Childhood & Early Life
Bidhan Chandra Roy was born on 1 July 1882, in Patna, Bihar, to Prakash Chandra Roy, an excise inspector, and Aghorkamini Devi. He was the youngest child of the family and had four elder siblings.
Growing up, his mother passed away when he was only 14 years old. His father had to stay outdoors most of the time because of his work, hence, the five siblings divided amongst themselves the responsibilities of domestic work.
In 1897, he passed matriculation examination from Patna Collegiate School. Later, he completed his I.A. from Presidency College, Calcutta and B.A. Honours in Mathematics from Patna College.
He got through the admission of both Calcutta Medical College and Bengal Engineering College. Nevertheless, he chose medicine over engineering and moved to Calcutta in 1901 to study at the Calcutta Medical College.
After the first year of medical college, he faced acute shortage of funds as his father retired from his job. To salvage the situation, young Roy earned a scholarship and lived parsimoniously to manage his finances better.
In 1905, when partition of Bengal was announced he was still in college. He wanted to join the nationalist movement but decided to serve his nation better by completing his studies first and qualifying as a doctor.
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After graduation, Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy joined the Provincial Health Service and worked hard as a doctor. He also served patients as a nurse when required. In his free time, he practised privately, charging a nominal fee.
In 1909, he left for England with a desire to pursue higher medical studies at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London. However, the Dean rejected his application as he was an Asian. Unwilling to give up easily, he re-submitted his application 30 more times before being finally accepted into the college.
Competent as he was, in a little over two years he completed both his M.R.C.P. and F.R.C.S. degrees, an extraordinary accomplishment. He returned to India in 1911 and began teaching at the Calcutta Medical College, and later at the Campbell Medical School, and the Carmichael Medical College.
During this period, he strongly promoted health among the common people. He contributed significantly to medical education and established several specialised hospitals and health centres.
One of the most significant medical centres he established was the Chittaranjan Seva Sadan (estd. 1926) for women and children. Initially, the women were reluctant to visit the hospital but he worked hard to help them overcome their inhibitions successfully. Later, he also opened a centre for training women in nursing and social work.
He entered politics in 1925. He contested elections from the Barrackpore Constituency for the Bengal Legislative Council and defeated his popular opponent, the ‘Grand Old Man of Bengal’ Surendranath Banerjee.
In 1928, he played a key role in starting the Indian Medical Association. He served the association in various roles including as national president for two terms. Also in the same year, he was elected to the All India Congress Committee.
In 1929, he led the Civil Disobedience Movement in Bengal and the following year, he convinced Pandit Motilal Nehru to nominate him a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC).
Before long, the CWC was declared an unlawful body by the British Government and as a result, he along with many other members of the committee was arrested on 26 August 1930. They were kept in custody at the Central Alipore Jail in Calcutta.
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He served as the Alderman of the Calcutta Corporation from 1930–31 and as Mayor in 1933. Under him, the Corporation made rapid progress in the fields of education, medical facilities, and infrastructure. He set up a framework to provide grant in aids to hospitals and charitable dispensaries.
He created the Medical Council of India and became its first president in 1939. He held the position till 1945.
He was a friend and doctor to Mahatma Gandhi. In 1942, when Gandhi was fasting in Pune for the Quit India Movement, Dr. Roy attended to him and convinced him to take medicines which were not made in India.
In 1942, he was elected as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Calcutta. Around this time, Calcutta was under the threat of Japanese insurgency. Since he believed that education could help the youth serve their country better, he arranged air-raid shelters and relief for students and their teachers, so that classes could be held even during war.
After India’s independence, the Congress Party proposed his name for Chief Ministership of West Bengal. However, since he was more dedicated to his medical profession, he did not want to assume office. On Gandhi's insistence, he accepted the position in January 1948.
Bengal at that time was plagued by communal violence, shortage of food, unemployment and a large flow of refugees from East Pakistan. Within three years, his governance restored Bengal’s law, order and lost glory. In total, his 14 year stint as Chief Minister of West Bengal was immensely successful.
He made quality health services available to common people. He established some leading medical institutions in Calcutta like the R.G. Kar Medical College, the Jadavpur T.B. Hospital, Chittaranjan Seva Sadan, Kamala Nehru Hospital, Victoria Institution, and Chittaranjan Cancer Hospital.
He played a key role in establishing the Indian Institute of Mental Health, the Infectious Disease Hospital, and the first-ever postgraduate medical college in Calcutta.
In 1925, he tabled a resolution to study the causes, effects and prevention of pollution in Hooghly.
As Mayor of Calcutta Corporation, he promoted free education, free medical aid, better roads, improved lighting, and water supply.
Later, as Chief Minister of West Bengal, he restored law and order in the state. He laid the foundation five eminent cities, namely, Durgapur, Kalyani, Bidhannagar, Ashokenagar, and Habra
Awards & Achievements
In 1935, he was elected Fellow of Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and later in 1940, Fellow of American Society of Chest Physicians. He was also elected President of Medical Council of India in 1944.
In recognition of his efforts in helping students continue their education during the Japanese insurgency of Calcutta, the Doctorate of Science degree was conferred upon him in 1944.
The Government of India honoured him with the Bharat Ratna, India.s highest civilian award, on 4 February 1961.
Personal Life & Legacy
Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy didn’t marry. He died on his 80th birthday, which is 1 July, 1962, shortly after he had treated patients in the early hours of the morning and gone through the political matters of West Bengal.
He donated his house for functioning as a nursing home named after his mother, Aghorkamini Devi.
The B.C. Roy National Award was instituted in 1976 for work in the area of medicine, politics, science, philosophy, literature and arts.