Other eminent Bengali personalities with a Japan connection were Rash Behari Bose, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, whose role is well known and documented, and Justice Radha Binod Pal ~ all of who had their unique contribution in bringing India and Japan closer.
But there is a little known commoner from Bengal whose role in the India-Japan friendship deserves mention. A commoner from Bengal, Hariprabha married a, Japanese Uemon Takeda, in Dhaka in 1907. After marriage Hariprabha visited Japan with her husband in 1912 to meet his family.
The saga of the Hariprabha-Uemon Takeda marriage in an age when international marriages were frowned upon is an interesting footnote in the evolution of India-Japan relations at the people-to-people level.
As it happens in most cases of marriages when the woman moves to her husband’s home after marriage, Hariprabha had to travel to Japan to meet her in-laws. Hariprabha Mullick (1890-1972), a Brahmo Bengali woman, wrote a travelogue titled Banglamahilar Japan Jatra (A Bengali lady’s visit to Japan) and published in 1915, wherein one finds mention of Uemon Takeda (b.1875).
The travelogue offers a Bengali woman’s perspective of a Japanese household in the early 1900s with reflections on contemporary Japanese society and culture. This was the earliest published travelogue on Japan by a Bengali woman.
The next historical connect with Japan in contemporary times is the role of freedom fighter Rash Behari Bose, which is often underplayed in India. Not many in India are even aware of it and therefore it needs to be highlighted.
As one of the unsung heroes and freedom fighters of India, the story of his role in India’s struggle for freedom is a significant episode in the history of the Indian independence movement.
It was Rash Behari who founded the Indian National Army and later handed over the task to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The former Prime Minister of Burma (now Myanmar) Thakin Nu had observed, “if Netaji came out in the fight as Garibaldi of the movement, Rash Behari Bose’s part in the drama was more than of a Mazzini”. Not many are aware that Rash Behari Bose was the founder of the Indian National Army (INA), as it is often credited to Netaji Subash Chandra Bose. This historical fallacy needs to be corrected.
As a revolutionary from his student days, Rash Behari planned to escape from India to Japan from where he planned to continue his revolutionary movement against the British colonial power. After reaching Tokyo in June 1915, he reached out to Japanese sympathizers. As a signatory to the alliance with Britain, the Japanese government was forced to direct Rash Behari to leave the shores of Japan. However, Bose got the support from the Japanese people, who hid him in the cellar of a restaurant Naka Muraya.
When a British ship fired at a Japanese merchant carrier, Japan was provoked and relationships between the two nations soured. In order to embarrass Britain, Japan went soft on Bose, encouraging him to come out of hiding to carry on his revolutionary movement against British rule in India. Japan also withdrew the deportation order issued against Bose based on the terms of the Anglo-Japanese alliance. During his stay at Naka Muraya, the owner of the restaurant Mr. Kotsuko Soma and his wife Mrs. Aizo Soma bestowed Bose with affection and care, offering their eldest daughter Toshiko in marriage to him. Thus Rash Behari became the son-in-law in the Land of the Rising Sun but never forgot his motherland. Rash Behari Bose is mostly known as a revolutionary in India, but he is remembered in Japan for another thing, which only few know. During his stay in Japan, he introduced an authentic Indian curry that is a key dish on the menu at Tokyo’s popular restaurants even today. He was given shelter by the owner of Naka Muraya, owned by the Soma family, because the couple supported India’s struggle for independence.
Gradually, Rash Behari developed a bond of affection with the Soma family. It was here that he shared the recipe of his favourite Indian chicken curry, making the curry popular in the Soma house. The bond between Rash Behari and the Somas thickened when the latter offered their eldest daughter in marriage. The marriage was solemnised in 1918. This was a bold decision on the part of the Soma family, at a time when such alliances were frowned upon in Japan. Toshiko not only willingly accepted the life of a social outcast, but also shouldered most of the domestic responsibilities letting Bose pursue his goal of Indian independence with single-minded devotion. The last in my list of Bengali persons who cemented India-Japan relations was Justice Radha Binod Pal. At the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, known as the ‘Tokyo Trial’, as the representative of the British power, Justice Pal, much to the surprise of the Allies became the sole judge to give a dissenting judgement exonerating the Japanese of any war crimes.
At the end of the Second World War, the leaders of the defeated Axis powers were tried for crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in two specially established international military tribunals. Unlike at the vaunted Nuremberg trials, the judgment of the less-illustrious Tokyo tribunal was not unanimous. On 12 November 1948 when the tribunal announced the final judgment, “Guilty”, pronounced one judge after another, until one voice thundered, “Not Guilty!”. The disbelieving gasps came first and then came shocked silence. That voice of dissent came from Indian Justice Radha Binod Pal.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Radha Binod Pal comprehensively disagreed with all aspects of the trial, finding all defendants “not guilty” of the charges levelled against them. Despite being considered quite incendiary at that time, the dissenting opinion has been largely ignored by international relations scholars analysing the development of legal norms and institutions in global politics. Notwithstanding its many limitations, the questions raised in Pal’s dissent about criminality, power and justice, while situated in a specific historical moment, remain far from settled.