DR. ATAL BEHARI ACHARYA
A less remembered giant and the patriot with the golden heart
by Monojit Mohapatra
Jadunath Bhawan, stands opposite the fish market of Binode Behari, Cuttack
(Orissa, India). Etched on a marble sign plate is the name Dr Atal Behari Acharya,
Married to Ashalata Devi (who was an able support in her own right), Dr. Atal Behari
Acharya had two sons by the names of Biman Behari and Bana Behari. (His father Dr.
Jadunath Mukherjee, earned the title of “Acharya” at the court of the Rajah of Nilgiri
where he was the rajvaidya ) He had two daughters too, by the name of Gita and Gayatri.
Biman Behari, married to Shamali, was a doctor like his father (with two sons, Partha
Pratim and Binayak) and his younger brother Bana Behari, married to Protima was a
pharmacist(with three daughters, Satarupa, Srirupa & Swarupa). Together,Biman Behari
and Bana Behari, had taken up the responsibility of running and maintaining their father’s
legacy and business.
Atal Babu was a freedom fighter of repute. He was widely known as a kind soul with
a zeal to serve the masses. He had started off as an extremist and was later persuaded to
work for Orissa to improve its fortunes by joining the Gandhian mode of freedom
struggle. Later in life, he came under the influence of Vinoba Bhave and became a torch
bearer in the state of Orissa giving the Bhoodan Movement a lot of steam. In the year
1907 militants dominated the Freedom Movement in India. The extremists used to
commit political dacoity and were thus referred to as terrorists. Calcutta was the principal
centre of their activities. Atal Babu was one of the two from Cuttack who aided the
terrorists of Calcutta to commit one such political dacoity at Chainpur village near Jajpur.
He was jailed by the English in 1907 as a result of his revolutionary pursuits in his
bahukud residence. Again imprisoned for 6 months in 1921-22 during the Non
Cooperation Movement, Dr Atal Behari Acharya and a few others were arrested from
Cuttack and sent to Hazaribag jail. While taken to custody at the jail of Cuttack, the
police tied ropes around their waists and took a round through the streets under the hot
sun (refer H.F.M.O., Vol. III, PP 28-32). His movable properties, bullocks, bullock cart,
cows,etc. were confiscated by the English and later auctioned off. During the years 1930-
32 he worked as a brave soldier for the Indian Freedom Movement inviting incarceration
several times. In 1929 after the historic Lahore Session of the Indian National Congress
announced the launch of the Civil Disobedience Movement, the Utkal Provincial
Congress Committee decided to break the Salt Law at Inchudi (Balasore District). The
National Flag was hoisted in Swaraj Ashram and Loka Seba Ashram on 26th Jan 1930
which was celebrated as the Independence Day as by the historic resolution in Lahore.
On the 3rd of March 1930 Atal Babu gave a speech in the evening at a public meeting
arranged on the banks of the river Kathajodi. Two days after the Dandi March, on 6th
April 1930 twentyone volunteers started from Cuttack. On the way, Dr Atal Behari
Acharya alongwith Gopabandhu Choudhury were arrested on the 8th of April. To run the
struggle the Congress Party started a system of appointing a Dictator. Dr. Acharya was
the first one to be appointed as a Dictator and was therefore arrested by the English.
As a loyal Congressman( a lifetime one at that) he was the President and Treasurer of
the Cuttack Congress Committee and as a State Member of the Congress his work
stretched for many years. He was an elected member of the Cuttack Zilla Board and had
served the masses for many years as the Chairman of the Sadar Local Board. In that
office he managed to construct a village road from Cuttack Chandbali Road to the
Kendrapara Canal embankment thereby improving road transport. In the year 1937 he
was elected from Salipur under a Congress ticket to the State Legislative Assembly with
an overwhelming margin of votes.
In his lifetime he showed tremendous philanthropy donating some 80 acres of land
and a lot of other property and businesses. He had tremendous energy and business
acumen owning a fleet of buses for public transport(holding office in the Jagatpur Motor
Association and many such private and social organizations), a salt factory, a medicine
factory(at Jagatpur), medicine shops by the name of Swaraj Medical Hall (the first
medicine shop in Cuttack in the year 1923)in Cuttack and Berhampur.
“After release from jail, in 1925, I opened Swaraj Medical Hall and started my
career as a General Practitioner. At that time Dr. Rai Bahadur Anandlal Bose, Dr.
