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Taraknath Das: A Bengali-Indian Revolutionary lost in the pages of history

During the later phase of his life, Das spent six years in India and founded the Vivekananda Society in Calcutta

  • Taraknath Das was an anti-British Bengali Indian revolutionary and an internationalist scholar
  • He started ‘The Free Hindusthan’, the publication that advocated political, social, and religious reforms for India
  • In 1935, he and his wife instituted the Taraknath Das Foundation at Columbia University to encourage educational and cultural exchange between the U.S. and Asia

Born on June 15, 1884, in Majhipara, a village near Kolkata, Taraknath Das was an anti-British Bengali Indian revolutionary and an international scholar. Das completed his primary education in the village and took up the job of a tutor to help fund his high school education.

Soon after his admission to the Calcutta University, his father passed away. Das then attempted to complete his higher education by attending three different satellite schools but couldn’t succeed.

Later, Das travelled from village to village, mobilising the masses against the miserable economic, educational, and political condition of India. It was during that time he engaged himself with the Bengali Anusilan Samiti,a radical anti-colonial organisation. He later formed its branch in Dacca in 1905.

He also established several village schools for the poor section of the society during this time.

Following his brief stay in Japan, Das went to the U.S. on June 18,1906. He took up various occupations like that of a labourer on the railroads, in hospitals as a laundry boy and janitor among others to save money to attend the University of California. As a student in the University, Das cleared the United States Civil Service examination for “Hindu interpreter” and was appointed to the U.S. Immigration Service in Vancouver, British Columbia on July 5, 1907.

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It was during his stay in Vancouver that his revolutionary instincts surfaced once again. He started ‘The Free Hindusthan’, the publication, which advocated political, social, and religious reforms for India, reports Saada.org.

After matriculating from Norwich University in Vermont, he intended to train himself for armed rebellion in India. However, after a while, Das was suspended from Norwich University because of his anti-British stance. After which, he returned to Seattle in 1909 and associated himself with the Gadar Party, led by Lala Har Dayal. During that time, Das published various articles that supported the idea of violent resistance for freedom.

Out of his many published works, his “Open Letter to Count Leo Tolstoy in Reply to His ‘Letter to a Hindoo’ ” is the most acclaimed one. Critical of Tolstoy’s non-violent stand, he wrote, “Non-violence is an absolute Dogma…violence and benevolence are measured by the relative value of the actions and motives underlying them.”

Taraknath Das. Image Source: Namespedia.com
Taraknath Das. Image Source: Namespedia.com

Das completed his graduation from the University of Washington in Political Science. From there he went on to get an M.A. degree and a teaching certification before becoming a naturalised citizen of the U.S. in 1914.

In the same year, he secured admission as a research fellow at the University of California at Berkeley. His first book ‘ Is Japan a Menace to Asia?’ was published in 1917, while he was still teaching in Japan.

Still in abroad, he received a warrant for arrest for anti-British activities in the U.S. Following Hindu-German conspiracy trial, he was sentenced to twenty-two months in Leavenworth Penitentiary on April 30, 1918.

Even his life in prison could not stifle his spirit for the political uprising. From prison, he published the first issue of The Independent Hindustan (the official organ of Gadar Party) in September 1920.

He believed that “India’s fight for independence [was] the fight for world freedom against world imperialism”, and that without power over India, the British Empire would fall apart.

When it happened, he projected that India, China, Russia, and the Middle East countries would become the most powerful coalition globally.

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Das’ struggle did not end with the culmination of this imprisonment period. His citizenship was called off when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled naturalised citizens from India were not “white.”

Shortly thereafter he earned his first Ph.D., and married his long-time friend Mary Keatinge Morse, who was also a founding member of the N.A.A.C.P. and the National Women’s Party. Together they went for Europe tour and established the India Institute in Munich to encourage Indian students to attend German universities.

In 1935, he and his wife instituted the Taraknath Das Foundation at Columbia University to encourage educational and cultural exchange between the U.S. and Asia.

After receiving his citizenship back in 1946, Das became friends with the Watumull family in Hawaii, who gave him the opportunity to return to India in 1952 as a visiting professor of their foundation.

During the later phase of his life, Das spent six years in India and founded the Vivekananda Society in Calcutta.

He continued to speak up for the cause of the country’s freedom till the very end. He passed away on December 22, 1958, at the age of 74, briefly after returning to the United States.

-This article is prepared by Bulbul Sharma, a staff-writer at NewsGram.

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