Huge Durga Puja Pandal of Santosh Mitra Square, 2007. Photo courtesy: Asim Gupta
Since there is not even a fortnight left for this year’s Durgapuja, my avid readers may think this blog post is about the Durga Puja of Santosh Mitra Square. Especially with the photograph of Durga Puja Pandal (alias pavilion) as the cover photograph of the post, such a thought is not unjustified.
However, this post is not about the Santosh Mitra Square’s Durgapuja. The photograph is just a tease. This post is about the gentleman in whose memorial this park was renamed from St. James Square. In fact, I came to know about him only in recent times after I discovered a plaque inside a narrow lane at Bowbazar. I was not sure about its connection to the Santosh Mitra Square, so I asked my heritage loving friends and experts about the origin of the name.
Surprisingly no one seemed to have a clue. One of my heritage experts came out with a weird explanation saying this park was named after veteran Bengali actor Santosh Dutta. He added that ‘Santosh Mitra is Santosh Dutta’s old name. He changed his name after becoming a famous actor. Just like Uttam Kumar”. I hope he was pulling my leg. However, we live in the era when many proud Bengalis think Bagha Jatin & Jatin Das are one and the same person. So anything is possible. I must mention here on giving keyword “Santosh Mitra Square” or “Santosh Mitra” in Google you will only get information about the Durga Puja.
As I mentioned earlier, I had no clue about who was Santosh Mitra until I landed one day inside a narrow lane at Bowbazar. I was looking for the house of an Indian revolutionary (about whom a separate blog post will come soon) when I landed accidentally inside the non-descriptive Haldhar Bardhan Lane. It was evening and I almost missed the waist-high plaque at the entrance. The light inside the lane was quite low. I bent down to read the content.
The content of the plaque in Bengali said
“স্বাধীনতা সংগ্রামী অমর শহীদ সন্তোষ কুমার মিত্র ১৯০০ খ্রিষ্টাব্দে ৯সি, হলধর বর্ধন লেনস্থ বাসভবনে জন্মগ্রহণ করেন| ১৯৩১ খ্রিষ্টাব্দে ১৬ সেপ্টেম্বর হিজলী বন্দী নিবাসে ইংরেজ শাসকের অন্যায় গুলি বর্ষনে তিনি নিহত হন| বীর শহীদের ৯৪তম জন্মদিবসে, ১৫ই আগষ্ট ১৯৯৩ তাঁর সহধর্মিণী শ্রীমতী জ্যোৎস্না মিত্র কর্তৃক এই প্রস্তর ফলক উন্মোচিত হইল | হলধর বর্ধন লেন – নাগরিক কল্যাণ সমিতি”
In English, it would read something like this:-
“Freedom fighter and immortal martyr Santosh Kumar Mitra was born in the year 1900 AD at his residence located at 9C, Haladhar Bardhan Lane. On 16th September 1931, he was killed at the Hijli detention camp by English Government’s unjust gunfire. On 15th August 1993 – the 94th birthdate of this brave martyr, this stone plaque is being inaugurated by his wife Srimati Jyotsna Mitra. Haladhar Bardhan Lane – Citizen Welfare Association”
I calculated the years and understood I was looking a 20-year-old plaque, which is surprisingly well maintained. By all means, Jyotsna Mitra would not be alive by now even if she was 10 years younger to his husband. It was around 7:30 in the evening and there was hardly any light inside the lane. I decided to come back next day and venture the lane myself.
The name Hijli detention camp stirred my memory. I remembered that there was a brutal shootout there. At present, it is the Nehru Museum of Science and Technology Museum. The ‘Hijli Detention Camp’ was converted to ‘Hijli Shaheed Bhavan’, owned and maintained by IIT Kharagpur. I checked on Google and found that the distance between Santosh Mitra Square and the plaque is only 300 meters. I had never pondered before about the identity of Santosh Mitra, but it struck me very likely that the Park was named after this person. However, I needed to be sure as because a few days ago searching the house of a freedom fighter I had stumbled upon the house of a businessman of the same name.
Back home I asked my friends if anyone has seen any memorial inside the Santosh Mitra Square. Nobody remembered as people have mostly visited the park during Durga Puja. On Google searching of Hijli, I found details of the shootout at Hijli detention camp in Wikipedia, which was not much. I pulled down some books on Bengal’s armed revolution for some more information. I found that there was a documentary film shot on the Hijli detention camp. I came to know that Santosh Mitra’s full name was Santosh Kumar Mitra.
The next day I visited the Santosh Mitra Square. There was a memorial of Kolkata Corporation all right, but it gives no information about Santosh Mitra. It does not even mention his birth date. From the death date, one has to connect it with the Hijli detention shooting incident. There was no mention of the incident and no biography of him was given. On the internet, in general, it was said that he lost his life in Hijli detention camp shooting incident. Nothing else. In fact, in many books, I found that was the only thing written about his life. In the cyber world, there was no decent photograph of this martyr. Also, I was interested in his personal life as to why he was in Hijli detention camp out of all places.
