“Long Live Revolution”, “An appeal to sisters… Women today have taken the firm resolution that they will not remain in the background. For the freedom of their motherland, they are willing to stand side by side with their brothers in every action, however hard or fearful it may be… I boldly declare myself as a revolutionary.” Pamphlets with these handwritten words on them were discovered tucked in the shirt of Pritilata Waddedar when the police found her body outside the Pahartali European Club.
Born on 5 May 1911 in Chittagong (present-day Bangladesh), Pritilata Waddedar was one of the first women who took up arms to participate in revolutionary activities. Her anger against the Imperialist rule manifested in her at a young age, as she was influenced by the revolutionary literature she read and was also witness to women taking an active part in the nation’s freedom struggle. While in college, she joined the Deepali Sangha, a revolutionary group that provided combat training to women and made them politically conscious.
Later on, when she moved to Calcutta for her higher education, she came in close contact with Surya Sen. She was keen on joining his group: the Indian Revolutionary Army (IRA), Chittagong Branch. However, it was not easy for her to find a place in this male-dominated organisation, because of the general belief that women did not possess the necessary grit and fortitude needed in desperate situations. Pritilata and her comrade Kalpana Dutt had to undergo rigorous training to prove their abilities and commitment to the cause.
After the Chittagong Armoury Raid of April 1930, which was carried out by Surya Sen and his associates from the IRA, the police clamped down heavily on them. Many were captured and sentenced, while the rest escaped and went underground. At times like this, when male leaders became prime suspects, the women leaders had to take charge, and Pritilata, who was inspired by the heroic exploits of the IRA, rose to the challenge and bravely carried out her duties. She was tasked with organising women, gathering information from the imprisoned revolutionaries in disguise, distributing revolutionary pamphlets, and collecting bomb cases secretly. She did all of this with precision while managing to evade the police very adeptly.
While still in hiding, plans to unleash attacks were underway. In 1932, they decided to attack the Pahartali European Club (a social club for Europeans). This club was targeted primarily for its racial and discriminatory practices. It had a signboard that read “Dogs and Indians not allowed”. Pritilata, though only 21 years old, was made the leader of a group of 7-10 young men who were trained to carry out the siege. On the night of 23 September, dressed like a man, she boldly led the attack. In the ensuing fierce gun battle, she got shot in the leg, which prevented her from escaping. Instead of surrendering, she chose to swallow a pill of cyanide and thus became a martyr.
Pritilata sacrificed her life for the cause of freedom of the nation. The zeal with which she carried out the assault and embraced martyrdom awakened the people, especially women. In choosing to end her life, she preferred a death of dignity to a life of degradation.