The ninth story in the series ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav- Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence’ is about a revolutionary freedom-fighter from Bengal.
The anti-British revolutionary spirit among many of our freedom fighters and their open resistance to the British, went a long way in our getting Independence. Sadly, not many of their stories have been made known to us and we would be failing in our duty if we do not acknowledge their heroic deeds.
This story is about the revolutionary Surjya Sen. He was also known as Master Da (Da is used to address an elder brother and so it can be translated to teacher-elder brother). Surjya Sen’s name is associated with the Chittagong Armoury Raid in 1930, one of the dare-devil attacks planned and executed by him which totally shook the British establishment.
Surjya Sen was born in the month of March 1894 to a couple Ramaniranjan Sen and Sashibala at a place called Noapara, Chittagong which is in Bangladesh now.
Surjya Sen’s parents died when he was young and so was brought up by his uncle. Surjya Sen completed his school education in 1912 and joined the Chittagong College. Later, he joined the Berhampore college for his Bachelor of Arts degree.
This was the time when various movements for independence for Bharat was picking up steam. Led by various people, the single goal of all movements was to free Bharat Mata from the clutches of the British. The impact of these movements was felt everywhere including in educational institutions. Many young students, driven by the national sentiment, joined these movements and fought for independence.
While Surjya Sen was studying at Chittagong college, influenced by one of his teachers, he enrolled in the ‘Anushilan Samiti’.
Anushilan Samiti was by name, a fitness club, but actually functioned as an undercover agency for the anti-British revolutionaries. It was present in East and West Bengal (as they were called prior to independence). The Samiti felt strongly that freeing India could be done only by use of violence and was believed to have been involved in many killings of British officers and violence at various places. Similar activity was being carried out by the organization Jugantar which was in Calcutta.
While studying at Berhampore, Surjya Sen got involved with Jugantar. After completing his degree, he went back to Chittagong in 1918 and got a job as a teacher in a local school. But the revolutionary spirit in him, which was kindled years back, started to grow into a fire within him, and into an unquenchable thirst for doing anything to free the country from the British. He wanted to bring together a group at Chittagong similar to Jugantar. Being a very good orator and also a teacher (who was held in very high esteem) he was able to bring people together and influence them.
In 1918, Surjya Sen joined the Indian National Congress. In 1920 Gandhiji started the Non-cooperation movement to show the British that they could not function without the cooperation of the citizens of the country. This was the first organized disobedience movement in the country done with the hope that the British would be troubled, to the extent of granting self-governance to us. People were told to boycott British goods and services, buy only Indian goods, stop working in British establishments, and protest peacefully.
Surjya Sen, like other revolutionaries, was greatly impressed by this movement. Many revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh were also very happy with the ‘Non-cooperation movement’. However, Gandhiji suspended the movement in 1922 after a violent incident happened at a place called Chauri Chaura in which altercations between the policemen and civilians caused large-scale violence in which civilians and police personnel died.
All the revolutionaries, including Surjya Sen were greatly disillusioned by this act of Gandhiji. They lost their trust in the leadership. They came to the conclusion that only with violence they would be able to rattle the British. Further, Surjya Sen was arrested for revolutionary activities and jailed for two years from 1926 to 1928 and in this period, his resolve was strengthened.
So, he started organizing like-minded people into a group called Indian Republican Army (IRA). This Army consisted of about 65 revolutionaries including many women, who were actively involved, even in operations. Surjya Sen and the members of the IRA decided that the best way to rebel against the British would be to hit their trade centers and defence establishments.
Surjya Sen knew very well of the importance of the city of Chittagong for the British. Chittagong had been a very ancient port and harbour and the East India Company had taken possession of this place from the Mughals in 1793 and had developed it extensively by way of infrastructure and educational institutions. Chittagong was also one of the major and important trading centres of the British. Lot of petroleum companies were operating from Chittagong. It was also a place with major defence establishments.
Naturally the IRA planned to strike at Chittagong and destroy its infrastructure. They did not have many weapons to carry out their mission and so decided to raid the two main armouries namely, the Police armoury and the armoury of the Auxiliary forces and capture the ammunition. They would also destroy the telegraph and telephone lines and railway communication lines. They would then go to the European club and kidnap or kill some of the British who were top officials in the government. It was a master plan to give a rude shock to the British and cutting off Chittagong fully from the rest of the country.
