The Independence Movement’s Unsung Heroes

The Independence Movement’s Unsung Heroes

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India’s 72nd Independence Day is a great time to remember and honour the unsung heroes of India’s freedom struggle; people whose role in the independence movement, got lost in history books. Women strove for freedom alongside men. Two prominent ones are Pritilata Waddedar and Kalpana Datta. They made an invaluable contribution to the freedom struggle, as members of Surya Sen aka Master Da’s armed independence movement, better known as the infamous ‘Chittagong armoury raid.’ Master Da was the chief mastermind and conspirator of that movement.
On Independence Day, it is apt to pay homage to the two legendary heroines, whose valour helped our motherland inch towards freedom. 


In 1932, Pritilata chose to kill herself rather than surrender to the British. She is remembered as the ‘Iron Lady’ of Bengal, despite being martyred at 21. The belief is, Pritilata was inspired by Rani Lakshmi Bai, which is why she fought the British and chose to join the revolution; the first Bengali woman to do so. She led many anti-British campaigns, under Master Da’s guidance, and was successful in all the drills she conducted.


One of five siblings, Pritilata’s father was a clerk, from a middle-class family. Mathematics was her strong subject. The first time she felt the fire of rebellion was when British authorities refused to grant her a philosophy degree at Calcutta University. She refused to accept their refusal and fought back. After completing her education, she joined a local, English medium school.


While still a teacher, Pritilata approached Master Da and requested to be recruited into his armed group of young revolutionaries. Master Da could not refuse her determination. She soon became Master Da’s chief conspirator in the Chittagong uprising, where they successfully raided the police armoury and escaped. Though the British regime tracked them down four days later and martyred 12 revolutionaries, Master Da fled with the remaining conspirators.
In 1932, Pritilata worked on a crucial mission for Master Da. She had to burn the Pahartali European club with the help of 40 revolutionaries. Apart from revolting against the club’s signboards, which read, ‘Dogs and Indians are not allowed’, they were also taking revenge for the Jalalabad massacre.


Pritilata masterminded a successful mission and the club was burnt. However, they were chased and surrounded. In the ensuing shootout. Both sides suffered losses and Pritilata was severely injured. She preferred suicide than capture by the British. Before she consumed cyanide, Pritilata drew the attention of the British troops giving her teammates a chance to escape.


Another lady comrade of Master Da’s Chittagong Uprising was Kalpana Datta. In 1995, before she passed away, she recounted her memories to her daughter in law, Manini Chatterjee. An inspired Manini wrote a non-fiction book, “Do and Die: The Chittagong Uprising,” acknowledging the role played by Pritilata and Kalpana. As a student, Kalpana was influenced by the freedom movement and joined a revolutionary organization, ‘Chhatri Sangha’. Shortly thereafter, she met Pritilata Waddedar and the duo became good friends. They were both filled with a desire to rebel against the British and win freedom for India.


Sensing Kalpana’s determination, Pritilata introduced her to Surya Sen aka Master Da, who was impressed by her will to serve the nation. Despite his skepticism, he added Kalpana to his armed group. Kalpana had to transport explosives and other supplies and also mastered the art of preparing guncotton, an explosive agent.


Though the Chittagong uprising shook the British and attracted their attention to the youth army, a hefty price ws paid with the feud in the Jalalabad Hills, where the Chittagong army lost many young soldiers. Soon after, Master Da planned to burn the European club to avenge the brutal death of his young soldiers. Kalpana and Pritilata were given the role of key-executors. Unfortunately, Kalpana got caught during a check-up round and was detained by the British. After she was released on bail, she went underground, leaving the execution to Pritilata.
Kalpana coordinated the plan from hiding. Though the mission was successful, the area was on high alert and many of the revolutionaries and members of the Chittagong army, including Pritilata, lost their lives. Kalpana was under surveillance but fled only to be captured, after three months, and given a life sentence. She was released, after six years of imprisonment. Once the country got independence Kalpana lived as a normal civilian, till 1995.
Pritilata and Kalpana are the true unsung heroes of Indian freedom struggle and they deserve to be applauded. Their blood and sweat contributed to the revolt against the British and the freedom struggle.

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