Rumour Travels Faster Than Wind
In Bengali there is a saying, which roughly translated is, “rumour travels faster than wind.” Never was this more clearly demonstrated than in the curious story of Gopal Dutta.
Gopal was a respectable middle class Bengali gentleman, headmaster of a school in Kolkata (then Calcutta). He was never one to indulge in petty gossip, which is ironic considering the fact that he was subject to its malicious nature himself later.
The Emergency proclamation was in effect during those days, and the Bengali youth was lured by the Naxalite movement which was then in its heydays. The Siddhartha Shankar Ray government of West Bengal clamped down heavily on the Naxalites of the time, which caused the people of West Bengal to be sharply divided on the issue.
It was then that Gopal Dutta found a cause worthy to speak out for, the youths who had given their lives for a cause they believed in. An admirer of Leon Trotsky, Gopal Dutta spoke out for those students who had been unjustly detained by the Government using the provisions of the Emergency. He heavily criticized the Congress regime, and regretted the fact that so many youths had their lives and careers ruined by the clampdown on this movement.
Calcutta was then not the Marxist stronghold it was in later years. Such criticism of the Congress upset many a middle class Bengali household, steeped in conservative values and ideologies.
One such family was that of the Choudhurys. This family was a neighbour of Gopal Dutta, and they were proud Congress loyalists. They had a tradition of supporting Congress government, and even claimed that a relative of theirs had played an important role in the freedom struggle. The fact that no trace of this relative’s involvement was ever found failed to deter the Choudhurys from basking in the reflected glory.
Adhar Choudhury, the patriarch of this family, hated Gopal Dutta with every inch of his existence, and longed to spoil the good reputation that Dutta enjoyed. His opportunity did not take long to come.
The malicious rumours began at a dinner party hosted by Choudhury. They claimed that Gopal was an important Naxalite leader, and even swore that they had seen him distribute arms to young revolutionaries in his house.
At that time, such rumours were very dangerous, and could easily land someone like Dutta behind bars. Before long, the entire locality got to know that Dutta was a Naxalite leader.
Gopal Dutta, meanwhile, had proceeded with life as usual. However, he soon noticed that people were acting differently around him. Even when buying vegetables in the marketplace, the vendor asked him sneakily whether those were for his young friends. Even total strangers were acting strangely around him.
Gopal tried to figure out what was it that made people behave the way they were, and why his friends, relatives and acquaintances seemed to be avoiding him like the plague. He just couldn’t comprehend the reason for their behaviour.
It all became clear when the local police stations Officer-in-Charge landed up at his house at 12:00 AM, informing him that he was to be placed under arrest. The OC explained that there were people who were accusing him of being a Naxalite leader, and these charges needed investigation. Dutta denied the charges vehemently, but the OC had no patience for these denials. Three other suspected Naxalites had denied just as vigorously before Dutta, and he had a job to do.
The conditions in the jail were horrible, and even more so for someone like Gopal Dutta. He was of a weak constitution, and the jail was no place for someone more accustomed to classrooms. He soon fell sick, and had to be transferred to a hospital before long.
The hospital was only marginally better off than the jail, though, and as soon as he showed signs of recovery, he was transferred back to his cell.
The police reluctantly released him when after six months of detention; they still couldn’t find any evidence linking him to the Naxalite movement. Normally, Dutta would have been released after 60 days, but the Emergency had changed everything.
In his absence, however, the rumours had gained momentum, as is the wont of people with lack of more productive activities. Now it was being said that Dutta had been involved in many prominent bomb blasts which were suspected to be the work of Naxalites.
Gopal Dutta died within a year of being released from imprisonment. To his dying day, he denied having been part of the Naxalite movement.