The whole exercise was very carefully planned by the IRA headed by Surjya Sen. The IRA had different kinds of people from strategic thinkers to experts in using weapons, to people who would actually risk their lives in carrying out the plan. Many of them were very young. Some of the notable names of the members of IRA were Ganesh Ghosh, Ananta Singh, Lokenath Bal, Pritilata Waddedar, Kalpana Dutta, to name a few.
So, on April 18, 1930 at 10 pm, the IRA divided itself into groups and launched lightning attacks simultaneously on the armouries, the railway and telegraph communication lines and the European club. It was a nasty surprise for the British who had never had an inkling about the possibility of such an incident. Though the event went off as planned with the railway and telegraph lines damaged, the IRA could only gather the guns in the armouries and could not locate any ammunition there.
Also, since it was Good Friday, there were not many people in the European club. But the attack left the British administration completely dazed and paralysed for a short while. Surjya Sen and his men meanwhile grabbed whatever weapons they could. Surjya then hoisted the Indian flag in front of the Police Armoury to the chants of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and ‘Vande Mataram’, took salute and proclaimed a Provisional Indian Government. They then marched to the nearby Jalalabad Hills and hid there.
However, the British troops came back with more reinforcements a few days afterwards. Knowing that the revolutionaries were hiding in the Jalalabad hills, they surrounded the place trying to kill them. In the bloody attack that followed, there were casualties on both sides and the loss to the British was much more.
The remaining members of the group reorganized themselves into smaller groups and remained in hiding in the surrounding villages. They started guerilla attacks on the British, their property and government establishments in the following months. This included killings of magistrates and high-ranking police officials. In all attacks, lives were lost from both sides. In addition, many revolutionaries were arrested and punishments given, ranging from short term jail to long term deportation. Nevertheless, the British could not capture Surjya Sen though they tried hard. He was constantly moving from place to place in various disguises doing odd jobs here and there. The locals loved him so dearly that if they came to know of his identity also they kept it secret and helped him with food and shelter. In fact, all the revolutionaries were supported by the locals by way of food and shelter.
The desperate British then offered a bounty on Surjya’s head. Now, Surjya had taken asylum in his relative Nethra Sen’s house. Nethra Sen could not resist the bounty offered by the British and informed them about Surjya. In February 1933, Surjya Sen was found by the British at the house of Nethra Sen, arrested, kept in jail and tortured in an extremely brutal manner. He was finally hanged on January 12, 1934 along with one of his associates Tarakeswar Dastidar. In his last letter from jail Surjya Sen is said to have described his vision as “Only one thing that is my dream, a golden dream – the dream of a Free India”
With the martyrdom of Surjya Sen who was one of the last revolutionaries, the revolutionary movement tapered off. Even though these were not mass movements like the Non-cooperation movement involving the public, the sacrifices of revolutionaries such as Surjya Sen which arose due to their profound sense of patriotism had a very significant effect on the minds of the people and went a long way in reinforcing their sense of nationalism.
I have taken references for this from the book “India’s struggle for freedom” by Shri Bipan Chandra apart from information available on the internet.
I’m in awe of the sacrifices made and hardships faced by our freedom fighters. Nice to see that you are bringing to light such lesser known leaders and revolutionaries. Very disheartening to know that Surjya’s own relative had ultimately betrayed him to torture and death.
Thank you Vidhya!
Dr Padmanabha Vijayan
The congress party that ruled us over 70 years have completely omitted this part of the history from the text books and only eulogized Gandhi and Nehru. Even subhas Bose did not get the credit that was due to him. I have come to know of Surjya Sen only now. Even the great freedom fighters from the south india have been omitted from the history books
It is sad that the fifth columnists exploited the situation for monetary benefits
Thank you for highlighting the true heroes
Thank you Dr Padmanabha Vijayan ji!
What self less sacrifice and suffering for his dream of a Free India!!! Very touching account of the freedom fighter. May heroes like him abound!!
Thank you Sandhya!!
Nicely written! Look forward to the next
Thank you Ram Mohan!