Tuesday 10 May 2011

Hindi speaking people of Calcutta in the early twentieth century

In Burra Bazar area, where the majority of population was Hindi speaking lived in the period of this study, the activities of enthusiastic Marwari youths had been noticeable since 1898 when Marwari Association was formed[1].Thereafter many associations were formed among which Vaishyamitra Sabha is most important.[2] It can be noticed that in the final decade of nineteenth century Marwaris had shown interest in social works and they were ready to donate money for social cause. Through his fund raising lectures Pandit Deendayalu Sharma, the founder of Bharat Dharma Mahamandal, was able to raise 15,000 from Burrabazar.[3] Marwari Association was seen as a source of financial assistance for various political projects the Congress had undertaken. Even during the Partition movement they were approached.[4] Among the Marwari youths there were two groups –pro Government group which was referred as Chapkania group and the nationalist group which was well represented by dynamic youths who were bent on bringing changes in Marwari society and making the community sensitive to growing national movement. Some of the members of the reformist groups had been involved with extremist movement activities as well.[5]



Within the Marwari community the conflict between the traditional (Chapkania) and the reformist groups had shaped up its internal community politics. Most heated exchanges took place over the issue of widow remarriage. Marwari Association’s activities were found unsatisfactory for the reformist group and they formed Agrawal Mahasabha. These youths had decided to oppose the old marriage (the marriage between an old man and a young girl) by forcibly taking away the girl from the mandap, to oppose expensive ritualistic feast after death of a person by lying down on the road to oppose this kind of occasion and encourage widow remarriage. The growing influence of the Congress was favourable for the reformist group.

In Burrabazar, the Congress was not established before 1920. Burrabazar District Congress was established and Pandit Ambika Prasad Bajpeyee and Padmaraj Jain were elected president and secretary respectively. Mahatma Gandhi himself came to establish this and he “formally inaugurated it in 1921.[6] Before this much of Marwari youths’ social works were confined to social works mainly like establishing Marwari lodge, starting newspapers for raising consciousness among the Marwaris, opening libraries starting schools etc. But, after 1920 the Marwaris started taking direct interest in Congress politics. The Marwaris’ involvement in Congress politics was also due to the presence of Seth Jamana Lal Bajaj who took interest in involving Marwaris in Congress poltics of Burrabazar. Gandhi also had a wide appeal among the Marwaris and he also gave importance to this task as he visited prominent Marwaris’ house and gave very inspiring speeches. In one of those visits, at Radhikrishna Neotia’s residence, Gandhi addressed the women of Marwari families to discard purdah and behave like lioness. Now, in Burrabazar there were a number of young and enthusiastic people who were ready to take interest in active politics. Of them, apart from Prabhudayal Himmatsingka there were Mahavir Prasad Poddar, Ramkumar Bhuvalka, Sitaram Seksaria, Jwala Prasad Kanodia, Omkar Mal Saraf, Basant Lal Murarka, Ful Chand Chaudhari, Nagar Mal Singhai, Bhola Nath Barman and others.

The growing conflict between the reformist and the orthodox Marwaris reached to a flashpoint in 1926 over the issue of a remarriage of a widow. In spite of great resistence from the orthodox section the marriage of a widow Janaki Devi of Howrah with Nagarmal Leelha of Jharia could not be stopped and amidst heavy odds the marriage ceremony took place at Chhajjuram Chaudhary’s chowk. In this whole exercise the roles of Balkrishna Mohta, his wife and supporters of Prabhudayal Himmatsingka were crucial. On 26 Novemebr 1927, another widow remarriage in Marwari community took place at Ludhiana which was widely advertised by nationalist newspapers like AAj of Varanasi. While the Marwari society of Ludhiana, Kanpur (where from the barat had started for Ludhiana) welcomed it the conservative Chapkania (orthodox) Marwaris found it very objectionable and a band of 12 reformist Marwaris were declared outcastes by the Marwari Panchayat which met at the residence of Dilsukhrai Rajgadhia. The Panchayat had called Prabhudayal and Bhagirath Kanodia as representatives of the reformist group and asked them to leave the reformist camp. But the duo refused to budge. The twelve outcaste Marwaris were Padmaraj Jain, Bhagirath Kanodia, Sitaram Seksaria, Omkar Mal Saraf, Jagannath Gupta, Ramgopal Saraf, Ful Chand Chaudhary, Ram Kumar Bhuwalka, Nagarmal Modi, Baijnath Kedia, Basant Lal Murarka and Prabhudayal Himmatsingka. This can be considered a defining moment in the history of Marwaris of Calcutta. For many these names became ideals who stood against foreign goods, English schools and colleges and courts.

