Datta, Aswini Kumar

Aswini Kumar Datta

Datta, Aswini Kumar (1856-1923) nationalist leader and philanthropist. Aswini Kumar Datta was born at the village of Batajore under Gaurnadi Upazila of Barisal district in a well-to-do kayastha land-owning family. His father, brajamohan datta, was a sub-judge. Having earned two university degrees - a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts - Aswini Kumar chose teaching for his career, of course, with a brief try out in law practice at the Barisal district court.

He became known for his philanthropy and his part in nationalist politics. Keenly committed to community welfare and development, he founded the ‘Brajamohan Vidyalaya’ (school) in 1884 and the Brajamohan College in 1889 on a large campus donated by him in the periphery of the Barisal town. He taught at the College gratis for twenty long years with loving care for the unfolding of physical and moral faculties of his pupils. He had also founded a girls’ school in 1887 in Barisal. His life-long patience with community service endeared him to the local people.  

Based on the fund of public goodwill, backed by the wealth and influence of his family he came to command a popular following that propelled him from a narrow district boundary to a wider provincial political arena during the anti-partition agitation, 1905-11. In this process he had also to his aid three local organisations the Peoples' Association (1886), the Bakharganj Hitaisini Sabha or Bakharganj Welfare Society (1887) and the Netri Sanggha or Association of Leaders - in all of which he played pioneering and dominant role. He became a commissioner (1885) of Barisal Municipality and holds its vice-chairmanship (1888) and chairmanship (1897).

As a Congressman he discretely distanced himself from metropolitan squabbles and the moderate-extremist rivalry, holding his ground in Barisal with a separate following. Aswini Datta turned Barisal into a strong centre of the swadeshi movement with the aid of Swadeshi volunteers raised under the umbrella of the Svadesh Bandhab Samiti organised for this purpose with himself at its head. It had over 160 branches spread deep into the district. The samiti came under government ban in 1908 when Datta was arrested in Barisal and held in Lucknow jail till 1910. He was actively connected with Swadeshi financial enterprises like the Swadeshi Bank, Hindustan Cooperative Insurance and Cooperative Navigation Ltd. He was instrumental behind bringing out the Barisal Hitaisi as the mouthpiece of the Swades Bandhab Samiti.

Almost eclectically religious, he turned a Brahma in 1882. He authored quite a few works, eg Bhakti-Yoga, Karmayoga, Prem, Bharatgiti etc. [BR Khan]