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Friday, May 5, 2017

Remembering the revolutionary Pritilata Waddedar

Remember that there was a scene in Rajnikant starrer Maaveeran, where a British soldier would like natives to dogs and would say that both dogs and natives are not allowed inside the bar.  This is about  a young woman warrior after whom a road was named  recognizing her martyrdom in  the struggle against colonial rule.   The Roads and Railway Department named a road  at her native village, Dalghat, under Patiya upazila of the district. According to the circular, the renovated road from the last end of Sahid Abdus Sabur Road to Mukunda Ram Hat of Boalkhali upazila  was  named as Pritilata Waddedar Road. Pritilata died on September 23, 1932 in front of the erstwhile European Club at Pahartoly in the city during a fight against the British rule.  

There was a scientist from NASA, who at 45 left the job to become a  filmmaker –Bedabrata Pain.  Bedabrata’s first film was  on the Chittagong uprising won him the National award for best debut (The film won 4 awards in total).  Chittagong is the story of the youngest and the most unlikely participant in the uprising — the frail and diffident 14-year-old Jhunku Roy. Roy battles nagging self-doubts and reluctance on one hand and a formidable enemy on the other to achieve an impossible triumph.

Pritilata Waddedar (5 May 1911 – 23 September 1932)[1] was a Bengali revolutionary nationalist.  After completing her education in Chittagong and Dhaka, she attended Bethune College in Kolkata. Pritilata graduated in philosophy with distinction. After a brief stint as a school teacher, Pritilata joined  revolutionary group headed by Surya Sen. She led a team of fifteen revolutionaries  in a 1932 attack on the Pahartali European Club, which had a sign board that read "Dogs and Indians not allowed". The revolutionaries torched the club and were later caught by the British police. To avoid getting arrested, Pritilata consumed cyanide and died.

Pritilata was born in a middle-class Vaidya-Brahmin family on 5 May 1911 in Dhalghat village in Patiya upazila of Chittagong (now in Bangladesh).  Waddedar was a title conferred to an ancestor of the family who originally had the surname Dasgupta. Like everybody else, she joined institutions studied,  participated in various social activities.  To pursue higher education, Pritilata went to Calcutta  and got admitted to the Bethune College.  It is stated that the  degree was withheld by British authorities at Calcutta University and decades later it was conferred  posthumously !!

Pritilata  was attracted to Independence struggle and in 1932 joined Surya Sen, though at that time women were not part of the group.  Surya Sen and his revolutionary group decided to kill Mr. Craig, Inspector General of Chittagong. Ramakrishna Biswas and Kalipada Chakravarty were assigned for this task. But they mistakenly killed SP of Chandpur and Traini Mukherjee instead of Craig, were arrested and ordered to be hung.  Along with the revolutionary group of Surya Sen, Pritilata took part in many raids like attacks on the Telephone & Telegraph offices and the capture of the reserve police line. In the Jalalabad battle, she took the responsibility to supply explosives to the revolutionaries.

In 1932, Surya Sen planned to attack the Pahartali European Club which had a signboard that read "Dogs and Indians not allowed". Surya Sen decided to appoint a woman leader for this mission. Kalpana Datta was arrested seven days before the event and  Pritilata was assigned the leadership of the attack.  On the day of the attack, Pritilata dressed herself as a Punjabi male. Her associates Kalishankar Dey, Bireshwar Roy, Prafulla Das, Shanti Chakraborty wore dhoti and shirt. Mahendra Chowdhury, Sushil Dey and Panna Sen wore lungi and shirt. They reached the club at around 10:45 PM and launched their attack. There were around 40 people inside the club then. The revolutionaries divided themselves into three separate groups for the attack. In the club, a few police officers who had revolvers started shooting. Pritilata incurred a single bullet wound.   An injured Pritilata was trapped by the British police;  She swallowed cyanide to avoid getting arrested.

She is part of the Bengali legend honouring revolutionary fighters; there are Educational institutions named after her.  In the bollywood movie - Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, based on Chittagong Uprising,  Vishakha Singh played the character of Pritilata.  Remembering her on this day, 106 years later.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
5th May 2017.

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