Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Brahmabandhav Upadhyaya called for complete independence on 20 September, 1906

The forgotten national hero The Statesman - Kolkata, Thursday, 6 September 2007
In 1907, Bipin Chandra Pal wrote in his paper, New India : “It was this sturdy patriot, whose almost unaided exertion has brought the people of Bengal to a practically resistful attitude today. Of all men, it was he who imparted a militant character to our Swadeshi movement.” Brahmabandhav Upadhyaya, the man thus eulogised, contributed significantly to the nationalist movement.
The nature of this needs re-examination today as we proceed towards commemorating his 100th death anniversary. Upadhyaya made his Bengali daily, Sandhya into a popular newspaper, which drew the masses into the mainstream of the political movement. He lent the Bengal partition agitation of 1905 so much strength that its ultimate success may, with fairness, be traced back to him. He gave Indian nationalism a mass appeal that anticipated Gandhiji’s own move by decades. His fearlessness and selflessness were a tremendous inspiration to the nation.
On 20 September, 1906, Upadhyaya through Sandhya called for complete independence - “impossible at present. But nonetheless, that is the goal we should always keep before our eyes.” He was the first national leader to suggest this. Aurobindo Ghose had not yet entered politics, having arrived in Bengal only a month earlier. Upadhyaya became a symbol of the desire for Swaraj. The gulf between extremists and moderates widened since the Congress session at Benares in 1905. Upadhyaya took the initiative to invite Tilak, Lajpat Rai and Kharpade to Bengal and organise the Shivaji Festival.
In 1906, he opposed Surendranath Banerjea’s scheme for a dominion status and was instrumental in engineering the disengagement of the extremists from the moderates. The final split came at Surat in 1907. The extremists, with Tilak as their leader, now demanded full administrative control of the government. But Upadhyaya was not happy with this demand. Tilak’s Swaraj envisaged only administrative autonomy. In contrast, Sandhya declared in 1907: “We want complete independence. The country cannot prosper so long as the veriest shred of the feringhi’s supremacy over it is left.” There came into existence in Bengal many secret societies such as the Anusilan Samiti which preferred the cult of the bomb and the revolver. They needed a philosophy and Sandhya met this requirement. The extremists avidly read the stirring articles Upadhyaya wrote.
The agitation against the partition gathered strength from 7 August and reached its peak on 16 October, 1905. It had by then merged with the boycott and swadeshi movements. Gradually, it outgrew provincial limitations and broadened into Gandhiji’s national campaign for freedom. But its roots lay in the movement of Bengal and in such patriots as Upadhyaya, who first conceived its aims and methods. In August 1907, the premises of Sandhya were searched. In September and October of the same year two sedition cases were filed against the editor, manager and printer of the paper. One of the articles forming the subject matter of the prosecution was entitled Ekhane theke gechhi premer dai (now I am stuck on account of love) and this appeared in Sandhya on 13 August, 1907. Upadhyaya wrote:
“We have said over and over again that we are not swadeshi only so far as salt and sugar are concerned… What we want is the emancipation of India. Our aim is that India may be free, that the stranger may be driven from our homes, that the continuity of the learning, the civilisation and the system of the rishis may be preserved… O Mother! Let us be born again and again in India till your chains fall off. First, let the Mother be free, and then shall come our own release from the worldly bonds… O feringhi,… Our power is more than human. It is divine… We have all the advantages of the ancient greatness of India on our side. We are immortal… We hereby summon you to battle.”
Bail was granted to the accused, but they had to attend the court daily from the morning till evening and this weary waiting made Upadhyaya’s hernia worse and worse. The case was put off till after the Puja holidays, and so he could get himself admitted to what was then called Campbell Hospital. Upadhyaya was operated upon on 22 October. But post-operational complications set in, and on Sunday, 27 October, 1907, at 8.30 a.m., he died with the word by which he usually referred to Christ - Thakur - on his lips. Amid the pomp befitting a national hero, Upadhyaya’s body was cremated according to Hindu custom.
  • Why was Upadhyaya so soon forgotten?
  • Why was no attempt made to perpetuate his memory?
  • Why are India’s own historians so unaware of his contribution?

Tarachand, RC Majumdar and AR Desai talk about Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghose, Surendranath Banerjea and Rabindranath Tagore. But the name of Upadhyaya is missing in their accounts. Pal himself had declared before independence: “The ideals of our present nationalism have been obtained from Upadhyaya Brahmabandhav to a very great extent. But it seems that people are forgetting about it. We are trying to keep alive the memory of so many people, but as regards Upadhyaya Brahmabandhav we did not have even a condolence meeting.”

Shyam Sunder Chakravarty wrote in The Bengalee on 26 October, 1924: “Upadhyaya Brahmabandhav is now an almost forgotten man. In his case we find a complete justification of the adage that the world knows very little of its greatest men”. Mohitlal Majumdar wrote in Bangadarshan in Magh 1355 (January-February, 1928): “That lion-man, the heart dedicated to the country, that sanyasi… Bengal has forgotten. They do not commemorate or remember him.”

What was the source of Upadhyaya’s courage and strength?

None other than his religio-cultural convictions. Since they represent a dynamic process of growth, it is a difficult task to pinpoint them. To begin Upadhyaya, originally Bhabani Charan Banerji, had been a disciple of Keshub Chunder Sen for some time. He was a friend of Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore. It was with him that Tagore founded Santiniketan. Upadhyaya came to know Jesus Christ through Sen and through his own uncle, Reverend Kalicharan Banerji. In 1891, he received baptism from an Anglican priest but, in the same year, he became a Roman Catholic. In 1894, he became a sanyasi and adopted the new name, which meant “friend of God”. From 1891 to 1901 God was his focus, God as experienced in Jesus and interpreted in terms of Hindu thought. His literary activities of this period included the editing of Sophia (January 1894 -March 1899), a Catholic monthly journal; Sophia (June 16, 1900 - December 8, 1900), a weekly; and The Twentieth Century (January 1901 - December 1901), a monthly. Because of total discouragement from the church authorities he almost stopped his theological writings in 1901. Upadhyaya then became fully engaged in the nationalist movement.

In November 1904 he brought out Sandhya (1904 - 1907) and in March 1907 Swaraj, a Bengali weekly. Upadhyaya’s religion was not sectarian but universal. He encouraged a dialogue for relational convergence of religions. Today, when India strives for communal harmony, Upadhyaya’s life can give at least useful pointers. If Hinduism and Christianity can be unified, as he demonstrated, there is no reason why the same cannot happen between Hinduism and Islam. His political commitment to his motherland again was total, for her complete liberation. He wanted us to be born again and again till Mother India’s chains fall off completely. Independence we got, but still is not our country, our Mother, in chains even today? Mother, give us some more Upadhyayas to fight for the total independence of our people today! (The writer is Professor of Religions at Bishop’s College, as well as Professor and Dean of Doctoral Programme of North India Institute of Post-Graduate Theological Studies, Kolkata. E.Mail: )

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