A glance at the life of teenagers today finds them absorbed in games of various kinds. Their names invoke widespread bewilderment to those of other generations: Blue Whale, Momo, Kiki, and whatnot. Beyond the perceived absurdity of their names, their other common feature is that they all are dangerous, up to the point of fatality.

Seventy-eight years ago, though, in a run-of-the-mill village named Kalyanchak in Tamluk subdivision of then Medinipur district of Bengal in India, teenagers of an ordinary school there had found themselves spellbound by another game of daredevilry. Oh, what a sport that was where it was more likely to die than to live! When loved members of the family like mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters were insignificant, their own lives never even entered into consideration. Just as a moth to the flame, these teenagers found themselves enthralled by this game: the game to make India free.

The Indian National Congress had adopted the ‘Quit India’ resolution on the 8th of August 1942. While communal parties did not participate in this movement, the majority of the nation did. It served to animate the Medinipur district in Bengal in general and the Tamluk subdivision in particular where, as part of this movement, a parallel local government known as Tamralipta Jatiya Sarkar would be established by the end of that year. But to achieve that end, many people had to answer the clarion call of Mahatma Gandhi: “Do or Die” and lay down their lives in the process. At Gourmohan Institution, which is located just a few steps away from the current day district headquarters of East Medinipur, in Tamluk, many groups of students heard the same bugle of freedom and joined this August revolution in swarms.

On the 29th of September, 1942, more than fifty students from that school joined in a march to take over institutions like the jails and the courthouse in that city. And tragically, three students aged between fourteen and eighteen: Purimadhab Pramanik, Ashutosh Kuila, and Upendranath Jana would be shot dead on that day with Matangini Hazra. It is because of their supreme sacrifice that this school would become eternally recognized. What immortalizes it is that in the entire freedom struggle of India, no other school had lost three students on the same day, in addition to many more wounded and injured. The school complex of Gourmohan Institution has therefore been recognized by the Heritage Commission as a heritage monument. This article endeavors to bring the story of this institution to those of the present generation, lest we forget the horrors we had to endure to secure our precious freedom in India.

To bring about a better future which she would never get to see, Matangini Hazra had picked up the Indian tricolor and led a march that is reminiscent of the famous ‘Liberty Leading the People’ by Eugène Delacroix. In the painting from 1830, Lady Liberty i.e. a feminine spirit of liberation is seen holding the French flag and leading the common masses of men in the July revolution which would bring republicanism to France. More than a hundred years later in 1942, in our very own August revolution, Matangini Hazra had led, but this time in the flesh as well as spirit, a group of people in defiance of the foreign masters. Those she led included freedom struggle veterans of the area like Rameshwar (Ramchandra) Bera, as well as many youthful nascent entrants to the freedom struggle, like the three from Gourmohan Institution who was slain on the same day as her.

At the time of his untimely murder by the authorities, Purimadhab was a student of eighth grade at Gourmohan Institution. This young boy walked right behind Matangini Hazra as they marched towards the police station. As they reached from various sides to this common destination, the British police force tried to quell the incoming hoards using sticks. That momentarily slowed the revolutionaries but at the very next second when Matangini Hazra raised the slogan of ‘Vande Mataram’ and hoisted the tricolor and resumed her march towards the station, the police began showering bullets on the protestors.  The first bullets hit Matangini Hazra on both her arms which were holding the flag. She still kept going and instead asked these Indian policemen to leave their servitude of the British behind and instead join them in the freedom struggle for India. In response, she received a bullet to her forehead which ended her life on earth. As a policeman prepared to kick the flag away, Purimadhab confronted the policeman with a divine smile and ‘Vande Mataram’ on his lips. In an instant, his body was riddled with bullets from all sides and he joined Matangini Hazra in eternity. He was at the head of a fellow group of martyrs; the youngest among them was a thirteen year old. Purimadhab was fourteen, Matangini Hazra seventy-three.

A young boy and an old lady gave up their life together for the cause of freedom. A boy who had his whole life before him must have felt he had no use of his life if he and his fellow countrymen were not free. Maybe he believed he will be reincarnated in a free land. Similarly, what earthly purpose did a widow at the end of her life have to follow Gandhian values and give her life up so that the future generations could live in a free land? That time of selfless sacrifice for the nation seems ages away from today.

Ashutosh and Upendranath, the two other boys from Gourmohan Institution who were killed that day, were both at matriculation level. Before his death, Ashutosh had flung his shoes at the British policemen in utter revulsion. Upendranath, meanwhile, had used the staff of the flag to aim for the eyes of a British officer. As he lay bleeding to death, his last act was to use his own blood to spell out ‘Vande Mataram’ on the ground beside him. Other than them, many from the same institution were severely wounded. Atulchandra Maiti, Mukunda Ray, Niranjan Maiti, Kanailal Das, Bankimbihari Maiti, Subhash Samanta, Kumudranjan Maiti were some of the prominent names. Their valor and courage remain an eternal inspiration to people even today.

Ajoy Mukherjee, a leader of the aforementioned ‘Tamralipta Jatiya Sarkar’ and later the Chief Minister of West Bengal after Indian independence, had remarked on their bravery. The gist of his remarks captured how the August revolution had shaken even the air and skies of Tamluk to yearn for freedom. He considered the soil of Tamluk had been consecrated by the blood of the martyrs that day and observed that the self-sacrifice of the three youthful students from Kalyanchak would be counted within the rarefied strata of the most supreme of acts anywhere in the world.