In the daytime, I found repair work going on in a house just beside the plaque. Going inside the narrow line, I came in front of his birthplace. Unfortunately, no one of the family stays there at present. I was told by the present owners that the family has sold the house long before and no one could tell the present generation’s whereabouts.
It took me some time to contact persons for books, visit private collectors for Santosh Mitra’s photographs, books describing his profile, newspaper cuttings. In fact, one of my nephews got interested to put this story in his school project.
The story of Santosh Kumar Mitra, in a nutshell, was something like this.
Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act
In the late 1920s many political prisoners have been detained for several years without being formally charged. Till the early 1920s they were detained under Indian Penal Code or Bengal Regulation III of 1818. Regulation III of 1818 provided power to the administration to detain an individual for an indefinite period, merely on the basis of suspicion of criminal intent. There would be no commitment to send the suspect to trial. By late 1920, special legislation like the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act came into existence. Those detained under Bengal Regulation III of 1918 were termed as “state prisoner” for long. Now those detained under Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act were termed as “detenu” and “security prisoner”. The amendment act actually increased the scope of Bengal Regulation III of 1918 by removing rights of Habeas corpus and extending measures of indefinite and arbitrary detentions.
Santosh Kumar Mitra
Santosh Kumar Mitra was among the many “detenu’ who was to be kept In Bengal Jails with many others. When he was born in 15th August 1900, little did anyone know that 47 years later India would get its Independence on the same date? He was born to Durga Charan Mitra who was a middle-class kayastha. So far I have not able to get her mother’s name. No book I have read to his far mention his wife’s name. Only from the memorial plaque, I came to know his wife’s name as Jytonsa Mitra.
I have managed to get two photographs of Santosh Kumar Mitra, which I have inserted below. The left one is a painting by R.C. Dasgupta from a memorial book on Bengal revolutionaries published by Information and Culture department of West Bengal in 1997. The right one is from a long forgotten and out of print book “Malangar Habu O Roda Company r Astra Luth” by Satyendra Nath Gangopadhyay.
Santosh Kumar Mitra was a brilliant student of Calcutta University. He passed his Matriculation in 1915 and B. A. in 1919. During the period of 1921-22, he completed his M.A. and LLB. Initially, Santosh Mitra was interested in different activities of Indian National Congress. During the Non-Co-operation Movement, he was in Hooghly Vidya Mandir as a Congress volunteer. In 1922, he founded the Swaraj Sevak Sangha. Hooghly Vidya Mandir was headed by Bhupati Majumder, who was one of the Jugantar Leaders. Jugantar was one of the main secret revolutionary group in Bengal along with Anushilan Samiti. After the suspension of non-Cooperation movement, Santosh Mitra shifted to extremist activities in the struggle for Independence. in 1923, he got associated with lawyer Jatindra Mohan Sengupta and Barindra Ghosh of Jugantar.
In 1923, the Shankharitola murder took place whence a postmaster was killed. Santosh Kumar Mitra was arrested in relation to this case because of his association with Barin Ghosh and other co-conspirators of this case. However, the brilliant lawyer Jatindra Mohan Sengupta along with Apurba Mukherjee defended his case in the trial and got him acquitted. Similarly, in the Second Alipore case in 1923, he was again acquitted of all charges by the help of Jatindra Mohan Sengupta. Thus, the English Government found him a dangerous person – A “Bhadrolok” alias “Gentleman” who is considered to be most dangerous yet no proof is there to find him guilty. He was ideal to be detained under Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act. Santosh Kumar Mitra was detained immediately after his acquittal.
Life In Hijli detention camp
In due course, It was decided that the Jail conditions were not suitable as most of these prisoners were considered as “Bhadrolok” alias “Gentleman”. Then a suicide occurred at Alipore Jail on April 3, 1926. A prisoner named Ambika Charan Khan died by self-immolation. There was pressure was on the Government to provide a detention camp to the detainees. This is because these were gentlemen who were elite and considered dangerous but haven’t been convicted of any crime. There was a demand for creating a detention camp in a remote place far from urban areas to keep these prisoners in isolation from other prisoners. Finally, three detention camps were created – One at Buxaduar, One at Baharampur and the other at Hijli in 1931.
A large number of detainees were kept at Hijli detention camp. The camp had 10 feet wired walls around it and was surrounded by dense forests. Since these were considered to be elite prisoners, they could play football and stage theaters for entertainment in the day as well as study for their exam. They were kept under lock and key in the night. Outside this detention camp, there was a detention camp for women too. The living conditions of the camps were not very elite though. There was a scarcity of water, chances of malaria and snake bite.
Death of Santosh Kumar Mitra
Since the newspapers which were provided to the prisoners had all political news smeared with black ink, they only got news of outer world only when a new prisoner arrived. On 8th July 1931, the news came in that on the day before Dinesh Gupta (Of the trio Binay, Badal, Dinesh who stormed the Writer’s Building) was hanged till death at the ripe age of 19 by the order of District and Session Judge Ralph Reynolds Garlick of Alipore Court. Three weeks later on 27th July, Judge Garlick was shot dead inside the courtroom by a young assassin. While police were trying to get hold him he committed suicide in the courtroom by swallowing cyanide. A note was found in his pocket signed as Bimal Gupta.
