Remembering Ila Mitra
Today is the 96th birth anniversary of comrade Ila Mitra, the legendary leader of Nachol farmer revolution (peasant movement) Rani Ma (queen mother) of Santal adivasi. On this day in 1925 Ila Mitra was born at Bakutia village at present Jhenaidah District. She was the eldest child among three daughters and three sons of her parents. Her father Nagendra Nath was a senior government Officer. That's why she got to spend much of her time in Kolkata with her father.
She studied at the Bethun School. She passed matriculation with a letter from this school in 1940. She passed her intermediate exams in 1942 and also passed B.A in 1944 from the same school. She did her MA from Kolkata University in 1957, some 14 years later after she was released from jail. Ila joined the communist political party in 1941. She studied Marxism and thus she rose to higher ranks in the party. After joining the communist party she got married to Ramendra Nath Maitra one of main organizer of communist party in 1945. She then changed her name from Ila Mitra from Ila Sen.
After the partition of India in 1947, farmers had organized movement in different places. The Nachol farmer movement is one of them which occurred in the beginning of 1949 and lasted till the end of 1950. The Nachol farmer revolution was a part of the Tebhaga Andolon (Tebhaga movement) which occurred in 1946 to 1947 and became widespread in 19 districts.
Since 1930 the farmers started a movement against the oppression of Zamindars and jotedars. In the area of Nachol, the jotedars got two-thirds share, while only one-third got the cultivators, instead of half as in other districts of north Bengal. For husking rice from paddy, the labourers got only three Aras out of 20 Aras. The objective of the movement was to ensure that, out of the total yield, two-thirds share for the cultivator, and one-third for the jotdar, and out of 20 Aras of husked rice, the labourer received seven Aras. Due to this discrimination, famers started movement against jotedars.
Police tried to stop the famers' movement but the communist leaders were at the forefront of the movement. At the beginning of Tebhaga movement Ila Mitra organized indoor meetings, mass rallies and street meetings at Nachol, Shibganj and at Godagari. She also organized Santal women for movement. Particularly, Santal community was the main force in the Tebhaga movement.
The local farmers, Santal and other adivasi along with separate communities had united against injustice of jotedars. The Santal farmers of Chapainawabganj organized against oppression of the jotedars and money lenders. At the time Ila Mitra helped to organize them. Along with her comrade Ramendra Nath Mitra, Matla Majhi, Shikh Ajahar Hossain, Animesh Lahiri and Brindabon Shaha and others helped to organize the farmers. But among of them Ila Mitra's role had become the centre of attention and Santal farmers too loved and respected her and named her Rani Ma (queen mother) of them.
At the time of the Tebhaga Movement, many Santal people migrated to India due to inhuman oppression by police. Police arrested Ila Mitra from Rohanpur Rail station and sent her to Nachol Thana on 7 January in 1950 on charge of attacking and killing a policeman.
At the time of her arrest she was clad in a Saontal dress. The law enforcers were searching everywhere for Ila Mitra. In this situation she looked at her wrist watch to check time in an absent mind. Observing her unusual movements, the police challenged her identity. Responding to the challenge, Ila Mitra tried to speak in Santal language but she was not fluent in Santal. Unfortunately, police confirmed that she is not Santal woman rather she is Ila Mitra and they arrested her. After the arrest police tortured her brutally in jail. Ila Mitra did not hide about the inhuman torture against her by the police for shame.
Rather she has given a statement of oppression against her and this was published in a leaflet. After publishing the statement, people reacted angrily against the police due to brutal oppression against Ila Mitra. Till today, farmers remember Ila Mitra for her sacrifice for farmers' cause and movement against jotedars. Till date the Santal, Oroan, Mahato, Mahali, Pahan, Munda, Paharia and other adivasi people are conducting movement against the land grabbers to establish their rights over land. They learnt from their Rani Ma Ila Mitra how to stand against injustice and oppression.
Rakhi Mrong is a writer and
Human Rights Worker