He was a rather diminutive man but such was the stature of his feats as a freedom fighter that he earned the title of Deshbandhu, a friend of the nation. Indeed Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das is one of those forgotten heroes of India’s Freedom Struggle, without whom it is difficult to conceptualise the height that this movement attained.
Born in a well to do, aristocratic family, a barrister by profession with access to the UK’s Legal Mecca, the Inner Temple, London, he could have lived a rather comfortable and ordinary life.
But that was never the intent. He chose the unusual, the extraordinary and led his followers from the front. His clothes used to go to Paris for wash but when he joined the freedom struggle and headed the non-cooperative movement, he gave up his European clothes and these habits just as easily. Perhaps the way most of us remember him is a dhoti-clad small man with mild manners and a benevolent smile.
Well, don’t ever let that fool you. Deep within was a volcano oozing with love for the country and ever ready to do whatever it is for his motherland. His family was perhaps one of those few where even his wife and son have served prison sentences with him for their open and forthright participation in the national struggle.
When Rishi Aurobindo was accused in the Alipore Bomb Conspiracy case and charged with being the mastermind behind the bomb blast, there was no lawyer who dared defend him but CR Das took up the challenge. The trial went on for over 120 days, 200 witnesses were examined and finally, Aurobindo Gosh was acquitted. He did not charge a penny for this case and on the contrary spent the princely sum of Rs 15000 for the entire proceedings. In the pre-Independence days, it was almost close to a fortune.
He aimed to fight the British on all front, both physically and intellectually. So along with his over involvement in the freedom struggle, he also published a newspaper, Forward to share his views with his country men. He was also Calcutta’s first Mayor in 1923. In many ways, he was also one of the most significant influences on the life and ideologies of another great freedom fighter, Netaji Subhash Bose. Not just that, he also championed the cause of education, started a college and was a firm believer in Hindu-Muslim unity.
Today we remember and celebrate his contribution by naming a few streets and buildings. Perhaps education, communal unity and commitment to our motherland are how we can show our appropriate tribute to our Deshbandhu.