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Wednesday, March 8, 2023

celebrating International Women's Day - remembering a great woman !!

My knowledge of Cinema is very low – have not heard of this Hindi movie ‘Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey’   directed by Ashutosh Gowariker starring Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone  BUT feel bad in not knowing  Pritilata Waddedar !! – who ??-  Gandhi and Congress fought Britishers and got freedom without drop of blood and Jawaharlal Nehru guided the Nation !!!!!  

Today (8th March) is International Women’s Day .. ..  Appreciating all Women I know right from my mother, wife, sister, sister-in-law, relatives, teachers, women bosses, female colleagues – and all feminine gender known to me- my  special greetings to all of them  ~  Happy International Women's Day 2023.  

March 8, 2020 was a Red letter day  for  Indian women's cricket. India's maiden appearance in a T20 World Cup final, against defending champions Australia, drew 86,174 spectators at the MCG - the most ever at a women's or men's T20 World Cup final and for a women's sporting event in Australia.  India lost that match !  .. ..

In some ways this is a western concept – marking a day and attaching all importance to it by marketing it. Our literature has cherished  place for women and traditionally we are taught to respect women. Our moral stories are replete with instances of obeisance to mother and femininity holding them in high regard; yet 8th Mar would be a special day.

Any reference to women of fame would not be complete with writing about ‘Avvaiyar’ -  great tamil poetess  whose statue also stands in the marina closer to Queen Mary’s college. She  lived in the southern parts attributed to sangam period. Reverred to be noble besides her extraordinary poetic skills, the term means ' respected old woman' or 'Grandmother'. Her works include Purananuru and Aathichoodi. She had cordial relations with the Kings Pari and Athiaman.

According to Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, King Janaka of Videha Kingdom held a Rajasuya Yagna and invited all the learned sages, kings and princess of India to participate. The yagna lasted for many days. The galaxy of scholars, included the renowned sage Yajnavalkya.  There  were eight renowned sages who challenged him for a debate, which included Gargi, the only lady in the assembled gathering of the learned.  Gargi and Yajnavalkya's exchange centered on the ultimate "warp" of reality ("warp" means "the basic foundation or material of a structure or entity).  This is a post on ‘wonder woman’ ~ it would not require a Nobel for a woman to be impressive and an influencer   

There are many others who achieved, though not as famous – Reena Kaushal Dharkshaktu was the first woman to reach South pole and Sucheta Kadethankar was the first to have walked across Gobi desert.   Devika Rani was the first recipient of the prestigious film prize, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award.  Rajkumari Amrit Kaur from the Princely family of Kapurthala was the first Women Cabinet minister – she was the health minister in the Indian Cabinet for ten years after India's independence from the British Raj in 1947.

Yet despite all the hullabaloo – even as the World marks International Women’s Day on Wednesday, the United Nations has warned that the world is 300 years away from gender equality, with hard-won progress toward the goal “vanishing before our eyes.”  Speaking Monday, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres warned that “women’s rights are being abused, threatened and violated around the world.”

In Sept 2022,  a young Kurdish woman was detained in Tehran after allegedly breaching the country’s strict dress code. Days later, the 22-year-old died in custody — allegedly after being beaten by police.  Mahsa Amini’s death unleashed a wave of protests under the slogan “Women, life, freedom,” which came to express decades of discontent not only with the country’s veiling laws but with the ruling system itself.  

If you still remember that name at the start – “Pritilata Waddedar” – here is something on that great woman [5.5.1911 – 24.9.1932] – a mere 21 years !

She studied in  Chittagong and Dhaka, attended Bethune College in Kolkata;  graduated in philosophy with distinction and became a school teacher. She is praised as "Bengal's first woman martyr". Pritilata joined a revolutionary group headed by Surya Sen and led  fifteen revolutionaries in the 1932 armed attack on the Pahartali European Club, during which one person was killed and eleven injured. The revolutionaries torched the club and were later caught by the colonial police.  Pritilata was born in a middle-class Vaidya Brahmin family  in Dhalghat village in Patiya upazila of Chittagong (now in Bangladesh).

In 1932, Suriya Sen planned to attack the Pahartali European Club which had a signboard that read "Dogs and Indians not allowed". [Remember this epic instance was clumsily captured in Rajnikant starrer Maaveeran]   Surjo Sen decided to appoint a woman leader for this mission. Kalpana Datta was arrested seven days before the event. So,  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 attacked the club building and set it alight.  There was firing from inside by the Police officers.

An injured Pritilata was trapped by the colonial police;  She swallowed cyanide to avoid getting arrested. In Bangladesh, she hailed as an ideal woman.    A trust named Birkannya Pritilata Trust (Brave lady Pritilata Trust) was found in her memory. Pritilata's birthday is celebrated by the trust in different places of Bangladesh and India every year. The last end of Sahid Abdus Sabur Road to Mukunda Ram Hat of Boalkhali upazila in Chittagong has been named as Pritilata Waddedar Road.  In 2012, a bronze sculpture of Pritilata Waddedar was erected in front of the Pahartali Railway School, adjacent to the historical European Club.

Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (transl.We Play with Passion)  is  an account of the 1930 Chittagong armoury raid -   an attempt on 18 April 1930 to raid the armoury of police and auxiliary forces from the Chittagong armoury in the Bengal Presidency of British India by armed Indian independence fighters led by Surya Sen.  The group included Ganesh Ghosh, Lokenath Bal, Ambika Chakrobarty, Harigopal Bal (Tegra), Ananta Singh, Anand Prasad Gupta, Tripura Sen, Bilash Dey, Bidhubhusan Bhattacharya, Pritilata Waddedar, Kalpana Dutta, Himangshu Sen, Binod Bihari Chowdhury, Subodh Roy, Monoranjan Bhattacharya.  Now honestly tell 3yourself – whether you know or read about any of these personalities who sacrificed their life for our freedom !!   .. .. [Mahatma Gandhi got us freedom without drop of blood and Jawaharlal Nehru guided the Nation!!]

Appreciations and greetings to all  Women known and those who influenced me – and pranams to those great women like Pritilata

With regards – S. Sampathkumar


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