IN 1908 while defending the accused in the Alipore Bomb Case in the court of Additional Sessions Judge of Alipore Mr Beachcroft, the defence lawyer, disturbed by the Judge's manner, said: "It is a pity that you are on the Bench and I am at the Bar. If you had said this somewhere else, I could have given you a befitting reply." That was the fearless Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das who had taken upon himself the task of defending revolutionaries at his own expense.
The second of eight children, Chittaranjan Das went to London Missionary Society's School, Calcutta, and then to Presidency College. Shortly afterwards he went to England to study law. In 1893 he returned to India and started practice as a barrister in the High Court of Calcutta, but success eluded him for quite some time.
Not many know that Chittaranjan Das was also a remarkable poet, but his reputation was overshadowed by his political activities. He wrote two volumes of poems Malancha and Mala. Towards the end of his life he wrote devotional songs in the Vaishnava tradition. He presided over the Literary Conference of Bengal in 1915. He was one of the founders and member of the editorial board of Bande Matram, an English daily started in 1906, and of Forward, an English daily that was the official organ of the Swaraj Party.
Chittaranjan joined the Indian National Congress as a delegate in 1906. In 1918 he stirred up a campaign against the proposed Defense of India Act, also known as the Rowlatt Act. After the Jallianwala tragedy and the martial rule that followed in Punjab, Chittaranjan Das did commendable work in the committee set up by Congress to inquire into the massacre. He met Gandhi while working on this committee, and supported him when the latter launched Satyagraha against the Act.
In 1920, when he was at the peak of his career, he gave up his practice in order to devote his energies to the freedom struggle. A few years later he donated his entire property to educational institutions and hospitals. For the undying love for his countrymen, he came to be called Deshbandhu - the friend of his country.
There was a rift between him and Gandhi in 1922, after the latter called off the Satyagraha temporarily, for Chittaranjan Das felt it was a setback to the freedom struggle. 'Am I a rebel', he asked, 'I would rather rebel against the Congress and any institution in India if I felt that the realisation of the demand of Swaraj makes it necessary. I want Swaraj. I want my liberty.'