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NEELIE SENGUPTA (1886–1973)


Nellie Sengupta was an Englishwoman who fought for Indian Independence and was elected President of the Indian National Congress. She was born in Cambridge, England, where she was educated, and where her father kept a guest house. Jatindramohan Sengupta of Chittagong was a student of Downing College at the time and used to visit the family. In 1909 they were married, and Jatindramohan returned to Chittagong with his bride. His family received them well. In 1921, Jatindramohan was caught up in the struggle for India’s freedom, and so by extension was Nellie. After his imprisonment during the Assam-Bengal Railwaymen’s strike, she addressed prohibited meetings, protested against the administration’s ban on peaceful assembly and hawked khaddar cloth.

In 1931 she was arrested from such a meeting and imprisoned for four months. When Madan Mohan Malviya, the elected president for the banned Congress meeting of that year, was arrested, Nellie secretly consulted Jatindramohan, then a state prisoner undergoing treatment at Calcutta Medical College, and stood for election instead, thus becoming the second European woman after Annie Besant (q.v.) to head the Congress. She made a fiery speech at the meeting, was arrested and thrown bodily into a police van while delegates and bystanders alike were brutally beaten by the police. Severely embarrassed by the involvement of one of their own in the protest, the rulers let her go without charging her. In 1933 and 1936 she was elected Alderman by the Calcutta Corporation. She was also elected on a Congress ticket to the Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1940 and 1946.

After Partition she stayed on in Chittagong, her husband’s home city in East Pakistan, and continued to serve in the Legislature to which she was elected unopposed. She served on the Minority Board until health and vision problems made her return to India for medical treatment, where she died.
 
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