A chronicle and historical review of Bengalee Association, Bihar – 1938-1997*

By Bhakat Prasad Majumdar and Gurucharan Samanta

 

On 12th February 1938, seventy-two Bengalee persons assembled in the Anglo-Sanskrit School of Patna [presently named P.N. Anglo-Sanskrit School] and decided to form Bengalee Association.  The meeting on that day was presided by an advocate of Chhapra, Hem Chandra Mitra. Under his presidentship the newly formed Association elected the following members for the executive committee:

President                     –           Prafulla Ranjan Das (Patna)

Vice President            –           Mihir Nath Roy (Patna)

Sharat Chandra Roy (Ranchi)

Purna Chandra Ghosh (Gaya)

Birendra Nath Chakrabarty (Chhapra)

Secretary                    –           Shailendra Nath Dutta (Patna)

Treasurer                    –           Nalini Ranjan Singha (Patna)

Joint Secretary           –           Tripurari Chandra Palit (Ptna)

Nitai Chandra Ghosh (Patna)

Assistant Secretary    –           Jagdish Chandra Singha (Patna)

Manindra Chandra Samaddar (Patna)

Twelve other elected members of the committee were – Hem Chandra Mitra (Chhapra), P. K. Sen (Patna), Amar Nath Chattopadhyay (Patna), Shishir Kumar Ghosh (Daltonganj), Satish Chandra Singha (Purulia), Sharat Chandra Bandopadhyay (Patna), Surendra Nath Basu (Bhagalpur), Annada Kumar Ghosh (Patna), Atul Krishna Roy (Patna), Nagendra Nath Rakshit (Jamshedpur), Manindra Nath Mukhopadhyay (Jharia), Baikuntha Nath Mitra (Patna), Charu Chandra Majumdar (Purnia), Upendra Nath Sen (Muzaffarpur), Phanindra Mohan Dutta (Muzaffarpur), Rabindra Nath Sen (Darbhanga), Pramatha Nath Pal (Motihari), Kishori Mohan Nag (Ara), Kalidas Gupta (Santhal Parganas) and Rajani Kumar Roy (Hajaribagh).

On 13th February 1938, the above-mentioned executive committee members met at the residence of Sri Prafulla Ranjan Das at 1 PM and worked out the Rules of the Association. The Rules were adopted in the meeting on 27th March. On 7th April that year, the Association was registered as “Bengalee Association, Bihar” under Societies Registration Act. (Vide Behar Herald, dated 24.2.1968, page 88; Annual Proceedings Book 1938-1947, page 16). The Registration number was 4/1938 and on 10th December 1938, the government of Bihar enlisted Bengalee Association among the associations in Bihar.

First secretary, Shailendra Nath Dutta mahashay has narrated clearly many years ago, the real reason of forming the Association. On the occasion of first annual general body meeting of the Association held at Jamshedpur on 8th April 1939, he said that Bengalee Association was born to resist the spread in use of Domicile Certificate Rules in the year 1937. Let’s quote a bit from his speech: “The problem of the Bengalees in the Province is not of recent origin. Ever since the separation of Bihar from Bengal, it became more and more acute, specially since 1918 when the system of domicile certificate was introduced. The matter came to a head when the Congress assumed the reins of the Government of Bihar in 1937. The Bengalees were denied their fundamental rights regarding service, education and commerce, the lofty ideal of the Congress notwithstanding. The air was thick with reports of hardship and injustice inflicted not only on the Bengalees from the neighbouring provinces, who had settled here, but also on the Bengali-speaking autochthons of the province. Despite the fact that it was not they who had come to the Province bit the Province had come to them. The only possible course was to form an organization for the purpose of protecting our rights and privileges.

