THE ‘QUEEN’ WHO EMBRACED DEATH OVER PRISON
On 5th May, 1911, Jagabandhu Waddedar, a clerk at Patiya sub-district of Chittagong in Bengal Presidency (present day Bangladesh), and his wife were blessed with a baby girl. She was named Pritilata. At home, her parents and siblings called her Rani (vernacular for queen). An educated man, Jagabandhu, made sure that Pritilata received a proper education. She was enrolled at the Chittagong Government Girl’s School and soon proved herself to be a meritorious student.
At school, Pritilata made acquaintance with Kalpana Dutta, who would be go on to become one of her closest friends. A lady teacher at the school would narrate tales of Rani Laxmi Bai to the young girls. Hearing the stories of valor ignited a fire in the mind of Pritilata. After completing her schooling, she joined Eden College in Dacca (present day Dhaka) after standing first in the Intermediate exam in entire Dacca Board.
After completing her graduation from Calcutta University in Philosophy, Pritilata returned to Chittagong and took up the job of headmistress at a local English medium school. But fate had other plans for her.
Surjya Sen sent for Pritilata. Inspired by him, she decided to join the independence movement. There was resistance from some revolutionaries about letting women join the ranks, but Surjya Sen overruled it. Maybe he saw a spark in the young Pritilata.
In Surjya Sen’s attack on Chittagong armory, both Pritilata and Kalpana Dutta played a key role in planning and strategizing. Although the armory raid failed, the revolutionaries did manage to destroy telegraph and telephone lines, temporarily cutting off Chittagong’s contact with Dacca and Calcutta. Later on, as the revolutionaries made their last stand in the battle at Jalalabad Hills, Pritilata bravely took on the task of supplying them with ammunitions and provisions.
After Jalalabad, the remaining revolutionaries regrouped and decided to strike back. They selected the Pahartali European Club in Chittagong, a place notorious for racist treatment of Indians and which proudly displayed “Dogs and Indians not allowed” sign at its entrance. Surya Sen, who was a fugitive from the police, sent a message that Pritilata should lead the attack on the club.
The attack was planned for the night of Sep 21, 1932. Pritilata, dressed as a Punjabi male, led a contingent of about ten revolutionaries who stormed the club. The building was set on fire, and then the revolutionaries started firing their guns. One British lady was killed and eleven others were injured. Soon the police arrived and Pritilata suffered a bullet wound which prevented her from escaping. Injured, she exhorted her team members to make their escape.
With the police about to arrest her, Pritilata swallowed a pill of potassium cyanide and embraced death. She was just 21.
When her role in the revolutionary activities came to light, Calcutta University withheld her graduation degree. In 2012, Pritilata and another female revolutionary, Bina Das, were finally awarded their degrees posthumously at the Calcutta University convocation.
Pritilata Waddedar remains an iconic figure in Bangladesh. Every year, her birth anniversary is celebrated with fervor there. In India, outside West Bengal, this courageous young woman who sacrificed her life for independence is hardly remembered today.
Based out of Kolkata, Trinanjan is a market researcher by profession with a keen interest in Indian history. Of particular interest to him is the history of Kolkata and the Bengal region. He loves to write about his passion on his blog and also on social media handles.
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