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Basanti Devi

(1880 -1974) – (West Bengal)

Basanti Devi (Aged 94) was born on 23 March 1880 to Baradanath Haldar in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. Baradanath Haldar was the diwan of a large zamindary in Assam during British colonial rule. Basanti attended Loreto House in Kolkata, where she met and married Chittaranjan Das at the age of seventeen. Together, they had three children between 1898 and 1901.

Basanti Devi took part in various movements, such as the Civil Disobedience Movement and the Khilafat Movement, and also participated in the Nagpur session of the Indian National Congress in 1920, following her husband’s footsteps. In 1921, she joined Das’s sisters Urmila Devi and Sunita Devi to establish the “Nari Karma Mandir,” a training center for women activists.

In 1920–21, Basanti Devi played a crucial role in collecting gold ornaments and 2000 gold coins from Jalpaiguri for the Tilak Swaraj Fund. During the Non-cooperation Movement in 1921, the Indian National Congress called for strikes and a ban on foreign goods. In Kolkata, small groups of five volunteers were employed to sell khadi, hand-spun clothes, on the streets. Das, who was the leading figure of the local movement, decided to make his wife Basanti Devi lead one such group.

Despite warnings from Subhash Chandra Bose that it would provoke the British to arrest her, Basanti Devi took to the streets. Although she was released by midnight, her arrest provided impetus to widespread agitation. Two prisons in Kolkata were filled with revolutionary volunteers, and detention camps were hastily constructed to detain more suspects. On December 10, 1921, police arrested Das and Bose.

After Das’ arrest, Basanti Devi took charge of his weekly publication, Bangalar Katha (The Story of Bengal). She was the president of the Bengal Provincial Congress in 1921–22. Through her speech at the April 1922 Chittagong conference, she encouraged grassroots agitation. Travelling around India, she supported the cultural development of arts to oppose colonialism. As Das was the political mentor of Subhash Chandra Bose, Bose had great regard for Basanti Devi. After Das’s death in 1925, Bose is reported to have discussed his personal and political doubts with Devi.

Bose considered Basanti Devi his “adopted mother,” and she is one of the four prominent women in Bose’s life, the other three being his mother Prabhabati, his sister-in-law Bibhabati (wife of Sarat Chandra Bose), and his wife Emilie Schenkl. Basanti Devi passed away on May 7, 1974, in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.