From the land of Assam, came a giant of a man, a highly respected Professor at Cotton College, Guwahati, a revolutionary thinker, a social scientist, and a visionary and beloved friend to many. Those who knew him, knew him for his dedication to education, (and not just the kind that helped you become a productive member of society) the kind that inspired you to become the best possible version of yourself, and his commitment to shaping young minds and hearts to feel for, and empathise with fellow human beings.
This is Biswajit Chakrabarty, a dedicated Social Worker, Activist, and teacher, who’s become an influential figure in the Assamese community.
Biswajit Chakrabarty, a native of Guwahati, was born in Auphulia Tea Estate, Moranhat, Dibrugarh on the May 1, 1949. Some might say, that this fact may have had an influence in his direction of his own life. His father, Lt Dr. Matindra Kr. Chakrabarty (a freedom fighter) was a physician in the Tea Estate. Biswajit or BC as he was lovingly called, came to Guwahati in 1960. Biswajit continued his higher education in Statistics, earning a Bachelor’s degree from Cotton College, following up with a Master’s degree in Statistics in 1969 from Gauhati University. He started his professional career when he joined Cotton College as a Lecturer in 1970 at the young age of 21.
Biswajit joined the CPI-ML towards the end of 1970 and immediately got actively involved with grassroots social welfare. In the 70s, the situation in Assam slowly started getting charged up with an offshoot of the Assamese Language Movement of the 1960- the “Medium of Instruction Movement” in universities. This became a raging issue very quickly, reaching the Supreme Court of India regarding violation of certain rights of the linguistic minorities. Owing to his conviction and drive to uplift minorities, Biswajit became involved in passionately defending the rights of the minority.
With the Emergency in 1975 the Party and Biswajit both went underground, and continued their struggle against the state. After the emergency was lifted in 1977, Biswajit entered the world of Cinema and Music. He organised multiple Film Festivals through his organization ‘Forum for Better Cinema’ as a fundraising initiative. He was fairly successful with quite a few sold-out shows in Assam and
Meghalaya. He published a Little Magazine called ‘Finki’ to popularise the left ideology among the masses, igniting their minds for a hopeful and equitable future, while being actively involved in grassroots politics. This initiative along with his vision, helped him mould a lot of youngsters through the art of cinema and he was able to motivate them to work for the downtrodden. He had a cadre of dedicated young activists who looked towards Biswajit for guidance. He was a dreamer and his optimism for the future of society earned him a massive loyal following.
In the middle of the 1980s Biswajit became a politburo member of the PCC of the CPI-ML. Assam at that time, was in the middle of yet another massive anti-foreigner agitation purported to be against illegal migration, and Biswajit was a vocal and persuasive opponent of this, the Assam Movement. His involvement led to severe physical attacks on him at Biswanath Chariali, yet nothing could stop the fire in him, instead it made him even more dedicated to the cause.
Eventually Biswajit resigned from his job as a Lecturer in Cotton College after a remarkable 30 years of teaching. His resignation was rejected thrice as everyone in the college loved him and did not want him to indulge and ‘throw away his life’, as they said. But he pursued, as he strongly believed that his job was not allowing him to fully dedicate himself for society. Having resigned voluntarily in 1994, he flung himself into action against ULFA, an armed separatist organisation of Assam, and its insurgent tactics. His life was threatened a number of times but each time he came out on top.
In the new millennium, frustrated with the Party and its political activities, Biswajit distanced himself from any formal political association. He believed he could be more effective in action if he embraced his position as a concerned senior citizen activist.
This phase of Biswajit now involved him with the Assam State Legal Services, through which he helped provide legal counsel to the disadvantaged communities. He also directed a 42 min documentary on “Adalat Raijyor Sotalot”. Translating to “Courts in the Public Courtyard”, produced by the Assam State Legal Service Authority. He was also associated with Forum for Creche and Child Care Services (FORCES), and conducted two surveys as State Level Coordinator, on the status of women and children in the state of Assam, focussing on tea gaden labourers. In 2006 he became the founder Secretary of his brainchild, the Cotton College Retired Teachers Association and brought out a Magazine called Panchaguru’ a homage to five brilliant teachers of Cotton College. He became engaged with teaching again as a guest lecturer at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Guwahati.
Biswajit’s influence extends beyond the confines of the classroom. He played an active role in guiding and mentoring students, helping them navigate career choices and chart their paths to success, and inspiring them to think and consider the question of what really mattered in life. Many of his former students credit him with providing valuable guidance and unwavering support, which has had significant impact on their personal and professional development. One could say, that he was a guiding principle in their lives, both personal and professional.
Outside of his academic pursuits, Biswajit Chakrabarty actively contributed to, and was part of various community initiatives. His altruism and dedication to serving society has earned him the respect and admiration of the people of Guwahati, and of the people of Assam at large.
Biswajit’s involvement in social causes reflects his belief in the transformative power of education and his commitment to making a positive impact on society as a whole. He did not even allow age to come between him and his dedication towards his work for society. In 2012, he opened and funded his own Ashram called ‘Ananda Ashram’ for the elderly and destitutes. The principle was that the destitute, the ones who have no one to care for them in their old age, are cared for at his ashram at Biswajit’s own expense. At one point he had around eight residents in the Ashram.
He was a visionary and a crusader for social justice. Biswajit wrote a lot in newspapers on various social and political issues, and has published a collection of short stories and monographs, along with poetry, which the family plans on republishing soon. His articulation and understanding of literature, philosophy, society and politics is exemplified in his works.
In 2021, the rollercoaster life of Biswajit, was interrupted by COVID. His infection and medical condition was very severe, and it seemed that the decades he put into his life’s work, always putting himself as second priority, were taking its toll on his body. His mind though, was still the tough one he always had. Biswajit defeated COVID as well and after a prolonged recovery, in 2022 he decided to visit Vietnam and successfully met up with some of the people who fought as VietCong.
On the June 10, 2023, over a month ago, Biswajit Chakrabarty unexpectedly passed away due to a massive heart attack. He was 75. His unwavering dedication to nurturing young minds, combined with his passion for serving the community, set him apart as an exemplary figure in the field of education.
The impact that Biswajit has made on his students’ lives extends far beyond graduation, leaving an indelible mark on their academic, professional and personal journey. Although his demise came as a shock to people who knew him, his legacy lives on, in his students, his co-workers, his friends, his family, and in the countless people that his life had touched. He is incorruptible in spirit and passion. Guwahati is indeed fortunate to have such an inspiring and dedicated teacher, guiding the future generations to be humanists.
(Titas Chakrabarty, Senior Secondary Teacher, Deptt of Political Science and History, Maria’s Public School, Guwahati)