Life Sketch

Braj Kishore Prasad: A Life Sketch

Braj Kishore Prasad was born on 14 January, 1877 in the village Srinagar in the district of Saran ( now in Siwan district). . His mother Samudri Devi was a pious lady. His father Shri Ram Jiwan Lal was employed as an opium agent at Gaya. Opium was then a major item of export of the province and was monopolized by the British Government.

Braj Kishore Prasad began his education under the guidance of the village Maulavi who taught him Urdu. His father, who had a working knowledge of English and because of his association with the Englishmen, realized that English-education could give his son a good job, economic prosperity and social prestige. As such school was not in the area, he decided to take his son to the place of posting and got his admission in the Gaya Zila School. He was diligent and was always among the top five students. He was also outspoken. Teachers and class mates were impressed by his brilliance. He passed his Entrance (Matriculation) Examination in the first division at the age of 13. He was sent to the Presidency College in Calcutta ( now Kolkata ). Unfortunately, due to the death of his father, he returned home as he did not have the financial support for staying there. On the persuasion of some villagers to the members of his family he was able to continue his study. He obtained Master’s degree in Philosophy and  B.L. degree at the age of 21 in 1898. During his stay at Calcutta, he set up an Institute where debates, discussions and lectures were organized for personality development of colleagues, specially those who belonged to Bihar. He also used to arrange for financial assistance to the needy students. He had a group of followers at Calcutta.

He started legal practice in Chapra in 1901 and soon earned a name in the profession. When the District  Court was established at Darbhanga in 1906, on the advice of Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha, Bar-at-law and  his friends, he along with some other lawyers joined the Court at Darbhanga in the same year.

As it was customary in those days, he was married at 11 years of age to Phuljhari  Devi. They had seven children. Two daughters and a son died at infancy. Four children – two sons : Bishwanath Prasad and Sheonath Prasad and two daughters: Prabhavati and Vidyapati  survived. Shri Sheonath Prasad now lives in Kolkata. Prabhavatiji was married to Jaya Prakash Narayan and Vidyavatiji to Mritunjaya Prasad, son of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of the Republic of India.

Joining of Darbhanga Court was an instant success for Braj Kishoreji. He soon became a leading lawyer and his income increased considerably. He was a role model for his senior as well as junior colleagues. His senior colleagues used to fix their fees after him.

He stood for the promotion of modern education and encouraged its expansion. He gave financial aid to needy students. In those days, going abroad and crossing the seas was a taboo for orthodox Hindus. Those who violated this taboo, had to face the ire of the community. Unless they atoned for the sin, they were expelled from the caste and from the community relationship. He challenged the custom in different ways and ultimately liberal Hindus like him succeeded.

He was a great believer in women emancipation. He was against the use of veil by women and wanted that they should participate in political activities. He applied this principle at his home also. He engaged a tutor to teach his eldest daughter Pravabhavatiji at home . She was asked not to observe ‘Purda’ or veil in front of men. She was asked to remain unveiled at her marriage and also in conversation with her father-in-law. In those days these were unheard and unimaginable among the high caste Hindus. She accompanied his father at public meetings. Since 1920 She had been staying with Gandhiji almost regularly and participated in political activities of the country.

The success of the agitation against the division of Bengal in 1905, led to changes in political scenario in Bihar. The Muslims felt that they should have their political organization and the Muslim League was born at Dacca in December,1906 and several Muslim leaders of Bihar including Maulana Mazhrul Haque attended it. In Bihar, the Maharaja of Darbhanga established an Association of the Hindus of Bihar. Later it was renamed as the ‘Bihar Hindu League. Braj Kishore Prasad was a member of the Association. Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha and he propagated for forming a separate province of Bihar for its proper development and ultimately the Province of Bihar and Orissa was born in 1912.

