Reverence and Distance
The first phase of the Bengal revolutionary movement (1902-15) was generally marked by an absence of
women’s participation even though the ideological foundation of the movement was embodied in the image of a mother goddess, as found in the celebrated
Bande Mataram composed in 1881 by novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. Later, Aurobindo also contributed to this concept. His Bhawani Mandir
pamphlet (1905) enjoined: “We cannot get strength unless we adore the mother of strength.” And Bhawani for him was “the embodiment of Infinite Energy.”4 Reverence for women permeated the entire ideology of the movement. But alongside it, male celibacy (brahmacharyaism) was also prescribed as the ideal of a revolutionary’s life. The leaders would
discourage young cadres from mixing with women. Aurobindo expelled Jatin Banerjee, his follower and one of the chief organisers of the movement, from the party on the charge of having a relation with a woman.5 According to Trailokyanath Chakravarty, a leader of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti, there were
some attempts to recruit young girls at the initial stage but later the plan was dropped.
Nanibala - Dukaribala
Nanibala Devi, widowed in her early life, dared to communicate information to a political prisoner by meeting him in jail posing as his wife in 1915. She later sheltered some young activists connected with the celebrated German Plot mooted by Jyotindranath Mukherjee (Bagha Jyotin), the
legendary martyr in the Balasore battle (September 1915). Nanibala was finally
arrested and in jail she had to suffer inhuman physical torture (powdered third co-wife all along.
Another housewife who also suffered imprisonment during 1917 was Sindhubala Devi. She was arrested
following a police raid on her house in search of her husband. In some cases women discarded by
society as ‘fallen’ also helped the activists in one way or another. In 1907,
when the police mercilessly attacked a group of Swadeshi volunteers in a north Calcutta street, prostitutes retaliated by throwing stones at the police from rooftops.9 Kshudiram Basu, one of the first Bengal martyrs, being deserted by his family received shelter in one such woman’s house.10 Numerous other incidents of this sort remain undocumented.