“A representative meeting of the Bengalees of Bihar was accordingly convened by our President. In response to his call, an inaugural meeting of the Bengalees’ leaders of almost all the important station in the province was held on the 12th February 1939 at the Anglo-Sanskrit School Hall at Patna and the Association was formed.” (vide Annual Proceedings Book 1938-1947, Page 11)

In the year 1974 a translation of the name Bengalee Association, Bihar – ‘Bihar Bangali Samiti’ – was made.

Objectives

In the inaugural meeting of 12th February 1938 following objectives were adopted unanimously and were recorded in English:

(a) Promote intellectual, educational, cultural, moral, physical, social, civic and material welfare of the Bengalees in the Province of Bihar;

(b) Promote unity, solidarity and cooperation among Bengalees of the Province of Bihar;

(c) Foster and promote cooperation, cordiality and fellowfeeling between the Bengalees and other communities in the Province of Bihar; and

(d) To watch, safeguard and further the interests of the Bengalees in the Province of Bihar.

Gradually after 1941 and from 1947 to 1966 the Association became inactive. It was reorganised in 1966 and a central committee was elected in a meeting on 25th February 1968. In that meeting, previously stated four articles of the objectives remained unchanged, except the word ‘Province’ was replaced by ‘State’, because in the Constitution of India adopted in 1950 the provinces were named ‘states’. Some more articles were added in the Objectives on that date. Those were related with – preservation and development of Bengali language and literature, establishing and acquiring educational and various welfare institutons, establishing and running libraries, running printing press and publishing books and periodicals, establishing different institutions etc. In a special general meeting of 9.4.1982 some more clauses were added in the objectives. Major among those were the lines added after including the word ‘script’ in the matters related with ‘preservation of language’ in Article (e) – “To conserve the Bengali language, script and literature and to stimulate the cultivation of the same.

“To safeguard the rights given to the Bengalees as a linguistic minority in the Constitution of India, Central and State laws. (1) To establish, acquire, affiliate and maintain educational, cultural and philanthropic institutions.”

In the line, “To assist and preserve the educational and cultural institutions established and managed by the Bengalees in the State of Bihar”, giving affiliation to other institutions, forming youth wing, forming trusts etc. were also added.

II

To describe the works of the Association, firstly it needs to mentioned that the Association is not a political organization. Although the Association has asked for help from various political parties to get different types of its works done, it has never worked for any political party. Perhaps none can allege that the resolutions adopted to stop riots of Kolkata and West Bengal in 1946 or to greet newly born Bangladesh from erstwhile East Pakistan in 1972 are political. Neither the Association is related to any religious community or institution. For the first thirty years after the formation of the Association, government employees felt scare in joining it, as if there was an unwritten prohibition. In 1939, when the then superintendent of Danapur Division of East Indian Railway, Shri N. C. Ghosh raised the question of membership for his subordinate employees in the Railway, secretary of the Association replied him, “It is purely an organization for the welfare of the Bengalees of the Province of Bihar and is non-political. (vide Central file, Part II, Letter No. 94). Relations of the Association with the government became amicable after its reorganisation in 1968. The Bangabhashi conference held in 1968 was inaugurated by the then Governor of Bihar, Shri Nityananda Kanungo. Shri Binodanand Jha, Chandra shekhar Singh, Karpuri Thakur, Jagannath Mishra and many others, when they were serving as Chief Ministers of the State have participated in the meetings and conferences of the Association. Dr. Bishtu Mukhopadhyay, while being a government official, was president of the Association. Government has given the responsibility of writing, translating and publishing Bengali textbooks to the Association, has formed Minority Commission as proposed by the Association, has formed Bangla Academy established and proposed by the Association, has given donations to literacy and Bidyasagar projects, has included representatives from the Association and from Bengalees in various government committees and commissions. During 30s, there was an apathy towards the Bengalees, that has ended. Contextually, it can be mentioned that in the year 1982, Platinum Jubilee of the formation of the state of Bihar was celebrated in Bihar Rajya Bangabhashi Sammelan held at Patna (it was the first, even before any programme by the government). During the last fifty years, except once, no resolution to end social evils was ever adopted in the conferences or meetings of the Association. In the Hazaribagh conference held on 22nd-23rd March 1940, resolution was adopted to end dowry system among Bengalees. Never any resolution was proposed to end casteism, remove untouchability, reject child marriage or to encourage widow remarriage. Never any discussion was held, or work done to promote economic equality or economic progress of the individual. Till now all the resolutions appear to be aimed towards people’s welfare – welfare of the bengalees included. There are numerous examples of welfare for non-Bengalees. Epidemic and flood relief, literacy campaign, getting published the Santhali and Oriya text books, getting some seats reserved for Oriya from the ‘quota’ for Bengali in Training College, prevailing upon the government to form State Minorities Commission are major among them. After reorganization of 1968, main work of the association has been preservation of Bengali language and education, extension, earning recognition and due rights for Bengali language and for Bengalees at government level.

