– Ratnakar Sadasyula

Kalpana Dutta and Pritilata Wadedar, two women from different backgrounds. One died young, another lived longer, and her memoirs on the Chittagong Armory Raid, is how we came to know about Master Da Surya Sen and the revolt.
Thread on these 2 remarkable women.

Chittagong now in Bangladesh, was one of the most important cities strategically for the British during their rule. It was one of the first towns in Bengal, that was ceded to the British in 1760, as a buffer against the Burmese.

Not to mention the fact that the city was a front line defense in the event of a Japanese attack.And this was the reason why the city was chosen to be the venue of one of the most audacious attacks ever by Indian revolutionaries during the British rule.

Organizing a strike in Chittagong, and securing it, would mean hitting at one of the nerve centres of the British rule in India. It was not just the armoury, the raid also targeted, the telegraph office, the exclusive Europeans only club.

While the twin armories in Chittagong would be captured, the telegraph and telephone office would be destroyed cutting off all forms of communication. The exclusive Europeans only club, whose members were high ranking Government or military officials, would be targeted.

What was planned was nothing short of a mini insurrection, which if carried out, would complete severe Chittagong from the British. It was one of the most audacious, ambitious plans ever carried out, mind boggling in its scope.

What was planned was nothing short of a mini insurrection, which if carried out, would complete severe Chittagong from the British. It was one of the most audacious, ambitious plans ever carried out, mind boggling in its scope.

Pritilata Wadedar was born in Patiya, one of those small sleepy towns, that dot the countryside of Bangladesh, lying on the busy route from Chittagong to Cox Bazaar on May 5, 1911 to Jagabandhu Wadedar, a clerk in the Chittagong Muncipality and Prathibamayi.

The town with a considerably high Hindu population was one of the main centers of revolutionary activities during the 1930s with both Jugantar and the fugitives of the Chittagong Armory Raid, clashing against the British police.

Incidentally Wadedar was not their surname, but a title given by the British. She was the 2nd of 6 children, others being Madhusudhan( her elder brother), Kanakalata, Shantilata, Ashalata and Santosh.

Nicknamed as Rani, she would forever be enshrined in history of India’s revolutionary freedom struggle, due to an attack on the Pahartali European Club in Chittagong.

We had no clear idea in our school days about our future. Then the Rani of Jhansi fired our imagination with her example. Sometimes we used to think of ourselves as fearless- Kalpana Datta.

Pritilata’s father, ensured his children would get the best possible education, and she was admitted in the Dr.Khastagir’s Government Girls School in Chittagong, the first ever such school for girls in the city, opened in 1907.

The school was the vision of Dr. Annadacharan Khastagir, one of the foremost leaders of the Brahmo, who was inspired by the efforts of his friend, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar in promoting women’s education.

Pritilata passed out in 1928, and got admitted into Dhaka’s Eden Mohila College, and in 1929, she passed her Intermediate, appearing 5th overall, and first among all the female candidates in Dhaka board.

Pritilata regularly took part in various social activities, when she was at Eden. She was also a part of the Dipali Sangha, which was headed by Leela Nag, the first woman to be admitted to Dhaka University.

A close associate of Netaji, Leela was a radical Leftist and a reformer, and the Dipali Sangha was founded by her to spread revolutionary political ideas, as also to make women more empowered.

Pritilata learnt physical combat, drill, parade, sword fighting under the aegis of Leela Nag, at the Dipali Sangha. In the mean time incidents like the arrest of Master Da as well as reading books on various revolutionary leaders, slowly fomented the revolutionary spirit.

Later Pritilata left for Kolkata where she enrolled in the prestigious Bethune College, to study Philosophy. However her revolutionary spirit only began to strengthen day by day and in Kolkata she joined another revolutionary group Chatri Sangha, headed by Kamala Dasgupta.

Kalpana Dutta was born on July 27,1913 in Sripur a small village near Chittagong. Unlike Pritilata Wadedar’s more nationalist family, her family was more pro British. Her friendship with Wadedar at Bethune in a way moulded her ideology and future course too.

Both Kalpana and Pritilata were inspired by the bravery of Rani of Jhansi, through their teacher Usha Di, who used such stories to spread the nationalist feeling among students. They both became part of the Chatri Sangha, a revolutionary group headed by Kamla Dasgupta.

The Chhatri Sangha, became a training ground for female revolutionaries in Bengal, with study circles and training in physical combat. Girls from Victoria, Bethune, Scottish Church, Diocesian began to flock to Chhatri Sangha to be trained.

After the Chittagong Armory Raid of 1930, she joined the Indian Republican Army, Chattagram, where she met Master Da, whom she described in her memoir as he was a smallish short man, very reserved. Nobody would guess that this man was the daring “King of Chittagong”.

Impressed by his character and demeanour, she soon learnt guerilla warfare under him and became an active member of the resistance group. Along with her comrade Mani Dutt she learnt how to hide under water for hours together holding their breath, to avoid the British.

From another comrade Anant Singh, she also learnt the techniques of making gun cotton, and proved to be really good at it.
He latter remarked-“I had a wrong idea about the worth of women in revolutionary work. They should forgive me for my mistake.”

In a way both Kalpana and Pritilata, broke the “unsaid rule” that women were not fit enough to join the guerilla movement and male revolutionaries should steer clear of women.

