Bhawal Case

Bhawal Case a sensational case which attracted great attention from public far and wide and which has generated ponderous social entertainment since its disposal by the Calcutta High Court in 1937. It was the case of Kumar Ramendra Narayan Roy, one of the three co-sharers of the extensive bhawal estate in Eastern Bengal.

In extent, income and prestige, Bhawal was one of the biggest and oldest estates in Eastern Bengal. The Bhawal family, which was of the Srotriya Brahmin caste traces its origin from the late seventeenth century.

The first most reputed zamindar of the estate was Kalinarayan who got the Roy and Raja title from the British government in 1878. Joydebpur was his headquarters what now came to be known as the rajbari. Raja Kalinarayan Roy was followed by his only son Raja Rajendranarayan Roy who died early and left behind three sons. Two of them again died early too. The second son Ramendaranarayan Roy (b.28 July 1884) was yet to take up the zamindari management when the famous incident of the Bhawal Case took place.

In late April 1909, Ramendranarayan Roy, accompanied by his wife Vivabati Devi and her brother Satyendranath Banerjee and a large retinue, went to Darjeeling for a change of air. It was circulated that he had suddenly fallen sick at Darjeeling and 'had died'. He was reported to have been cremated there, and his wife and others came back home to 'mourn his death'. But the raja reappeared in dhaka in 1920 in the guise of a sanyasi. Some people even recognised him, although he did not offer any identity for himself. He also did not disclose that he was one of the three-co-sharers of the Bhawal raj. In due course many more people recognised him and took him to Bhawal in 1922. Ramendra displayed enough familiarity with everything in the rajbari, but the family refused to recognise him. The members of his family insisted consistently that Ramendra had died in 1909 in Darjeeling. The people who had brought him to the rajbari also found it difficult to establish his real identity as he himself did not make any effort at that direction.

The sanyasi, under pressure from the people, finally disclosed openly that he was Ramendranarayan Roy, the owner of one-third share of the Bhawal raj. The family immediately dismissed the claim and declared that the sanyasi was an imposter. The family asked the government to protect it from this 'naga sannasi'. Ramendra's wife, who lived in Calcutta, also consistently refused to recognise him as her husband.

When all efforts for an amicable settlement failed, Ramendranarayan Roy filed a title suit at the Judge's Court in Dhaka in 1933. Barrister B C Chatterjee was engaged to plead his case before the court of Panna Lal Bose. Scores of distinguished native and European gentlemen were summoned as witnesses. All of them vouched in their evidence that he was Ramendranarayan Roy. In the court Ramendra declared that he fell victim to a conspiracy hatched by his brother-in-law Satyendranath Banerjee, an unemployed graduate, who wanted to control his share of the estate through his childless sister. He further claimed that to realise his plan, Satyendranath involved the family physician Ashutosh Dasgupta in his partnership. The raja was suffering from syphilis, and was persuaded by the conspirators to go for treatment to Darjeeling, where they all lodged at a house called 'Step Aside', close to the new funeral ground.

The raja submitted that they poisoned him and had him hurriedly 'cremated' at night. But the people hired to cremate the raja left him uncremated because a strong hailstorm had started raging at that time. A group of naga sanyasis was passing by at that time and seeing him lying unconscious took him to their den and nursed him. He recovered, but had lost his memory for the time being. He lived with the wandering naga sanyasis from 1909 to 1920. While returning from chittagong to Dhaka in 1920, he suddenly got back his memory. He resolved to end his wandering life and settle at a corner of the buckland bund at sadarghat in Dhaka as a sanyasi. He had no inclination to go back to Bhawal and claim his right in the estate. But circumstances compelled him to disclose his identity and file the title suit in 1933.

Many exhibits were produced in support of his identity, including photos, paintings, marks on his body, letters, and statements of acquaintances. Most exhibits proved that the sanyasi was actually Ramendranarayan Roy. The learned judge finally passed his judgement on 22 December 1937 identifying the sanyasi as Kumar Ramendranarayan Roy, co-sharer of the Bhawal raj. However, his wife Vivabati appealed to the High Court. The High Court upheld the judgement of the district judge. The defendant made a petition to have the case referred to the Privy Council in England but the High Court turned it down.

The 'Bhawal Sanyasi' case caused a sensation and its proceedings mixed with all conceivable gossips were covered in all the contemporary newspapers. Leaflets, pamphlets and ballads were printed to satiate the curiosity of the people. 'Bhawal Sannyasi' became the subject of songs and ballads, plays, jatra and movies for many years since the disposal of the case in 1937. [Sirajul Islam]