III

Approached from the angle of activities, we can divide the history of Bengalee Association in three phases – from 1938 to 1948, from 1948 to 1966 and since 1966. The third phase, though began in 1966, actually activated the Association from 1966.

1938-48: The primary objective of forming the Association was to oppose the system of Domicile Certificates, and that was the main issue during the first phase. Bihar government used to demand Domicile Certificate from the Bengalees of Bihar for employment, education and business; it was demanded even from the Rarhis of Manbhum and Bhagalpur, who were living in Bihar for hundreds of years. After publication of the Order dated 18th and 22nd February 1938, signed by the then Chief Secretary of Bihar W. B. Brett and Conservator of Forests J. S. Owden the issue of Bihari-Bengalee came to the fore. The president of the Association P. R. Das and Secretary Shailendra Nath Dutta raised in front of the National Congess the unjustified nature of the demand for certificates. Mr. Das raised the question in front of Congress Working Committee pn 3rd and 4th April 1938, printed in the minutes of the Working Committee on 2nd and 12th page. Congress Working Committee gave the responsibility of solving this problem of Bengali-Bihari to Babu Rajendra Prasad. Hence, again on 21st-22nd August, Mr. Das sent a memorandum of 64 pages to Rajendra Babu on the eve of Wardha conference. Association hoped that the formula provided by National Congress will be accepted by the congress government of Bihar as well. But, the government of Bihar literally did not implement the resolution adopted in Bardoli session of Congress. It just changed a bit the rules for submitting the certificate. We know from a letter written by Mr. Das on 3rd January 1939, that Rajendra Babu had given a decision that to get a certificate of domicile from the government one shall have to submit evidence of living in Bihar continually for ten years. In the field of education, in those institutions where number of students admitted are less, seats will be reserved for each of the communities of Bihar in the proportion of percentage of their population. Though, in the field of business no certificate would be needed, yet Bihar government will have the right to direct the commercial establishments to accord preference to the Biharis. And in those areas of Bihar, where Bengali is the lingua franca, there preferably, primary education may be provided in Bengali (vide Central Privileges File). On 29th May 1946, the Deputy Secretary of Education Department of Government of Bihar informed the Association that to get scholarship in government-run educational institutions and in other matters, Bengalees will have to submit domicile certificate as before. That meant that Domicile rules will not be changed (vide No. 1572, Directive of the Education Deptt. Govt. of Bihar). on 13th March 1946 the government of Bihar imposed a new type of Domicile Certificate (See Behar Herald dated 12.6.1947). hence the fact is that the Association could not make the government to withdraw domicile rule in totality even after trying for nine years. But, since 2nd World war had begun, there was a boom in employment and business, the issue of domicile lost importance for the time being. The famine of Bengal, war, movement of 1942, political rise and movement after war, independence and the dreams associated with new constitution pressed to the background the problems of education, employment, business etc. the Association also became inactive. After adoption of the Constitution of India, Public Employment Act was promulgated which was in line with the demand of the Association and thus the domicile system became inoperative.

Even in the first phase of activities, there are examples that the Association efforted for education in Bengali medium or inclusion of Bengali as language-subject in schools, but those were limited to adoption of resolutions or making requests to the government. In the general body meeting of 1946, unanimously it was resolved that Bihar government should arrange learning of Bengali and compulsory and optional subjects (vide Circular of the Secretary dated 2nd November 1946). Government did not make any arrangement for learning of Bengali as optional subject. Since 1937, no Bengali student could get admission in government college without domicile certificate. The Association began its protests against this and also made requests to the government. In the annual general body meeting of 1940, the Secretary informed that only the Principal of Patna College, on the request of the Association, has accepted the resolution of Bardoli Congress.

In some other matters, efforts made by the Association failed totally. The leaders of the Association efforted much to get the number of Bengalees living in Bihar be counted properly during the census. But census report revealed that the number of Bengalees were reduced to 11.07 lakhs in 1951 from 11.89 lakhs in 1931. No comment is needed. Many of the resolutions, viz. establishing swadeshi mill by Bengalees (1941), establishing bank, forming chamber of commerce, establishing premier science and technology college etc. just remained in the files. In the general body meeting held at Purulia, it was also decided that premier science colleges will be established by the central committee at Patna and in the

districts by the branches. On the request made by the central committee Chaibasa and Patna branch committed to donate twenty-five thousand rupees each for the purpose. But this was also not materialized.

Second phase, from 1948 to 1966 was a period of inactivity for the Association. Possible reasons may be: lessening of seriousness of the problem of domicile as an aftermath of war, domicile rule being nullified by Constitution of India and Public Employment Act, lessening of importance of the problem due to reorganization of states in which many of the Bengali-speaking areas were sliced out from Bihar and also resultant spread of the feeling of  hopelessness among the rest of Bengalees, diminution of the economic status of Bengalees due to famine, partition, abolition of zamindari etc., pressure from above to accept Hindi as national and state language, retreat of Bengalees from the political parties, helplessness and unnecessary fear, ignorance about the constitutional and legal rights etc.

Beginning of the third phase for the Association is taken to be 1966, but actual reorganization started from 1968. The nature of decisions and style of work in this period is quite different from the earlier phases. Earlier, on 27th October of 1946, a resolution was adopted that Bengalees should learn Hindi (Letter No. 181, Central File). But this circular by the secretary couldn’t attract the attention of the bengalees. In the third phase, in 11th annula general body meeting of 1969, president himself his saying in his speech, “Learning Hindi is absolutely necessary (Page 6). He and Dr. Bishtu Mukhopadhyay are using the term “Bengali-speaking Bihari” for Bengalees of Bihar (vide presidents’ speeches in 10th and 14th Annual General Body meeting held at Patna and Darbhanga, Pages 10 and 12). In this

Phase the emblem for the Association with the ideal of “Sanghati o Samanway” proposed by Bibhutibhushan Mukhopadhyay and designed by Dr. Gurucharan Samanta was adopted. Whereas, in the Bhagalpur conference held on 2nd March 1969, it was unanimously decided that Bengalees of Bihar will demand recognition as linguistic minority community. In this phase, Moder garab moder asha was accepted as Anthem of the Association and a flag designed by Nripendranath Chakrabarty of Jamalpur was accepted as flag of the Association.

Main characteristics of the third phase were adoption of the ideal Sanghati o samanway (Solidarity and coordination) and taking the new identity and related rights of a linguistic minority as enshrined in the constitution, as basis for its programme. Since independence, Bengalees of Bihar were recognized as minority only on paper. Recognition by the government for practical purposes began from the year 1970. Only by the efforts of the Association, government directive could be issued extending minority status to related schools and colleges. On the demand of the Association, government formed state level religious and linguistic minorities commission in the year 1970 and in 1971, the secretary of the Association, Dipendra Nath Sarkar was made a member of that commission.