He was aware of the sufferings of the indigo raiyats at the hands of  European Indigo Planters. Raj Kumar Shukla, an indigo raiyat (peasant), had used Braj Kishoreji’s professional services in law suits against them. Braj Kishoreji never remained a silent spectator. When he became a member of the Bengal Legislative Council, he tried to bring to the notice of the Legislators and the Government about the distressing condition of the indigo raiyats in Champaran. His speech  in the capacity of the President of the Bihar Provincial Conference on 10 April, 1914, showed his deep concern for the Indigo raiyats. He repeatedly raised the issue of the indigo raiyats in the meetings of  the Council of the Lt. Governor of Bihar and Orissa in which he was a member. The problem of the indigo rayaits was brought to the notice of Mahatma Gandhi and ultimately Gandhiji in the company of Raj Kumar Sukhla came to Patna from Calcutta on 10 April, 1917 and moved to Muzaffarpur on April 11, 1917. Gandhiji sent telegram to Braj Kishoreji to accompany him to Champaran who joined him in the evening of 12th April. During the Champaran Satyagrah, Braj Kishoreji assisted Gandhiji in various ways. The local administration, colleagues and the peasants considered him next to Gandhiji. The  Champaran Agrarian Bill, 1917, was passed and according to which ‘Tinkathia’ system ( compulsory indigo cultivation on three kathas of every twenty kathas) was abolished, one-fourth of money taken as ‘tawan’( for releasing the peasants from cultivating indigo) should be returned to the peasants and  20% of ‘Sharabheshi’ was reduced in Turkolia factory and 26% in other factories.

After the success of  Champaran Satyagrah, M.K. Gandhi came to be known as Mahatma Gandhi and a number of leaders of Bihar such as Braj Kishore Prasad, Rajendra Prasad, Anugrah Nayaran Singh etc. left legal profession and joined full-time politics.

Under  the programme of the Non-violent Non-co-operation Movement, Gandhiji gave a call to boycott the educational institutions run, aided or recognized by the British Government in India. Being inspired by new spirit of awakening several school and college students including more than a hundred students of the Bihar College of Engineering, left their respective institutions by the end of 1920.  In Bihar several national schools and colleges were opened. The first national school was set up at Patna by Maulana Mazharul Haque. At Darbhanga Braj Kishoreji opened a national High School. Dr. Rajendra Prasad started a national college in a rented house on  Patna- Gaya Road ( presently Buddha Marg) on 5 January, 1921. In this Campus, Gandhiji inaugurated the Bihar Vidyapith as the National University of Bihar on 6 February, 1921. Later it was shifted to Sadaquat Ashram ( established by Maulana Mazharul Haque) after purchase of land and construction of buildings. For managing the University, Gandhiji nominated Maulana Mazharul Haque as the  Chancellor, Braj Kishore Prasad as the Vice Chancellor, Dr. Rajendra Prasad as Principal-cum- Registrar, and Acharya Badrinath Verma as  Assistant Registrar. By the year 1922, as many as 600 primary and middle schools, and 41 secondary schools with 21500 students were functioning in Bihar.

On 15 January, 1934, Bihar witnessed a severe earthquake. A large part of North Bihar and some portions of South Bihar suffered immense damage. The worst affected districts were Monghyr(now Munger), Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga and Champaran. The reported number of  deaths were 10000 in Monghyr, 6000 in Muzaffarpur, 5000 in Darbhanga and 5000 in Champaran. Local leaders and a number of national leaders rushed to the affected areas and rendered their services to mitigate the suffering of the people. The Bihar Relief Committee headed by Dr. Rajendra Prasad was established. Braj Kishore Prasad who was one of its members, became in-charge of Darbhanga district. The district office of the district was then at Samastipur. In each Thana of Samastiour Sub-division a Relief Centre was opened. Besides, forty eight centres were opened in rural areas of the district. The relief centres, in addition to giving free food and clothing to the destitute, were busy in cleaning wells so that the people could get drinking water. The District Board co-operated in this matter.

The relief was carried out successfully. But the hard work that Braj Kishoreji had put in the relief work affected his health. He never recovered enough to carry on the Congress Party’s work as he had done from 1920s onwards. His deteriorating health left no option but to withdraw from active politics. His faith in Gandhiji’s programme and politics, however, remained unchanged. Unfortunately he became bed-ridden and gradually lost his mental faculty. He passed away on 15 October, 1946.

Further Readings

B.B.Misra (ed) : Mahatma Gandhi’s Movement in Champaran,1917-18; Patna 1963.

K.K.Dutta : Writings and Speaches of Mahatma Gandhi in Bihar; Patna, 1960

K.K.Dutta : History of Freedom Movement in Bihar, Part-1; Patna, 1957

J.B. Kripalani :  My Times – Autobiography; New Delhi. 2004

Avadesh K. Narayan : Shri Braj Kishore Prasad; (edited by Sachchidananda) in Hindi, Braj Kishore Memorial Institute, Patna,2007

B.B.Mandal : Rajendra Prasad and Bihar Vidyapith; Rajendra Smriti Patrika, Vol.2, December, 2010

Surendra Gopal : Shri Braj Kishore Prasad – The First Associate of Gandhiji in Bihar; Bihar Vidyapith, Patna, 2012