Wednesday, January 23, 2013

They Too Fought: Manini Chatterjee's Do and Die

Sitting in his solitary cell, waiting for the day when the noose would be put round his neck, Indian Revolutionary, Sukhdev wrote an open letter to Gandhi, questioning him about the fate of his fellow-revolutionaries who - unlike those in the Congress -  had not been released under the Gandhi-Irwin pact:


More than half a dozen conspiracy trials are going on at Lahore, Delhi, Chittagong, Bombay, Calcutta and elsewhere. Dozens of revolutionaries are absconding and amongst them are many females. More than half a dozen prisoners are actually waiting for their executions. What about all of these people? The three Lahore Conspiracy Case condemned prisoners, who have luckily come into prominence and who have acquired enormous public sympathy, do not form the bulk of the revolutionary party. Their fate is not the only consideration before the party. As a matter of fact their executions are expected to do greater good than the commutation of their sentences.

Almost a century later, the question still abounds in the air: What about all of these people? Forgotten, sidelined, neglected... a nation in a hurry has no time for them.



That's why reading Manini Chatterjee's Do and Die is like stepping into another world: when people were ready to follow the clarion call of freedom, when Freedom was something to die for and not to be abused,  when Chittagong was part of India, when one laid down one's life in the hope that the others would carry on the struggle....



It is a tragedy indeed that the valour of the young men is hardly known to anybody. {Two recent Bollywood movies notwithstanding}. Surjya Sen and his band of revolutionaries attempted what had never been attempted before: attack, capture, and hold the armouries of the police and Auxiliary Force in a district.

Styling themselves on the Irish Republican Army, the Indian Republican Army's growing disillusionment with the Congress party reached a turning point when in its Calcutta session of 1928, the party did not take up the goal for Total Independence and instead of immediately launching a non-cooperation movement decided to give another year to the British to fulfill their promises. The death of Jatin Das at Lahore after an epic hunger strike that lasted for 63 days was the last straw for the Chittagong Revolutionaries.

Inspired by the Easter rebellion of Ireland, on 18th April 1930, a group of young men most of them still in their teens, decided to take on the might of the Raj by attacking the armouries of the police and Auxiliary forces in Chittagong. That was the beginning of a long saga of struggle, valour, and sacrifice that ended with the brutal execution of the leader, Master da Surjya Sen.

Manini Chatterjee's book is a well-researched text on this long-forgotten event and often reads like a thriller which one is unable to put down. However, to me the best part of the book was the small personal anecdotes about the Revolutionaries like that involving Kalpana Dutt.




The young woman who belonged to an affluent family was influenced by Revolutionary martyr Khudi Ram and subsequently became a part of the Indian Republican Army. As her participation in the activities of the group increased, she came close to fellow Revolutionary Tarakeshwar. One day, after their arrest, trial, and judgement Tarakeshwar asked her whether she would wait for him. The young Kalpana gave him her word and 10 years later when another man proposed to her, she refused as she was still waiting for Tarakeshwar. His body had never been released by the British and there was just the slight chance that he might be alive. It was only when she was convinced of Tarakeshwar's death that she reluctantly said yes to the proposal.

Today, as we celebrate the birth anniversary of another son of India, the firebrand Subhas Chandra Bose, perhaps it is time to salute those who laid down their lives so that we could be free.


A soldier's life is the life for me
A soldier's death; so India's free.

*

Opening Lines: Telegram P. No. Nil, dated (and received) 19 April 1930

From: Bengal, Calcutta
To: Home Department, Simla

CLEAR THE LINE

FOLLOWING TELEGRAM HAS BEEN RECEIVED FROM DISTRICT MAGISTRATE CHITTAGONG BY WIRELESS TELEGRAM THROUGH FORT WILLIAM FROM STEAMSHIP 'HALIZONES'. BEGINS: SERIOUS ARMED RISING AT CHITTAGONG STOP ARMOURIES HAVE BEEN RAIDED AND TELEGRAPH CUT STOP SEND AT ONCE AT LEAST TWO COMPANIES TROOPS AND MACHIENE GUNS STOP POSITION CRITICAL STOP DISTRATE CHITTAGONG ANCHORAGE CHITTAGONG STOP ENDS.

Title: Do and Die: The Chittagong Uprising 1930-34

Author: Manini Chatterjee

Publication Details: ND: Picador, 2010

First Published: 1999

Pages: 386

Other Books read of the same author: None

*

The book can be easily purchased on the Net. I borrowed it from the college library.

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