Ekram Rasul, Dr. Mangobinda Sahu, Dr. Akhay Kumar Ghose, Dr. Rajanikanta
Ghose, Dr. Charu Chandra Mitra and Dr. Surendranath Sahu commanded
allopathic practice at Cuttack. Considering my financial condition many of them
dissuaded me to practice at Cuttack. But with help from my village friends and
some town friends I commenced my career as a Chemist cum Druggist. In those
days allopathic medicines were not popular and people dreaded to go to the hospital
because of great number of mortalities and for the superstition of losing ones caste!
There was no spinal anaesthesia for abdominal operations and no combiotics to
check infections and treat successfully the dreaded diseases of typhoid, pneumonia,
tuberculosis, etc. There were no mass vaccination programmes against smallpox.
There were very few specialists in those days. Doctors in Government Services were
few and they were fully occupied. As a general practitioner we had to treat all kinds
of cases. For diagnosis we kept a microscope and examined urine, stool, sputum,
blood, etc. We were to treat medical as well as surgical cases. We used to operate
Phymosis, hydrocele and abcesses and attend delivery cases too. We also took up
examining eye cases, administer medicines, prescribed and supplied spectacles!...”
In those days Malaria was widespread in the state of Orissa. For this, Atal Babu
invented through his own research an Antimalarial Mixture which was later patented.
From its inception, Dr. A. Acharya, M.B. (Regd. No. 1311 B. & O., Regd. No. 6 Orissa)
was an elected member of the Indian Medical Association, Cuttack Branch and was
elected as the President of Cuttack Branch and Orissa State several times by the medical
graduates of Orissa. He worked as one of the main volunteers distributing medical relief
on behalf of the I.M.A. during the Dalei Ghai by the banks of the Kathajodi river(1957).
From the very beginning he took active part in establishing and founding the Subhas Seva
Sadan at Oriya Bazar, Cuttack (birth place of the noted freedom fighter Netaji Subhas
Chandra Bose.) He was a member of the Trust Board of Janakinath Bose, President of the
Medical Board of Netaji Subhas Seva Sadan and also the Treasurer of the Trust Board.
He was also elected into a high office of the Drug Technical Advisory Board, New Delhi.
For this he earned a lot of fame in the country.
He also had some landed property at Bahugram and therefore went into farming in an
inspirational way in the days of food shortage in India, thus exposing another facet of his
personality- he always took up tasks and causes according to the demands of the time,
making him a social worker of relevance at all times. With the help of the Sadar Board
and the Agriculture Department he managed to sink tube wells for irrigation and daily use
in many villages. He also worked in collusion with the Fishery Department to clear filth
filled uptanks and dug up nursery tanks to develop fries for Pisciculture at Singmapur and
at Kendupatna. He won several tanks for pisiculture in his own village and also other
villages of his area. In agriculture, he set examples of improving yields by the Japanese
method of cultivation of paddy. He got the second and first prizes for the highest yield in
Salipur and Kendrapara agricultural exhibitions. As a horticulturist he got a First Class
Certificate for a luxuriant growth of red pepper plants and the best of grafted mangoes in
his village Agricultural Exhibition and at Cuttack.
He took under his care many a person who were not necessarily his relatives as he was
a very generous and hospitable man. Some of the stories about him are legendary. There
once was a cartoon that humourously extolled this large heartedness (in the Niankhunta
magazine) about his brushing aside the incident of his entire crop of pineapples taken
away by robbers with the observation that it may not have brought benefits to him, but
must have benefitted the robbers at least ! Such was the attitude he bore towards all, good
or bad people alike.
Atal Babu was born in the year 1887 and passed away in 1961(on 22nd May at 11.50
p.m.). His last journey to Khannagar was via the Swaraj Ashram where he was festooned
with flowers on behalf of the District Congress Committee and State Congress
Committee. Even if the incident was a muted one, his last rites were attended by such
luminaries as Sri Radhanath Rath, Sri Gunanidhi Mohanty, Dr. Sanatan Mukherjee, Sri
Govind Chandra Mishra, Dr. Sudhakar Acharya, Sri Narendranath Chatterjee, Sri
Madhusudan Dash, Sri Brundaban Behari Palit, Advocate Ashok Dash(Freedom Fighters
Association), Sri Advaitaballav Ray, Sri Ramesh Chandra Mohanty(Prajatantra), Sri
Bholanath Mohanty(Madhusudan Gramudyog and Khadi Kendra) and others. Swaraj
Medical Hall was a place of inspiration and service for freedom fighters (one of them
being Ramakrushna Nanda who later became a children’s literateur and printer).