However, it was not his actual name. The Police declared a reward for the identification of the culprit. All efforts of police went futile. The assassin could not be identified. Unknown to the police, he was actually Kanai Bhattacharjee, member of South 24 Paraganas branch of Jugantar party.
The English Government was furious. It seems the anger fell on the defenseless detainees at Hijli detention camp, who celebrated this incident. The detainees had many grievances and complaints against the jail administration but there was never any serious altercation. However, the Jail Inspector Marshall was very furious when on 15th September 1931, three detainees Nalin Das, Phani Das and Chintamani Das escaped from the detention camp. The English were extremely irritated on this incident.
On 16th September 1931, in all probabilities with prior approval from district authorities, the police surrounded the camp and some entered the premises. It must be noted that the British Inspector Marshall and his assistants were not present in the premises at that time. It is suspected that members of European Club of Kharagpur played a big role in instigating the sentries. They started a deliberate altercation with the detainees and suddenly they started firing on these defenseless men who were taken aback. For no reason, the alarm bell of the detention center started off. Santosh Kumar Mitra and Tarakeshwar Sengupta from Barishal were trying to gaze from the balcony to figure out what was going on when they were shot. In all 29 rounds of ammunition was fired.
Besides the death of these two, over 100 were injured, out of which 25 were seriously injured. The English Government first tried to hush up the incident, but next day relatives of two detainees reached the detention center who passed off the news to the outside world. Anandabazar Patrika came out with the news in a special edition of their newspaper. Subhash Chandra Bose and J.M. Sengupta visited Hijli to bring back the dead bodies of Santosh Kumar Mitra and Tarakeshwar Sengupta. Many national leaders, including Rabindranath Tagore, raised strong protests against the British Raj over this incident.
In the beginning, there was a tendency from the British Government to blame the detainees saying that the firing was done by police for self-defense. The sentries Rambirij Singh, Hari Singh, Sirajul Hasan and Chandra Singh went on repeating the stories that they fired in self-defense. In fact sentry, Sarjuk Singh went on to say that hitting the detainees with the blunt side of the gun did not seem sensible to him as that could cause damage to the gun. For him saving a Government property was more important than saving the life of a detainee. The news was spread to other countries in a manner, which put the detainees in an extremely bad light.
Under severe public pressure, the Government put up a judicial inquiry led by Justice S. C. Maulick and Drummond, I.C. S., District Magistrate. They found that the 29 rounds of ammunition and sounding of the alarm bell for a riot like the situation was simply uncalled for. The commission condemned the behaviors of the sepoys.
At present, there is a memorial in the name of both Santosh Kumar Mitra and Tarakeshwar Sengupta at the campus. The main road inside the IIT Kharagpur Campus has been named after Santsoh Mitra.
This is the first time I have written a blog post about a freedom fighter of Bengal involved in India’s struggle for Independence. This is because I felt it was apt to write about a person who had a brilliant career but chose to throw it for the sake of the country. Naming a park after him without any proper memorial is equivalent to not showing any respect to him. After all, we owe our present freedom to many such individuals, most of whom have been forgotten. Trying to throw some light on at least one of them is my homage to this brave martyr.
When arrested under Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act, Santosh Mitra vowed to fight against this unlawful proceeding and vowed to remove slavery. He was ready to die for it as because he believed at least his soul will be free in the process.
Around 86 years ago, Santosh Mitra was murdered by a gang of unruly Indian policeman serving under British Government on today’s date – 16th September around 09:30 p.m. He was dead by this time. His soul was free.
GPS Location of 9C, Haladhar Bardhan Lane (Santosh Mitra’s birthplace)
GPS : (22.566359 N, 88.363167 E)
- Mr. Barendra Kumar Dhur for providing me with valuable photographs, books, and documents
- Ms. Amala Ghosh for providing me information on Santosh Kumar Mitra
- Mr. Kamal Banerjee for informing me about a rare book relating to this story.
- Mr. Deepanjan Ghosh for constantly ‘encouraging’ me to write this post and for providing ‘valuable’ inputs.
- India’s Struggle Quarter of Century 1921 to 1946 Part I By Arun Chandra Guha,
Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of
- Bharater Biplab Kahini, Volume I & II, Hemendra Nath Dasgupta, Bharat Book Agency, 1948
- Banglaye Biplabad by Nalini Kishore Guha, Mitram, 2012
- Gentlemanly Terrorists: Political Violence and the Colonial State in India, 1919–1947
(Critical Perspectives on Empire), Durba Ghosh, Cambridge University Press, 2017
- “Malangar Habu O Roda Company r Astra Luth” by Satyendra Nath Gangopadhyay.
Published by Gopal Chandra Mukhopadhyay, 1978
- “Mritunjoyi” – A compilation of short biography on freedom fighters in India, Second Edition, 1997, Information and Culture department, West Bengal Government.
- Hijli Detention Camp To IIT – An Untold Saga – Documentary Short Film