IV

One may get an idea about what the Association wanted to do in this phase of its activities, from the issues enlisted in the memorandums – numbering fifteen – given by the Association to the commission (vide Annual Report 1972): teaching of Bengali as a subject, arranging examination for it and valuation of the papers in schools, colleges and universities; implementing tri-language formula in university examinations; preparation and printing of Bengali textbooks; starting Bengali programme on radio; proper recording of Bengali mother tongue in census; employment for Bengalee unemployed; usage of Bengali in official work; fund to aid and promote art and literature and donation for Bengali libraries; forming permanent minorities commission at the state level; review of the rights of minorities and submission of the report of central minorities commission on the floor of the Assembly; publication of booklet in Bengali to focus minority rights. 17th Bihar State Bangabhashi Sammelan was held on 28th February 1975 at Patna. In that conference the Chairman of the Reception Committee Dr. S. M. Ghoshal said, “There are two segments of activities of Bengalee Association. One segment remains visible to the people – organization, conference, campaign, spread of education, fund-in-aid and other activities. … Other segment remains hidden – in which, the efforts are made to get what is due to us as linguistic minority community.”

The files reveal that the Association also made efforts to solve the problems of Bengalees by pursuing the central commission for linguistic minorities and members of parliaments.

In the third phase, work related to education widened – in fact, it became the major work. Before independence, the education-related work of the Association was limited to matric and higher. But the work of the reorganized Association centered around primary and middle education. To collect facts about primary and middle education, representatives of the Association, particularly Dr. Guru Charan Samanta and Dr, Jogesh Bandopadhyay from the centre and Sri Deben Debu, Sunil Banerji, Baidyanath Mustafi, Ashwini Ghosh, Deb Prasad Ghosh from the branches have travelled in the villages since the year 1968.  As a result, efforts made by the Association for Bengali education have succeeded at various levels. Thousands of teachers have been appointed and Bengali has been made the medium of education in required places. In 1971, Association protested making Hindi the lone medium of examination in the universities. Taking the Urdu-speakers together, it pressurized the government through political leaders to change the rules. Due to that pressure, firstly Ranchi and then other universities kept the implementation of the rule in abeyance. This way, various issues were used to be taken up jointly with other linguistic communities and pursuing the political power. Since 1972, the Association tried regularly to ensure that the papers written in Bengali script for middle examination be examined by examiners knowing Bengali; much success has been attained in that regard. Since 1970 the Association is making effort to remove the errors in Bengali textbooks published by Bihar State Textbook Corporation. Whereas, since 1973 it is trying to get translators appointed from the panel of translators provided by it (vide Annual Report 1973). Finally, efforts were also made to get all the Bengali textbooks nationalized and arranging sale in prices equivalent to Hindi textbooks. Since 1977, the Association has taken the responsibility of writing and correcting the textbooks, and is playing the role of assistor in their designing, publication and marketing. From the reports placed by secretaries in various years,

One can get the details about the names of schools recognized as minority schools, the number and places of new posts sanctioned, getting due grants-in-aid released etc. other works related to Bengali language were implementation of literacy project, forming book-banks, introduction of Bengali programme and more.

During this phase of activities of the Association, a new way of advancing the efforts was adopted. Association started to initiate legal steps and move to high court or supreme court either in its own name or in an anonymous way. Examples are, the case of Jagdish Chandra High School of Ghatshila and opposing the act to acquire Bihar High School in the Supreme Court.

Since 1967, the general body meeting of the Association has been termed ‘Banga Bhashi Samelan’ to expand its scope and make it open for all Bengalees.

Also remarkable is the success achieved in making the recording of linguistic identities in census proper. The figure for the number of Bengalees in Bihar, which was 11.37 lakhs in 1951 and 11.64 lakhs in 1961 rose to 19.5 lakhs in 1971. In some cities and towns the Association itself took the initiative to make the census work complete among the Bengalee population.

