By Uttara Rangarajan
Aghorenath Chattopadhyay was born in the village of Brahmanagar in East Bengal in 1855. An exceptional student, he was awarded the Gilchrist scholarship in 1875 to pursue a DSc programme in Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. During his time at Edinburgh, he secured the Hope Prize and the Baxter Scholarship, and in 1877 became the first Indian to secure a Doctor of Science degree. On his return to India, Aghorenath became a prominent educationist and social worker. In 1878 he was appointed the principal of an English medium school that later became the Hyderabad College. He advocated for the education of women, widow remarriage, and the prohibition of child marriage. He also played an important role introducing the Special Marriage Act (prohibiting child marriage) in Hyderabad. With the help of his wife Varada Sundari Aghorenath, he established a Girls College in Chunderghaut.
An interest in discussing the social and political issues of the day led him to set up societies like the Young Men’s Improvement Society and Anjumane-Ikwanus-Sufa (The Brotherhood Society). According to contemporary accounts he played an important role in bringing the swadeshi movement to Hyderbad. Aghorenath’s involvement in politics often placed him at odds with the British government. In 1883 he was deported from Hyderabad for protesting against a railway scheme supported by the government. Once, the Criminal Investigation Department even raided his house, searching for incriminating letters from his revolutionary son, Virendranath Chattopadhyay. Aghorenath and Varada Sundari had eight children, the most famous probably being Sarojini Naidu; a nationalist leader and popular poet. Aghorenath passed away on the morning of 28th January 1915. According to Sarojini Naidu her father’s last words were: “There is no birth and there is no death. There is only the spirit seeking evolution in higher and higher stages of life.”