(This post has already been published by me at http://indiaincredible.quora.com/Preetilata-Wadedar republishing the same)
Patiya is one of those small sleepy towns, that dot the countryside of Bangladesh, lying on the busy route from Chittagong to Cox Bazaar. 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. On May 3, 1971, the town came into news, when more than 300 Hindus were massacred by the Pakistani Army. In a small village close to Patiya on May 5, 1911, Jagabandhu Wadedar, a clerk in the Chittagong Muncipality and his wife Prathibamayi Devi, were blessed with a daughter, incidentally Wadedar was not their surname, but a title given by the British. Chittagong was one of the first towns in Bengal, that was ceded to the British in 1760, as a buffer against the Burmese. The girl was Pritilata Wadedar, the 2nd of 6 children, others being Madhusudhan( her elder brother), Kanakalata, Shantilata, Ashalata and Santosh. This young girl nicknamed as Rani, 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 was quite a brilliant student, and excelled in Arts and Literature. One of her classmates was Kalpana Dutta, who would later play a pivotal role in the Chittagong Armory Raid. 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. The school would also produce such luminaries as Nibedita Nag, authors Maitreyi Devi and Umar Tul Fazl, Dr. Suraiya Rehman the first female Brigadier General of Bangladesh, women leader Dr. Maleka Begum among others. 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, Surya Sen, as well as reading books on various revolutionary leaders, slowly fomented the spirit of revolutionary thought in Pritilata. 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. 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, it was the equivalent of Dhaka’s Dipali Sangha.
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, along with Bina Das. 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, the groups here believed that only an armed uprising could drive the British away. 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. One of the revolutionaries, Binod Bihari later had this to say on Pritilata.
“Pritilata was young and courageous. She would work with a lot of zeal and was determined to drive the British away.”
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 further. Due to her daring nature, Pritilata was now a trusted and respected member of Surya Sen’s group.
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, which she did 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”. Surya Sen decided to carry out an attack on this club, and choose Pritilata for the mission, as Kalpana Dutta was arrested a week earlier. Kotawali Sea Side was where she planned the attack, as also the necessary arms training. 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 and shirt, while Mahendra Chowdhury, Sushil Dey and Panna Sen wore a lungi and shirt.
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. The police later found her dead body , and she was in possession of some leaflets, bullets, a photograph of Ramakrishna Biswas and the draft of their attack plan. She was just 21 when she died, however her tale would be an inspiration for many revolutionaries in Bengal and also in India, a true heroine, and a great daughter of the soil.