It was their ability that gave Master Da enough confidence to entrust them with another daring mission, the raid on the Pahartali club in Chittagong, one of the exclusively for Europeans club, which had a signboard saying “Dogs and Indians not allowed”.

Balancing her studies with her revolutionary activities, Pritilata graduated with distinction in Philosophy from Bethune in 1931. However due to her involvement in revolutionary and “subversive” activities, the Kolkata University withheld her degree certificate.

She later returned to Chittagong, where she took up the job of a school teacher at Nandankanan Aparna Charan Girls’ School, a local English medium secondary school, and she was it’s first Headmistress.

The 1930’s was the period when Chittagong was one of the nerve centers of the Revolutionary activities. Considering that the city, was under British rule for 170 odd years, the vocal resistance was not too surprising.

Also with Chittagong having a large number of British residents here, racism was felt first hand, with the proliferation of British only public spaces. Pritilata was swept away by the revolutionary fervour, and felt it was time for women also to join the struggle.

She felt that women must fight the British on an equal footing with their male comrades, and be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices too. One of her brothers was already active with the anti British group headed by Surya Sen, and he introduced her to Master Da.

Pritilata met Surya Sen and his associate Nirmal Sen at their Dhalaghat camp in 1932, and Master Da was impressed by her. It was quite rare for a woman to join the revolutionary forces in those days.

Master Da, however felt that women could prove to be an asset, as they were likely to be viewed with lesser suspicion, when transporting weapons, compared to men. Initially, she was assigned the task of just sending messages than taking part in missions.

One such assignment would however have a profound impact on her. In one of their previous assignments, in 1931, Surya Sen planned to kill the then Inspector General of Chittagong, Craig and assigned Ramakrishna Biswas, Kalipada Chakravarthy for this.

However by mistake they ended up shooting dead the SP of Chandpur, Tarini Mukherjee and were arrested for this. While Chakravarty was exiled to Cellular Jail, Biswas was ordered to be hanged to death.

Biswas family being poor, could not travel all the way from Chittagong to Alipore Jail where he was imprisoned. Pritilata who was in Kolkata at that time, was asked to meet Biswas.

She managed to convince the jailor that she was a distant relative of Biswas, and met him around 40 times, and often had long conversations with him. It’s believed a sort of mutual attraction developed between the two, and her feelings of nationalism were only strengthened.

Pritilata soon took part in many raids, on Telephone and Telegraph offices, and played a key role in the Jalalabad attack, where her responsibility was to supply the explosives.

In 1932, Pritilata along with Master Da narrowly managed to escape a police attack his Dhalaghat hideout, which however left Nirmal Sen dead. By now she was on the most wanted list, and Master Da advised her to quit her job and go underground, along with Kalpana Dutta.

Among the many exclusively for European clubs that dotted Chittagong, one of them was Pahartali, which had a signboard saying “Dogs and Indians not allowed”. Master Da decided to carry out an attack on this club and choose Pritilata for the mission.

23rd September, 1932 was the date of the attack, all members had cyanide capsules which they were asked to swallow, if they were caught. Pritilata dressed as a Punjabi male, her associates Kalishankar Dey, Bireshwar Roy, Prafulla Das, Shanti Chakraborty were dressed in dhoti.

Around 40 people were in the club, when the group attacked them at 10:45 PM in 3 groups from all sides. Some of the officers in the club, who had revolvers began to shoot back. It was a major attack, 4 men and 7 women were injured while a lady Ms.Sullivan was killed.

Hit by a bullet, an injured Pritilata found herself surrounded by British police, and she choose to commit suicide by consuming cyanide, rather than surrendering. She was just 21 an inspiration for many revolutionaries in Bengal.

The suicide of her friend greatly affected Kalpana Dutta, who was now at home under police observation. Again when Master Da was arrested on February 17, 1933, she once again managed to escape.

Finally during the Second Supplementary Trial in 1933, of the Chittagong Armory Raid, she was once again arrested and sent to the Hijli Jail meant for political prisoners. It was here she met Bina Das, who was arrested for the attempted murder of the Bengal Governor.

Released in 1939, she graduated from Kolkata University in 1940 and joined the Communist Party of India. During the 1943 Bengal famine she served as a relief worker, as well as during Partition, when refugees flooded Kolkata.

But Kalpana Dutta’s most well known work would be “Chattagram Astragara Akramanakaridera Smriti Katha”, an autobiographical work, that describes her life as well as the Chittagong Armory Raid.

The book was later translated into English as Chittagong Armoury Raiders: Reminiscences by Arun Bose & Nikhil Chakraborty in 1945. She also contested the 1946 elections for Bengal Legislative Assembly, as a Communist Party of India candidate from Chittagong, but lost.

Kalpana Dutta’s elder son Chand Joshi, was a noted journalist known for his work, Bhindranwale: Myth and Reality, while her daughter in law, Manini Chatterjee penned another book on the Chittagong Uprising, titled Do and Die: The Chattagram Uprising 1930-34.

Her legacy would forever be in the form of her memoir due to which we know about the Chittagong Uprising and Master Da’s stellar contribution, and her friendship with Pritilata Wadedar.

Kalpana Dutta and Pritilata Wadedar, close friends from different backgrounds, who came together inspired by Master Da Surya Sen, the heroines of the Chittagong revolt. A story that deserves to be known and heard.


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