Leela Roy (nee Leelabati Nag), a foremost revolutionary of legendary fame, a relentless crusader against all social and political inequities and injustices, a great intellectual and a literary talent, she was a born-leader and a woman of vibrant and multidimensional personality. During the hectic days of her public career she plunged herself headlong into various spheres of our national life.
She was born into a family of Sylhet (now Bangladesh) on 2 October 1900 at Goalpara of Assam. The family originally family hailed from Barodi,Dhaka (erstwhile Dacca). The earlier generation of the Nag had family migrated to Sylhet.
The idealistic, fearless and patriotic spirit of father Rai Bahadur Girish Chandra Nag, who retired as Deputy Magistrate of Dhaka District, and grand father Prakash Chandra Deb, first Indian Registrar in the secretariat of Assam Government, influenced Leela’s early life. Her mother Kunjalata taught her daughter how to serve selflessly. She had a religious bent of mind with great devotion to truth. Her home was an abode of self dedication and patriotism. Besides her parents Leela was greatly influenced by Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita and Poet Tagore.
She completed school education from 1911-17 at the Eden High School, a residential institution at Dhaka. In 1917 she passed her entrance examination with a scholarship. She graduated from Bethune College, Calcutta in 1921 standing first among the girl students and was awarded Padmavati Gold Medal and a cash prize of Rs 100/-. She passed her M.A. in English from Dacca University in 1923. She happened to be the first girl student of that University.
Leela Nag was renowned as an activist and educational reformer in Dhaka which was a focal point of anti-British activism, secret societies such as Anushila, Jugantar and Sri Sangha which were dubbed ‘terrorist’ by the British Government.. In 1921 Leela Nag as the Assistant Secretary of’ Nikhil Banga Nari Votadhikar Samiti’(All Bengal Women’s Franchise Association) had arranged various meetings to form public opinion about social and economic rights of women. 1923 she along with twelve of her friends founded the Deepali Sangha for all-round development of women. With an objective of enhancing women’s education during 1923-29 she founded several Girls’ Schools like Deepali School, New High, School, Nari Siksha Mandir, Siksha Bhavan, and Siksha Niketan. Nari Siksha Mandir has now been renamed as ‘Shere Bangla Mahavidyalay’,.She made an important contribution to Muslim women’s education also. Deepali School founded by her has subsequently been renamed as Qamrunnessa Girls’ School in Dhaka.
In 1925, joined Sree Sangha- a well known revolutionary group lead by Hemchandra Ghosh and Anil Roy. She formed Deepali Chhatri Sangha, a student wing of that revolutionary group- Preetilata Waddedar a martyr of Chittagong Armory Revolt was one of her student recruits, Deepali Chhatri Bhavan, an under-cover revolutionary Centre was established at Calcutta for underground armed revolutionary activity. During the troubled years of 1927-28, when women were targets of physical attacks, she set up a fund entitled ‘Mahila Atma Raksha Fund’(Fund for women’s self-defence), one of the first self-defence martial arts groups in the region. She also established a society known as ‘Gana Shiksha Parishad’(Association for Mass Education) for spreading female education at mass level. Her ceaseless work in the field of women’s emancipation continued even after independence, she founded Jatiya Mahila Sanghati – a women’s organization in 1946 at Dhaka and Calcutta, established a working and needy Girls’ Hostel at Calcutta.
She was a delegate in the Calcutta Congress Session in 1928 and presented a paper on the History of Women’s movement in Bengal.. She was the founder-editor of ‘Jayasree’ a women’s monthly journal and was published with the blessings of poet Tagore in 1931.She was the first women detainee under Bengal Ordinance Act from Dhaka and was detained in different prisons from 20 December 1931 to 7 October 1938. She became Member of the Women’s Sub-Committee of the National Planning Commission, while Subhas Chandra Bose was the President of All India Congress.
On 13 May 1939 she married her compatriot Anil Roy.
She joined the Forward Bloc on its formation by Subhas Chandra Bose and dedicated herself in the work of that organization. In July 1940 Leela and Anil Roy were arrested on charges of defacing the Holwell Monument in Calcutta. She became the editor of ‘Forward Bloc Weekly’ founded & edited by Subhas Chandra Bose. From 6 July 1940. Immediately after the failure of Cripp’s Mission on the night of March 11, 1942 Leela was arrested and imprisoned till 1946. After the Calcutta and Noakhali riots of 1946 she took up relief work in the name of National Service Institute. For her Noakhali relief work she drew high appreciation from Mahatma Gandhi. She was elected as a Member of the Constituent Assembly in 1946. She opposed Partition and resigned from the Constituent Assembly, formed East Bengal Minority Welfare Central Committee , doing massive relief and rescue work.
Rehabilitation of refugees from East Pakistan- she settled refugees in between Tollygunge to Ranikuthi and adjacent areas of Calcutta on behalf of the East Bengal Minority Welfare Central Committee. She opposed the Unauthorized Person’s Eviction Bill 1951, organized protest meetings and demonstrations, It was due to her relentless struggle the Bill was revised and was enacted as “Resettlement of Refugees and Eviction of persons in Unauthorized Occupation of Land Act 1951”.
With her initiative Forward Bloc (Subhasist) merged with Praja Socialist Party, she along with her close associates Sunil Das, Atindranath Bose, R.S.Ruikar, H.V.Kamath,Swami Ashimananda Saraswati, Nisithnath Kundu, Prof Samar Guha & many others joined P.S.P. She became a member of the Central Committee in 1953 and was the Chairperson of the West Bengal State Praja Socialist Party. Her last imprisonment was in 25 March 1964 during the ‘Save East Bengal’ movement.
Leela Roy met the Warrior Saint at Naimishranya (Neemsar) at U.P.in March 1963 accompanied by Kaviraj Kamalakanta Ghosh, Shailaq Sen(called by Bhagwanji Shailukumari), Prof Samar Guha, & Anil Das (Renu) of INA Secret Service. Leela Roy with her team stayed their for 10/12 days. Bhagwanji presented a Tea cup with plate wrapped in saffron cloth, Later he presented his self used Schaeffers Pen to Lee as a token of remembrance.
She disclosed about her contact with Bhagwanji-Netaji to her close associates and important personalities of the country. The entire episode came into light during the proceedings of Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry on Netaji’s disappearance through the deposition and evidence of Bijoy Nag, Editor of Jayasree and nephew of Leela Roy
After a massive cerebral attack on 4 February 1968 she remained in a state of coma for 29 months and left this mortal world on 11 June 1970. A portrait of Leela Roy was unveiled by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at Central Hall of Parliament on 22 December 2008.
Her greatness lies in her supreme sacrifice and her glory in her achievements through perpetual struggle . She will ever shine forth as the morning star and illumine the path of mankind for ages to come.