Naturally, this act of defiance against the government by the students of this school brought with it a strong threat against it from the British authorities. First, a show-cause notice was sent to the school to justify the open acts of sedition against the British crown by their students. Then they sent the ultimate threat of removing their registration thereby jeopardizing the future schooling of all students of that school.           Hence, to save the school from this ruination, the headmaster at that time and freedom fighter Shripaticharan Bayal decided to resign and remove himself from British India altogether and move to the French enclave of Chandannagar. The secretary of the steering committee of the school and a participant of the ‘Salt Satyagraha’, Hansadhwaj Maiti also followed in his stead. To keep the lamp of education burning for the students there, they had to take this extreme step.

It causes one to wonder while reading the happenings above, the reason that this government approved school became a hotbed of patriotism. It is, therefore, important to peek back into this school’s formative history to understand what inspired the above sequence of events. When this school was formed in 1926, its nearest school was at a place about twenty kilometers away in a place called Mahishadal. The father and founder of this institution was a gentleman by the name of Bhabataran Pahari, who was not only a benefactor and a social servant but a patriot. When the Salt Satyagraha was carried out in 1930 on the banks of River Haldi at Norghat, a few miles away, he was the one who bought the salt for a princely sum of five hundred rupees.

However, if Bhabataran Pahari was the father of this institution, his nephew Dr. Sarat Chandra Mishra was undoubtedly its ‘mother’ in the sense that he nurtured this institution from where it was to the patriotic furnace that it became. Dr. Mishra’s contributions to the wider community remain appreciated even now because of his service to society and education has left indelible marks, the fruits of which serve the people to this day. While he may have passed away too soon at the age of forty-nine, his legacy outlived him in many instances like the Mugberia Park Primary school, established by him, which celebrated its 75th year of existence and excellence sometime back. Around this school, he had built modern libraries, agriculture technology research centers, state-of-the-art looms, and other institutions that added to the growth of the village. Perhaps one of his most important contributions in creating patriotic fervor in this village was by realizing the dreams of ‘Raisaheb’ Gangadhar Nanda, who was his father-in-law’s father and a native of Mugberia.

Gangadhar Nanda and his brother Digambar ‘Bidyanidhi’ Nanda were instrumental in the renaissance and freedom struggle of the Medinipur district of Bengal. While Digambar Nanda took up the revolutionary baton and gave arms training and shelter to the likes of Khudiram Bose, Gangadhar Nanda was more of a social servant. He had identified Dr. Mishra as the ideal man to carry forward his vision and it was on his insistence that the latter became his grandson-in-law. Dr. Mishra also saw his grandfather-in-law as an ideal person worthy of emulation and created a society in his name and oversaw an annual ‘Swadeshi Mela’ in Mugberia, an indigenous fair in other words, to promote local products, from 1931 to 1942, a year before Dr. Mishra’s own death.

A man who left no stone unturned to transform the village of his idol obviously never forgot about his native village of Kalyanchak. His sense of patriotism and duty led him to establish a society there as well for the betterment of the village and he named it ‘Kalyan Sebashram Sangh’, or the Welfare Service Centre Association, inspired by the spirit of service and the name of the village. It was through this association, with the help of like-minded educated and patriotic friends, that he converted the Gourmohan Institution, then a minor school, to a high school. In fact, prior to the government recognition of the high school, he held the high school classes at this association instead and he remained involved with the school till his death. It is perhaps then no wonder that the students from that high school would turn out to be as patriotic as the man who established it! Though his unexpected death would derail his efforts to contribute further to the service of society, this school stands as a marker to the amazing efforts of this gentleman, who had returned to his native villages to promote local youth and artisans after having qualified as a doctor, by securing a gold medal in his medical studies no less, in Kolkata.

Thus, the heritage status of the Gourmohan Institution is not an accident. People like Bhabataran Pahari and Dr. Sarat Chandra Mishra both believed in achieving freedom for India, whether it was by following the ‘Salt Satyagraha’ or the continuation of ‘Swadeshi Movement’ respectively. They both simultaneously knew that the first step to freedom began with nation and society building and that was impossible without education. To build that character, this school also had from the very beginning people like Shripaticharan Bayal as the headmaster, who had gone to jail twice prior to joining there, due to his involvement with the Indian freedom struggle. On joining, it can hardly be considered surprising that he imparted his patriotic wisdom and vision to the students of the school.

Today, as we stare back in history and try to learn its lessons in our schools, perhaps we can learn the lessons from a school itself. Gourmohan Institution stands as an example of what schools should be and ought to be: a place that creates ideal human beings who put service to the society and the nation above their own self.

Note: This article is a creative translation of an original article in Bengali; the link to which can be found here: https://kaleraborto.blogspot.com/2020/08/blog-post_17.html. This has been reproduced in English on the 78th anniversary of acts detailed in the article.

Declaration: The translation of the original article has been done with the permission of the original author and the veracity has been confirmed with her prior to submission for publishing.

Disclaimer: The original author in Bengali is this article’s author’s maternal aunt. Dr. Sarat Chandra Mishra was this article’s author’s maternal great-grandfather.

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Rit Nanda
M.Sc. Energy, Trade and Finance, City University, London. Supply Chain and Human Resources Supervisor and Consultant. "Opinionated, but always willing to listen". Contributor to The Eastern Herald.