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Hemchandra Kanungo Das

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Hemchandra Kanungo Das (1871-1951), one of the pioneer leaders of the secret revolutionary organization , and a principal co-accused with Sri Aurobindo in the Alipore Bomb Case (1908-09). He went to England and Paris to learn the manufacture of explosives and bombs. He was sentenced to transportation for life in the Andamans, but was released in 1921. Hemchandra had a most colourful personality.

Hemchandra Das and his friends, Jnanendranath and Satyendranath Bose, were members of an existing secret society in Midnapore founded apparently by their cousin Jogendranath Bose — Sri Aurobindo’s uncle Jogen.

In the beginning of 1906, Barin contacted Hemchandra Das and others who were eager for revolutionary action. In June, he and Hem went to East Bengal to assassinate Bampfylde Fuller.

They journeyed from one corner of the province to the other trying to find a place for the job. Soon they had spent all of their money and Barin sent Hem back to ask Sri Aurobindo for advice. Sri Aurobindo gave him what little money he had, then — according to Hem — suggested that they look for someone to rob. Hem was not surprised: the leaders of the samiti already had decided that robbery was a legitimate way for revolutionaries to raise money. Hem returned to East Bengal where he and Barin, helped out by a new recruit named Narendranath Goswami, tried to rob the house of a reputedly rich woman near Rangpur. After their failure, Hem and another recruit named Prafulla Chaki went to Naihati Junction, where they planned to board Fuller’s train and shoot him. Luckily for them, the train did not arrive. Downcast, they returned to Calcutta and told Sri Aurobindo the story. “He listened to it calmly,” Hem later recalled, “and told us to go home.”

Hem decided that what was needed was technical know-how, and he went to Europe to get it. To get money for the trip he sold his house in Calcutta. Arriving in Marseille toward the end of 1906, he spent a few months trying to get in contact with revolutionaries, or people who knew revolutionaries, in Switzerland, France, and England. Finally he found a backer to support him while he studied chemistry in Paris. Someone introduced Joseph Albert, known as Libertad, to Hem and his friend Pandurang Bapat in July 1907. With the help of a female anarchist, apparently Emma Goldman, they were admitted to a party headed by a mysterious Russian known as Ph.D. During the latter part of 1907, the two Indians studied history, geography, economics, socialism, communism, and finally, the subjects they had come to learn: explosive chemistry and revolutionary organization.

Hemchandra Das returned from Europe with a trunk full of up-to-date technical literature, the most important item of which was a seventy-page manual on bomb-making, translated from the Russian. Hem had not intended to join forces with Barin, but after a talk with Sri Aurobindo, agreed to cooperate.

With Fraser on the alert, a new target was needed. The obvious choice was Douglas Kingsford, chief presidency magistrate of Calcutta, who had ordered the whipping of Sushil Sen and sentenced Bhupen Dutt and other Extremist editors to rigorous imprisonment. Kingsford also had acquitted Aurobindo, but this was the exception. Hem decided to make a package bomb and have it delivered to the magistrate's door. Filling a tin of Cadbury's cocoa with a pound of picric acid, he placed it and three detonators in a hollowed-out copy of Herbert Broom's Commentaries on the Common Law. A spring device would set the bomb off as soon as the book was opened. Hem wrapped the bomb in brown paper and gave it to Paresh Mallick, a member of Barin's group. Dressed as a delivery boy, Paresh handed it to Kingsford's servant, who gave it to his master. Too busy to examine the package, Kingsford put it on a shelf and went back to work. The bomb, it later was discovered, was very well made. Had the magistrate opened it, he would certainly have been blown to pieces.

The government, fearing for the safety of Douglas Kingsford, had promoted him to district judge and posted him in Muzaffarpur, in northern Bihar. In March, Kingsford had packed his furniture, papers and library, which included the still unopened book-bomb, and moved to the remote provincial town. Barin was still obsessed with the idea of killing him, however, and claimed he had his brother's consent for the job. In the beginning of April, he sent two of his men on a reconnaissance mission to Muzaffarpur. When they returned, he took one of them, Prafulla Chaki, to Hem Das's lab. Hem gave Barin and Prafulla a fist-sized bomb filled with six ounces of dynamite, a detonator, and a black powder fuse. A few days later, Prafulla and a new man named Khudiram Bose took the train to Muzaffarpur.


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