Some of the new types of work undertaken by the reorganized Association are working on the Bidyasagar Memorial project, conducting essay-writing competition for Giri-Bipin prize, Satindranath Sengupta and Debaprasad Sengupta prizes, getting amendments done in voter list, getting included Bengali in art & literature aid-fund of the government of Bihar, organizing seminars with other linguistic communities, re-introduction of Bengali names of railway stations, felicitation of the persons of eminence, resisting the eviction of Bengalees from leased land and such varied activities.

Work to acquire Nandan Kanan at Karmatar, Vidyasagar began in 1972. By 1975, the position is that the premises have been purchased and a Bengali girls’ middle school has been established there. For the purpose of acquiring, 15 thousand coupons of one rupee each was sold and government aid of rupees fifteen thousand was received. This is the first financial aid by the government for any activity of Bengalee Association. In 1977 the Association succeeded to get the name of Karmatar railway station changed as Vidyasagar. The unmetalled road from Karmatar to Jamtara has been metalled by the secretary of Bidyasagar girls’ school who is also MLA of the area and has been named ‘Vidyasagar

Path’. In 1993, a marble bust of Vidyasagar, funded by Shri Shyama Prasad Mukhopadhyay of Patna has been erected in the premises. In the meeting held at Nandan Kanan for unveiling of the bust, Sri Subhash Chakraborty* donated one lakh rupees on behalf of ‘Friends of the Stadium’ and ‘Vishwa Kosh Parishad’ for the school. The ‘Bhagawati Bhawan’ building for the school has been constructed by the funds of one lakh fifty thousand rupees approx. in total, collected by those two organizations. Those two organizations are also arranging donation of around ten thousand rupees every month.

The literacy project and Bidhan Chandra Roy centenary celebrations were also aided by the

Government of the state.

One more success story for the Association consists in the creation of Bihar Bangla Academy by the government. This is the first Bengali Academy of India. Since 1973 the Association labored for long ten years to get it established in 1983. In 1980, the Association itself formed the Academy privately. Now, as per the Bye-laws of the Academy formed by the government, Association has got enough representation in the Academy. More important is the fact that Bengali language and literature has been given recognition by the government equally with other languages.

After long efforts by the Association, since 1987, four seats for Bengali language are being kept reserved in all the training colleges of Bihar. After getting Bengali methodology added to the syllabus, permission could be achieved to open a new private training college. On the basis of that permission, Bankipur Brahma Samaj ran the training college for two years. But since the permission was not renewed, the Samaj was forced to close the training college.

To enlist other works done by the Association in short:

(a) On the initiative taken by the Association and as a joint endeavor with other institutions, Atish Dipankar Millenia celebration, felicitation of Bibhutibhushan Mukhopadhyay and celebration of his 90th birth day, celebration of Netaji and Khudiram Centenary celebration, observance of 125th birth anniversary of Rabindranath and Vidyasagar Jayanti etc. have been organized;

(b) 21st February is being observed annually as ‘Bangabhasha Diwas’;

(c) Muzaffarpur Jail has been renamed in the name of Khudiram Bose;

(d) Bengali has been re-introduced in the nameplates of railway stations in Singhbhum district;

(e) grants for purchase of Bengali books in government and other libraries were re-introduced;

(f) the efforts to evacuate Bengalees from their properties are being resisted;

(g) the name of Debipada Chaudhury has been corrected in Shahid Smarak at Patna;

(h) to some extent the problems of citizenship, land rights, education, employment etc. has been resolved;

(i) much progress has been made in connection with the construction of Association’s own building in Patna.

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[Bihar Bangali Samitir itibritta, 1938-1997 er itihaser samiksha, Bhakat Prasad Majumdar o Gurucharan Samanta]

Translated by Bidyut Pal

[*A review of the present phase, or specifically the period after division of the state of Bihar is being prepared]  

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