“British people have snatched away our independence, have bled India white and have played havoc with the lives of Indians, both male and female. ‘They are the sole cause of our complete ruin-mental, physical, political and economic-and have thus proved the worst enemy of our country, the greatest obstacle in the way of recovering our independence. So, we have been compelled to take up arms against the lives of any and every member of the British community, official or non-official, though it is not a pleasant thing to take the life of any human being; but in a fight for freedom we must be ready to remove, by any means, whatsoever every obstacle that stands in our way. ” thus was the statement found on the dead body of 21-year-old revolutionary lady. The young lady had a strong desire to free her motherland from the clutches of the foreign rule, the revolutionary activities which inspired her in her late 20s can be traced back to few incidents during the intermediate level college and the family background.
Born in 1911, Preetilata Waddedar was the second child of her parents, although the parents expected a male child, however, Preetilata showed signs of what was to come about in the future. At schools, she had been a good student securing first/second in the Khastagir English High School for girls – the only Girls’ High School in Chittagong town at that time. Jagabandhu Waddedar, father of Preetilata who worked as a clerk in Chittagong Municipal office was a staunch Gandhian nationalist who believed in the non-cooperation movement and boycotted, burned foreign goods and wore swadeshi clothes himself, and gifted his wife the same. The nationalist mindset was but obvious as the family observed religious ideas themselves, of women personalities ‘Rani Laxmi Bai’- the Rani Jhansi evoked rigorous nationalist zeal to which she said,
“if some sixty or seventy years back Rani of Jhansi could fight with the English in the battlefield why can’t we being modern Indian women offer active resistance for the cause of the country’s freedom?”
Religious ideals too played an important role in her life of which teachings of Shri. Krishna in Gita had an essential impact on the mind of the young women. As an ardent devotee of Shri. Krishna prayed for the establishment of ‘Dharma’ over ‘Adharma’ this fact can be substantiated with a photograph of Shri. Krishna found after her death in one of the pockets with a statement that read,
“I sacrifice myself in the name of God (Shri. Krishna) whom I have adored for many years.”
Additionally, she was also inspired by the sacrifices and the stories of the revolutionary freedom fighters like Khudiram Bose, Bagha Jatin, etc. She learned how Sumitra and Bharati of Sarat Chandra’s ‘Pather-Dabi’ participated in the revolutionary movement, how Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in his novel ‘Devi Chaudhurani’, prepared Prafullamukhi for great sacrifices. In effect, the literary ideals, the religious ideals and historical and contemporary revolutionary figures highly impressed young Preetilata’s mind and dreamed to sacrifice for the nation.
After passing the matriculation exam in 1928 she joined intermediate arts course at Eden college, Dacca. In one of the incidents during her stay in college certain Muslim rowdies tried to attack the hostel campus, the principal asked the District Magistrate to send over some police protection however, he rejected saying that ‘Indians clamored for Independence and hence why the British officials should send over protection?‘ The incident imprinted a vengeful impact on young Preetilata’s mind and fostered revolutionary ideals. Lila Nag, a revolutionary founded Deepali Sangha(1923) in Dacca, an all-women revolutionary group with the intent of training young women for revolutionary activities. In her intermediate college Preetilata joined the group with the oath, “If required, she will sacrifice everything, even herself for country’s freedom” while at the same time got trained in Sword and lathi-play.
Later during her vacations, she got in contact with her cousin Purnendu Dastidar and insisted upon him to talk with Surya Sen, Master-da to recruit her into the Chittagong Revolutionary party. Seeing her mental as well as physical preparation, Master-da agreed upon her recruitment however with certain degrees of secrecy. Master-da along with his able lieutenants decided to ‘inspire self-confidence by demonstrating that even without outside help it was possible to fight the government.’ They planned to raid the Government armory and seize arms cut off communications and raid the European club. After having made military preparations and issuing a manifesto in the name of the Indian Republican Army, Chittagong appealed to Indians to uproot British rule by an armed attack. The armory raid took place on 18 April 1930 which was followed by a series of heroic actions like the battle of Jalalabad, in which the Chittagong youth were pitched against highly mechanized British forces brought from outside, the Kalapole fight, the Chandenagore incident, etc. These developments made Preeti impatient and she insisted on the Chittagong leaders to assign her some serious responsibility.
After passing the B.A. examination in 1932, Preetilata met Surya Sen along with two assistants Apurba Sen and Nirmal Sen who were hiding in the Dhalgat village to press her ideas of entrusting upon her a heavy responsibility. However, the whole group was cordoned by a military force led by Captain Cameron. Surya Sen’s assistants were killed in the encounter while Surya Sen and Preetilata could escape the spot. Surya Sen asked Preeti to go underground as a photo of her was found at the spot and a 500 Rupees reward was declared on her arrests to anyone leaking about her whereabouts. During this period, she was trained to handle revolvers, pistols, and bombs while she was bearing the hardships of being underground.
On the 18th April, 1930 in the armory raid, the revolutionaries could not attack the European Club as the day being of ‘Good Friday’ and the club was deserted. Surya Sen now entrusted the young lady, Preetilata Waddedar to lead the attack on the European club. On 24 September 1932, Seven male revolutionaries were deported under Preeti’s leadership who readily accepted her commands. Before leaving, Preeti touched Surya Sen’s feet. The leader wished Preeti saying “Come back victorious!“. In response Preeti said, “Bless me that I may join the group of martyrs after accomplishing my task.“ Preetilata along with her men dressed as a soldier caught the guards and sentries in panic mode and heavily fired and bombed the club and killed many Britishers, the revolutionaries started retracting back and as they were doing so one of the Europeans who possessed revolver shot at Preetilata’s breast she felt injured and calmly handed over the gun to another revolutionary and herself consumed potassium cyanide and collapsed at the same spot.
The male revolutionary paid their last respects to the fierce lady and left for hiding. The Police and military officials reached the spot and took over the dead body of the young lady to which they found the statement mentioned above and a photo of Shri. Krishna along with the pamphlets of the Indian Republican Army. The ‘Englishman’, the weekly which was the chief spokesman of the English of the day termed Preeti as ‘Courageous’ and ‘Bold’ woman however, the statements were retracted under pressure. Anand Bazar Patrika, leading Bengali newspaper detailed the entire account of the event but refrained from taking sides. The Bengal intelligence Branch regarded the raid as a”dastardly attack”, while, in the government report, the leader of the raid was termed as a “notorious woman absconder”.
Preetilata’s dead body was handed over to her father and a bond was forcefully made to be signed as not more than fifteen persons would accompany the procession. Thus, the fierce, ‘Bold’, ‘Courageous’ young lady, the first woman martyr in armed fight against British, the lady who sacrificed her life for the nation’s cause her funeral procession sadly remained unattended and unnoticed.
- The Women Revolutionaries of Bengal, 1905-1939/ Tirtha Mandal — Calcutta, India
- History of the Freedom Movements in India, Volume III, R.C. Majumdar