Sasmal, Birendranath

Sasmal, Birendranath (1881-1934) lawyer and a political leader. Born at Chandibheti in the Contai sub-division of Midnapur in 1881, Birendranath Sasmal was called Deshapran for his love of the country. He came of an affluent Mahisya family on which the Brahma religion had made a deep impact.

Birendranath passed the Entrance Examination in 1900 from the Contai High School. He was greatly influenced by his teachers Tarakgopal Ghosh and Sashibhusan Chakraborty. He then entered the Metropolitan College, Calcutta, but on the urge of being a student of surendranath banerjea, he sought a transfer to the Ripon College. Thereafter he went to England to study Law at the Middle Temple and during this period, paid brief visits to the USA and Japan.

Returning home as a Barrister in 1904 he joined the Calcutta High Court and practised there for a few years. He then switched over to the District Court of Midnapur. Even as a college student he had participated in the swadeshi movement. On his return from England, he became a member of the District Board and Municipality. He considered politics to be synonymous with social welfare and took a pivotal role as a relief worker during the Midnapur floods of 1913, 1920, 1926 and 1933.

In 1913, he went back to Calcutta and resumed his practice at the High Court. He played a leading part in the Calcutta Session of the AICC (1920) and supported the resolution of non-violent non-cooperation movement, 1921. Sasmal, by then, had already joined the Swarajya Party of chitta ranjan das. On his return from Nagpur Session, he left his lucrative profession and plunged into the non-cooperation movement. He was made Secretary of the Bengal Provincial Congress and performed his duty with dedication. It was during this period that he successfully led the local anti- Union Board agitation in his native district.

Sasmal was also a champion of National Education. He felt that education should be made free and imparted to all irrespective of caste and creed. He established a national school at his house at Contai.

By December 1924, political unrest in urban Bengal reached a climax on the issue of the boycott of the visit of the Prince of Wales to India. Sasmal along with CR Das, abul kalam azad, subhas chandra bose and others were arrested on 10 December on the charge of organising the boycott. He was sentenced to six months simple imprisonment.

On his release from jail, Sasmal assisted CR Das in organising the Bengal Provincial Swarajya Party and subsequently became its Secretary. He was also elected the whip of the party in the Legislative Council. He aspired to be the Chief Executive of the Calcutta Corporation. But Das feared to offer the post to Sasmal because he assumed that the choice would offend the Kayastha clique of Calcutta. So Subhas Bose became the Chief Executive Officer on the blessings of CR Das. Humiliated Sasmal got angry, left the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee and went back to his legal practice and his control of local politics in Midnapur. But he was again elected to the Bengal Legislative Council as an independent candidate and this shows the high esteem in which his countrymen held him.

Sasmal was elected President of the Krishnanagar session of the BPCC in 1928. But his remarks about terrorism and violence in the Presidential Address led to the passing of a motion of no-confidence against him. With the censuring of Sasmal from the Presidentship of the BPCC the fate of bengal pact was sealed. An anti-Muslim group gained the dominant voice in the BPCC and in protest Sasmal, his friends and the Muslim members resigned. The consequence was disastrous. Veteran nationalist Muslim leaders went out of the Congress.

During the civil disobedience movement of 1930, while serving as a member of the non-official committee appointed to enquire into the atrocities perpetrated by the Midnapur district administration, he courted arrest. On his release he rushed to Chittagong to defend the accused in the Armoury Raid Case (1930) without charging any fees and this reveals his commitment for his co-patriots. Again in 1932 he acted as a defence lawyer in the Douglas shooting case. He joined the Calcutta Conference held under the auspices of the Congress Nationalist party to oppose Ramsay MacDonald's 'Communal Award'. He passed away on 24 November 1934. [Ranjit Roy]