Not many people have heard about the Nilganj massacre of 1945, a tragic event involving the mass killing of over 2000 Azad Hind Fauj soldiers in detention camps by the British. This dark chapter of history came to my attention through an exhaustive Facebook post by Atish Basak. The post included videos of Shiv Shankar Ghosh, a retired school teacher, who had witnessed the gruesome sight of Azad Hind Fauj soldiers’ bodies being carried away in trucks, blood seeping out from them. This discovery spurred me to search for documentary evidence of the incident, but initially, there were none.

In my quest for more information, I contacted Madhuchhanda Kanji, a local in Kolkata, who advised me to speak to Dr. Jayanta Choudhuri. Dr. Choudhuri, who had been researching the Jhikorgacchha camp, visited the Nilganj camp, now the site of the Central Research Institute for Jute and Allied Fibres (CRIJAF) under ICAR, Ministry of Agriculture. Despite his efforts to take photos and gather information, he had no documents specifically detailing the Nilganj massacre.

Determined to uncover the truth, I visited the National Archives. The process was arduous; it involved registering, searching through lists of files, and countless hours of scouring scanned documents on computers. My initial searches for terms like “Nilganj” yielded nothing useful. However, after months of diligent searching, I found a letter dated October 12, 1945, from a Major General of HQ 303 L of G Area to the Directorate of Military Intelligence in Delhi. This letter described the events of the night of September 25-26, 1945, when Captain E.R.R. Menon of the 26/3 Madras Regiment entered the prisoner of war camp for a roll call. When the prisoners refused, Menon returned with a loaded Tommy Gun, accompanied by his company, and the ensuing chaos led to indiscriminate firing throughout the night.

Nilganj Massacre Archives

Local residents recalled hearing gunshots and seeing bodies being transported in truckloads the next morning, some of which were dumped into the Noyaikhal canal. Despite eyewitness accounts, British reports claimed only 5 men were killed and 9 injured, a stark contrast to the reality witnessed by locals.

Further complicating the matter was an ordinance promulgated three days before the massacre, allowing force to be used to the extent of causing death if any person refused orders or intended to damage property. This legal cover possibly enabled the British to justify the mass killings, which were likely intended to prevent a large-scale revolt.

My investigation did not stop there. I reached out to media outlets like Zee News, but efforts to get coverage on the massacre met resistance. Even with documentary evidence, there was reluctance to air the story. Dr. Choudhuri mentioned a file containing names of 1580 persons killed that night, but he could not locate it. Other sources only provided names of soldiers incarcerated, not those killed. Realizing the futility of chasing these elusive records, I turned my focus to official recognition.

I wrote a detailed letter to the Prime Minister, urging for a commemoration function at the CRIJAF campus. I contacted various officials and the Netaji Subhas Chandra Mission, an organization dedicated to commemorating the day. Despite promises and discussions, including with the Agriculture Minister and other bureaucrats, permission for an official function was delayed and ultimately did not materialize by the proposed date in September 2019. The Netaji Subhas Chandra Mission held their annual commemoration outside the institute instead.

Throughout this journey, I realized that the struggle for recognition of the Nilganj massacre was not just about uncovering historical facts but also about challenging a system that continues to overlook such significant events. The INA trials at the Red Fort had triggered unrest that contributed to India’s independence, but the sacrifices at Nilganj remained buried, literally and figuratively.

INA Memorial
INA Memorial in honor of the Azad Hind Fauz martyrs of Nilganj set up by Netaji fans outside the CRIJAF (Central Research Institute for Jute and Allied Fibres).

In my attempts to bring this to light, I received support from dedicated individuals like Madhuchhanda Kanji, Biplab Sarkar, Supriyoronjon Bose, and Arup Ghosh. Their relentless efforts highlight the need for more than just armchair activism. It requires ground-level work and persistent advocacy to ensure that the sacrifices of the Azad Hind Fauj soldiers are honored and remembered.

The word “Nilganj” continues to resonate with me. From the time I first heard it in 2017, I knew something tangible was needed to immortalize the deeds of Netaji and his soldiers. While pursuing the creation of an Azad Hind Fauj museum in Delhi, which was eventually inaugurated by the Prime Minister in January 2019, the Nilganj massacre stayed at the forefront of my mind.

In conclusion, the Nilganj massacre remains a tragic, largely forgotten chapter in Indian history. Despite the challenges, it is crucial to continue the quest for recognition and honor the memory of those who sacrificed their lives. Acknowledging and commemorating such events is essential to truly understanding and valuing the complex history of India’s struggle for independence.

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