These stories of reformist groups’ progressivism was not so one sided as on many occasions widow remarriage had not got the reformist group’s support. Chhabinath Pandey has mentioned that when Dr Kishori Lal Sharma married a widow even the reformists were upset with it.[7]

[1] In December 1898, Marwari Association was formed with these office bearers: Tularam ji Goenka (President), Rangalal ji Poddar (Secretary) , Motilalji Chandgothia (Assistant Secretary). Among its members were Sivanarayan Sekhsaria, Harmukhrai Chokhani, Srinivas Goenka, Madho Prasad Halwasia, Munna Lal Chamaria, Ful Chand Halwasia, Ram Gopal Khemka, Prahalad Dalmia, Narsingdas Bhiwaniwala, Ganga Prasad Soni, Shiva Prasad Gadodia, Jailal Bhiwaniwala etc. Balmukund Gupta, famous Hindi writer and an Agarwal by caste had been closely associated with this. (Banarsidas Chaturvedi, “Bikhri Hui Batein”, in Jhabarmal Sharma and Banarsidas Chaturvedi eds, Balmukund Gupta Smarak Grantha (Calcutta: Gupta Smarak Grantha Prakashan Samiti, 1950) p. 207.

[2] This sabha was renamed after its third annual conference as Vaishya Sabha and it was made open to all Vaishyas with these office bearers -

[3] Bharat Mitra, 16 February, 1899, cited in Balmukund Gupta Smarak Grantha[hereafter BGSG], p. 90.

[4] Balmukund Gupta has an entry in his diary dated 3 August, 1905, that A. Chaudhary, J. Chaudhary, Bhupendra Nath Basu and many other Bengalis came to Marwari Association meeting for the request of financial help for Bengal partition. In other entry, dated 7 August, it is written that Bengali leaders came to Marwari Association and Marwari Chamber of Commerce for help and “ their requests were honoured”(BGSG, p. 188).

[5] Messrs. Rodda and Company, a firm of gunmakers, placed an order for weapons in a foreign country and in the third week of August 1914, the consignment of 202 cases reached the Calcutta port. A revolutionary group of Bipin Ganguly was aware of this transaction. A staff of Rodda and Co. named Srischandra was associated with this group. He was deputed to release the goods from the Custom office. On that day some other arms cases had arrived from England. He took the first delivery of 192 cases and left office by loading them on a bullock cart. There were many carts. On the cart which carried cased from Germany the Cart man was a Haridas Datt, who was associated with Bipin Ganguly. Other six or seven carts carried goods from England. He took that cart to revolutionaries place at Malanga Lane and disappeared. The pistols and some rounds of ammunitions were distributed immediately and remaining materials were handed over to a Marwari youngman Prabhudayal Himmatsingka. As he lived in a hostel himself he decided to hire a godam, pretending as a Bengali, at Kannulal Sen. After two three days when the cases from Germany was found missing the police was intimated but the culprits remained untraced. The lost cases contained 50 Mauser pistols ( large sized .300 bores) and 46,000 rounds of ammunition. They were “ so made and packed that by attaching to the butt the box containing the pistols, a weapon was produced which could be fired from the shoulder in the same way as the rifle” (Report of the Sedition Committee, 1918, p. 66). In March, 1915 on the basis of confessions of a Bengali youth the conspiracy was exposed. The names who were taken in his confession included the names of Ful Chandra Chaudhary, Prabhudayal Himmatsingka, Jwala Prasad Kanodia, Ghanshyam Das Birla, Omkarmal Saraf and Hanuman Prasad Poddar. A greedy police inspector met Chaudhary to demand 10,000 rupees to destroy evidences. As the accused belonged to wealthy families, the Bengali inspector expected to get this amount. But, after careful considerations the youths decided not to give the amount. Later when the whole issue was disclosed the inspector was suspended and these youths were prosecuted. He was lucky to be released due to unavailability of evidences. On26 February, 1915, the police recovered 23,200 rounds of ammunition when Atul Nag went to collect the ammunition from the godam which had been hired by Himmatsingka. By that time the police had captured the cartman and he had disclosed the address where the cases had been hidden. The police was waiting for the person who was to come and collect the ammunition. By the middle of 1918, no less than 31 pistols were seized by the police from different places. ( See Kali Charan Ghosh, The Roll of Honour (Calcutta: Vidya Bharati, 1965), pp.246-47; Radhakrishna Neotia, Jugal Kishore Jaithalia eds. Shri Prabhudayal Himmatsingka Abhinandan Grantha[hereafter SPHAG](Calcutta: Shri Prabhudayal Himmatsingka Abhinandan Samiti, 1984 ), pp. 38-39.



[6] SPHAG, p. 45, 61.

[7] Apni Baat, p. 158.



[ to be continued]

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