Suhasini Ganguly: Arrested many times under British rule, she went to jail even after Independence

Neha Banka
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Her association with Jugantar and the Chattri Sangha introduced her to other men and women who held similar socio-political beliefs and desperate desire for freedom from British rule. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Suhasini Ganguly’s was a life dedicated entirely to the cause of her motherland’s freedom. Born on 3 February 1909 in Khulna, now in Bangladesh, Ganguly spent her teens in her hometown and in Dhaka. Not much is known of her formative years and of how she developed sympathies for revolutionaries but academics agree that her transition into a fierce revolutionary fighter occurred in her early twenties. It coincided with her relocation to Calcutta where she began working as a teacher for students with hearing and speech difficulties.

It is not immediately clear how Ganguly became associated with the Jugantar revolutionary group in Calcutta, but she may have been introduced to the organisation by Pritilata Waddedar, a member, who like Ganguly, was a former student of the Dhaka Eden School and Kamala Das Gupta, who had also moved from Dhaka to Calcutta for higher education. Ganguly quickly became associated with the Chattri Sangha, a semi-revolutionary student group and began assisting other members with training and enlisting new recruits.

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Her association with Jugantar and the Chattri Sangha introduced her to other men and women who held similar socio-political beliefs and a desperate desire for freedom from British rule. Not long after Ganguly became fully involved in the freedom movement, she came under the scanner of British officials who were surveilling underground revolutionary groups and their members, making it difficult for her to continue operating from Calcutta.

In an attempt to evade arrest, sometime between 1928-1930, a young Ganguly escaped to Chandannagore, which was still a French territory at that time. The Chittagong armoury raid of April 1930 forced many members of the Jugantar party to go underground into hiding. Following the raid, an enraged coterie of British officials ratcheted up their pursuit of revolutionaries who had been associated with the raid in any capacity, no matter how remote. With the British out for blood, the rebels dispersed to various parts of undivided Bengal, with some choosing Chandannagore.

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Leaders of the Chattri Sangha instructed Ganguly, then only 21, to provide shelter to the revolutionaries in her home. Together with a fellow member of Jugantar, Shashadhar Acharya, Ganguly posed as husband and wife and opened the doors to the revolutionaries on the run. Surya Sen’s belief was that Chandannagore being a French territory would be a temporary safe haven for the group. That was not to be, and in September that year, British police officials under Charles Tegart, a brutal and violent man who subjected detainees to inhumane torture, raided Ganguly’s home in Chandannagore. The violence that ensued resulted in the death of Jugantar member Jiban Ghoshal. Suhasini Ganguly was arrested along with Shashadhar Acharya and Ganesh Ghosh and the three were subjected to torture in prison. Ganguly was released from prison not long after her arrest.

The Jugantar group instilled fear among British officials in the subcontinent and in retaliation, to stem the growth of the group, they launched the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1925 that allowed British authorities to indefinitely and arbitrarily detain individuals and allowed them to conduct trials by the tribunal without a jury and without right of appeal. Following her release from prison in 1930, Ganguly continued to be associated with Jugantaar.

Using the provisions of this act, British police arrested Ganguly once again in 1932, this time sending her to the Hijli Detention Camp near Kharagpur, where she remained for six years. Today, remnants of this camp can be found in the campus of IIT Kharagpur and the Nehru Museum of Science and Technology.

Following release from detention at Hijli, Ganguly spent much of her later years fighting for the freedom of the nation and spent significant periods in prison. Developing an association with the Communist Party of India, Ganguly began participating in causes associated with this political group, following a trajectory similar to other Jugantar members.

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While she was in her mid-thirties, between 1942 to 1945, Ganguly once again found herself imprisoned for providing shelter to Hemant Tarafdar, a revolutionary who was active in the Quit India Movement of 1942. After the independence of India, due to her activities with the Communist Party, in the early 1950s, Ganguly was arrested under the newly enacted West Bengal Security Act of 1950, that was aimed at the “prevention of illegal acquisition, possession or use of arms, the suppression of subversive movements endangering communal harmony or the safety or stability of the State and the suppression of goondas and for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community.”

Very little information is publicly available on Ganguly and the only known image of her is one available at the Directorate of State Archives in West Bengal. In the black-and-white photograph, Suhasini Ganguly is seen wearing a khadi sari looking down, away from the camera, standing before growth of palm fronds. Ganguly never married and died in March 1965 in a road accident. She was only 53.

Now, the Suhasini Ganguly Sarani in Bhawanipore is a reminder of the struggles of this girl from Khulna.