8 December 1930, Monday: The night was beautiful, though a bit cold. Folks at the Secretariat [now known as the Writers’ Building] were enjoying their own party, oblivious to the heat of the protest simmering outside. This was the time, when Civil Disobedience Movement, the Chittagong section of Bengal Volunteers were in hiding after the daredevil Chittagong Uprising, and Subhas Chandra Bose had just established his network of revolutionaries.
Now came three young men, dressed perfectly in neat, ironed European costumes. Though the social gathering was an exclusive reserve for the Europeans, a few Indians were allowed, provided they kept up to the British standards required. The young men didn’t disappoint them either. Walking up straight to the main gathering, they simply inquired about the Inspector General of Calcutta Police [Prisons], Colonel N.S. Simpson. As soon as they spotted him, one of them walked upon to him, greeted him briefly and all of a sudden, whipped out a 1920 Luger pistol and shot the officer dead.
This was a prelude to the attack that accelerated the revolutionary movement in Bengal once again, and apart from that, sent ripples of terror throughout the British political circles. The British imperialists, who scoffed at the mere thought of an Indian effectively retaliating against their brutalities, courtesy their tryst with Congress leader Mohandas K. Gandhi and his sycophants, shuddered at the sight of this incident. If it had not been for their Indian sycophants, this attack would’ve been written in the same golden letters as the much overrated Dandi March has been written in the books of Indian history. Maybe because these young heroes weren’t diehard communists, or from their prized communities to begin with.
Way before Quentin Tarantino had shown two mavericks shooting the hell out of the autocratic Nazis in his black comedy ‘Inglourious Basterds’, it was our own boys from Bengal, who not only terrorized the British autocrats with an effective retaliation, but also established ‘Netaji’ Subhas Chandra Bose as the ‘Godfather’ of Indian revolutionaries. This was the Writers’ Building attack, and the following is a recollection of what happened that night.
It all started with the December session of the Congress Party in 1928. While the old faction, led by Gandhi stuck to the same old rant of pleading and begging for Dominion Status, the younger set, influenced by leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose, called for Complete Independence [Poorna Swaraj]. Into this very scene, when the Congress session was inaugurated, the entire Calcutta witnessed a scene never seen before. Dressed in regular, British Army uniforms, a huge procession of 2000 volunteers marched all the way from the venue of the Congress session to the heavily fortified Fort William, dominated by the British forces in Calcutta.
The entire force of volunteers was organized exactly in the way a regular British Indian Army battalion would’ve been, with its commanding officers even being awarded with steel cut epaulettes, designating their position within the force. While the British were dumbstruck with this defiance, Gandhi, who was shocked at the defiance of these young Congress volunteers, tried to dismiss their valor as ‘an Indian show of the Bertram Mills Circus’, which caused thousands of Bengalis, both young and old, to be disappointed by his remarks, and resort to revolutionary means to attain independence.
Later on, this force of Bengal Volunteers developed into an extremely successful, underground nationalist revolutionary organization, with its branches at Calcutta, Dhaka, Chittagong, and other important cities of Bengal. Some of the famous officers and volunteers of this force were as follows:-
— Major Hemchandra Ghosh, member of Jugantar party
— Major Jatindra Nath Das, the same revolutionary who supplied the logistics for the bombs dropped into the Central Legislative Assembly at Delhi by Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutta, and later gave up his life after a 63 day long hunger strike in the Lahore Central Jail against the inhuman treatment with Indian prisoners
— Major Ambika Chakraborti, senior member of Jugantar and Congress Party and one of the oldest participants in the famous Chittagong Uprising
— Lieutenant [later General] Lokenath Bal, student union president of Chittagong College and leader of the revolutionary forces in the Chittagong Uprising
— Lieutenant Binay [Benoy] Krishna Basu, the fiercest attacker in the Writers’ Building attack etc.
Of the above, the ones that executed the attack were as follows: –
— Lieutenant Binay [Benoy] Krishna Basu, a student of medicine at Mitford Medical College, Dhaka
— Badal Nath Gupta, student and member of Bengal Volunteers
— Dinesh Chandra Gupta, firearms trainer and the only survivor of the attack
Funnily enough, only Benoy among the three was above 20, being more than 21 years old at that time. Badal was the youngest, while Dinesh, though young, was an experienced firearms trainer, who used to train the young cadets at Bengal Volunteers in firearms. Incidentally, none of the three guys were poor at all, and came from extremely affluent families, Benoy being the son of an aristocratic engineer. However, the love for nation and their wish for freedom compelled them to give up their luxuries.
They were soon an important part of ‘Operation William’, which involved incidents like student rebellions, assassinations of infamous officers and liquidating high ranking police officers who were involved in brutalities against the Indian prisoners. As a part of the same, Benoy Basu had already breached the security once, and killed the tyrant IGP of Dhaka Police, Mr. Lowman at point blank range, in broad daylight, at the Medical School Hospital. Even though his identity was hidden from none, he was such a wizard in the art of conning, that no British imperialist could dare to catch him alive, just like they could never catch the immortal revolutionary, Chandra Shekhar Azad. Benoy Basu is incidentally one of the few Indian revolutionaries, whom the notorious British police chief, Sir Charles Tegart, could never capture alive.
On the night of 8th December, two days after Dinesh’s 19th birthday, the trio entered the Writers’ Building. They were on the lookout for Colonel N.S. Simpson, the Inspector General of Prisons, Calcutta Police, who was only next to Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler in terms of brutality with prisoners. The moment they spotted him, Benoy shot him down and launched a raid on the entire premises. The three were now engaged in a brutal fight with the Calcutta police.
Nobody has written down on how long the encounter lasted, but going by the list of casualties, I’m sure that the fight didn’t last anything less than two hours. However, once the ammunition started to deplete, the three found themselves surrounded by British police. Not willing to surrender, even in the worst case possible, the three took a drastic step: that of committing suicide. Badal instantly took potassium cyanide, and died on the spot, while Dinesh and Benoy shot themselves in the chest with their own revolvers. Benoy succumbed to his injuries on Saturday, 13th December 1930, while Dinesh survived the ordeal, was tried and ultimately hanged to death on Tuesday, 7th July 1931. He was only 19 years old.
Interestingly, the judge who had sentenced Dinesh to death didn’t even survive to enjoy his fruits. Barely 20 days later, on Monday, 27th July 1931, Mr. Gerlick was shot dead by Kanailal Bhattacharya, beginning a series of assassinations that would soon make British bureaucrats wary of even trying to vie for employment in the prized Presidency of Bengal. Such was the terror of these revolutionaries. It is to such bravehearts that we owe our freedom to.
History of the Freedom Movement in India III, by Shri Ramesh Chandra Majumdar
India’s Biggest Cover Up, by Shri Anuj Dhar
The Indian Struggle : An unfinished autobiography, by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose