the common people, ignorant of real truth of Nachol episode. They believed propaganda and fabricated false stories made by ML government and Muslim League volunteers that these people are Hindus, anti Pakistani, members of Hindustani army and agents of the enemy country. 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 theme were Azahar Hosain, Animesh Lahiri- both were then at the residence of Azahar, and Chitta Chakravorty while he was addressing an assembly of Saontals in the Badarpur village on 8th January '50. Most of them later were brought to Rajshahi central jail.
Nachol Event not Discussed in East Bengal Legislative Council
The story of Nachol rebellion never appeared in any newspapers in East Bengal, even not in Pakistan Observer. A few opposition leaders belonging to Pakistan Congress, dominated by Hindu parliamentarians, notable among them were Messrs Provash Chandra Lahiri, Manoranjan Dhar, Govindalal Banerjee, Bhabesh Nandi (?), Manohar Dhali, and BK Das etc. Tree opposition members 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 6th January '50, Mr. Pravash Lahiri enquired about the fate of their notice. The speaker at the advice of the chief minister Mr. 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 the leader of 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 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 favour 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 5th January, '50. 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 11th 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 lawyers of Calcutta Mr. Yusuf Jalal and others. Ila Mitra was then at Rajshahi central jail, almost in a state of mental break down apart from physically disabled to move freely. She described her state of 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 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 morale 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 totally disabled to move. 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 Bengal was bubbling with movement for democracy, students have made supreme sacrifice for language in 1952 and people were fighting against repression of Nurul Amin Government of ML. In the minds of the people language martyrs, Shahids of Khapra ward of Rajshahi jail, and Ila Mitra and he co-sufferers were the heroes in the eye of the common mass. Demands were raised for 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 5th April, 1954 five members of the East Bengal 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 at the jails and police custody 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 visit her. Looking at her pathetic condition it was difficult for any one to resist tears coming out To what extent a state machinery could be cruel - case of comrade Ila Mitra is a glaring example of it.
Pi: Comrade Ila Mitra at DMC hospital, 1954
Ila Mitra, daughter of Calcutta, 'Rani Ma of Banglar Krishak' returned to Calcutta.
Some time in mid June, 1954 Ila Mitra was released in a parole and was allowed to go to Calcutta for medical treatment. Dr. Alam of DMC with whom Ila Mitra developed a very fine relation himself accompanied her to Calcutta 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 Calcutta by plane- she recalled the day this way: ' The day I departed from East Bengal 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 Bengal, he repeated 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 at Calcutta
She was at Calcutta Medical College Hospital for about 8 months under the treatment of Dr. Shishir Mookherjee. The family was reunited - she saw her son after 1948. In the mean while her mother in law died. Ramen Mitra her husband was her source of inspiration at this critical hour of life. Apart from party leaders, elite of Calcutta almost every day visited her at the hospital. The condition of Ila Mitra at Calcutta Medical hospital has been described by novelist Dipendra Bandopadhyay in a very touch 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 Mita 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 she came back to life - joined the party activities slowly, passed M.A 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 living, as her husband was a full timer in CPI politics. She gradually involved in West Bengal politics getting elected as member of West Bengal Assembly four times from 1967-78.
Bangladesh & Ila Mitra
When it became know 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 people of Eat Bengal, her second homeland- she constantly monitored political and social development in East Bengal. She had developed deep love and sympathy for 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 Bengal 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 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 & 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 Calcutta 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.
[ to be continued to part iv ]
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