By: Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
On December 3 2010 while my wife and my son were browsing in the small book shop of the TajMahal Hotel in Mumbai, I happened to glance at a paperback book with the title “ Do and Die, The Chittagong Uprising 1930-34” written by Manini Chatterjee. I instinctively felt that it must have something to do with the Chittagong Armoury Raids.
When I was a school boy, I heard about the Chittagong Armoury Raids from my old mate, Moirangthem Gojendra (deceased), who retired as a legal advisor to the Manipur Legislative Assembly. I only remember that he said – the ‘terrorists’ came wearing military uniforms and fooled the sentry at the gate. I never came across any book about this until I found this one.
The history of the Chittagong Armoury Raids, showed the extreme bravery of the Bengali race as pioneers of the armed Indian revolutionary movement until it moved to the north in the U P and Punjab During 1912-1947, the Sikh population of India was only 1.1 per cent, but 75 per cent of the revolutionaries serving in prison were Sikhs.
The Chittagong Armoury Raids of 1930 were carried by many men and two women, who were enthused with patriotism. The revolutionaries, four Bengalis and one domiciled northern Indian and sixty-one students between16-18, titled themselves Indian Republican Army (IRA) based on the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
The uprising was a simulation of the Irish “Easter Uprising” in Dublin. They even chose the Easter week of 1930 on the night of April 18, to strike at the British Armoury; Telephone exchange and Telegraph office; and the European Club inChittagong.
Another group severed the rail connections. They planned to hold the town for a week, like the Irish Republican Army that heldDublinfor one week. Theirs was “do and die” and “not to do and die”.
This incredibly brave volunteer Army though small in number, were armed and trained, willing to go down fighting like the Dubliners did. Their leaflet proclaimingIndia’s freedom was a carbon copy of the Proclamation of Independence, declared on behalf of the Provisional of theIrishRepublicby Patrick Pearse on the steps ofDublin’s General Post Office, fourteen years before the Armoury raids.
Now, a visitor inDublinwill see a small plaque in the General Post Office, commemorating the uprising on Monday April 24 1916.
The disparaging words of Thomas Babington Macaulay who despised Bengalis, most probably helped in fostering the nationalist feelings in Bengal. Macaulay’s remarks about the Bengali character and physique definitely played a bigger role in the subsequent growth of the violent agitation inBengal.
Leaders like the Presidency College–educated Bankimchandra Chatterjee who now had access to English literature, propounding the virtues of equality and freedom, wrote the religio-patriotic song Bande mataram, used by the Chittagong revolutionaries until it was later replaced by Inquilab Zindabad and Jai Hind.
Another was Cambridge-educated Aurobino Ghosh, who later became a seer in Portuguese Pondicherry after escaping fromBritish India, provided much more direct encouragement to the first revolutionary activists. Aurobindo who failed ICS only because he could not ride a horse, was to become the most prominent and the first to go in for direct armed action.
Macaulay wrote in his essay on Warren Hastings: “The physical organisation of the Bengalees is feeble even to effeminacy. He lives in constant vapour bath. His pursuits are
sedentary, his limbs delicate, his movements languid. During many ages he has been trampled
upon by men of bolder and more hardy breeds. Courage, independence, veracity are qualities to which his constitution and his situation are equally unfavourable.”
The statement led to the mushrooming of physical culture clubs where young men were taught body-building, lathi play and other martial arts. The Chittagong armed revolutionaries were such products. Macaulay gave these young men a desire for physical and military activities to challenge the colonial rule.
The insulting remarks of Macaulay on the Bengalis had a parallel for the Sikhs who for
umpteen years had been at the receiving end of a fertile joke, mainly from the north Indians – Sirdarjee bara bajge. The punch line is that when the clock strikes 12 the two hands of the clock lie on top of each other; Sikhs go “mad” thinking that one hand is missing. This is of course not true, just humour, but in bad taste.
During 1947-1966, the Sikh Diaspora in Vancouver, Canada, began the Khalistan (Pure-land) movement for an independent Punjabi-speaking Punjab. Prior to this, in the linguistic civil disorder of the 1950-1960 the Sikhs wanted to adopt Punjabi as an official language of Punjabi suba, which was opposed by the Punjabi-speaking Hindus.
As a result, in the 1951 and 1961 census Punjabi-speaking Hindus declared Hindi as their mother-tongue – advocated by Lala Jagat Narain, the owner and Editor of Hind Samachar (later assassinated by Sikh militants). Eventually, Haryana was born.
My Punjabi friend Dev Dutt Puri (deceased, who owned a sugar factory and heavy engineering plant at Jamunanagar in Haryana, began to speak in Hindi in the family instead of Punjabi. The whole family now speak Hindi.
While holidaying with him on the breathtakingly beautiful Lakshadeep Islands, off the Coast of Cochin, where there was nothing to do apart from drinking whisky and eating; no newspaper, no telephone, no television, he explained to me the meaning of a Mother-tongue.
A newly-born baby of a mother who speaks a language, if brought up by another woman speaking a different language, the baby will speak the adopted mother’s language, not the biological mother’s tongue.
In the Khalistan Independent movement, theGoldenTempleinAmritsarwas attacked by the Indian Army in Operation Blue Star, ordered by Indira Gandhi. A lot of the GoldenTemple complex was destroyed including the Akal Takht on June 4 1984.
The Temple was completely restored to its original grandeur when my son Neil and my late nephew Major Naorem Deepak, the Deputy Commander of BSP Academy in Gwalior at that time, visited it in December 2007.
The Calcutta Congress Session was held in December 1928 with Motilal Nehru as the President. All the top fiveChittagongleaders – Surya Sen (masterda), Ananta Singh, Ganesh Ghosh, and Loknath Bal, who attended the session were struck by the disciplined Congress
volunteers who were dressed in military khaki uniforms displaying military pageantry with Subhas Chandra Bose as the General Officer Commanding the Corps, supervising the volunteers on horseback.
In the earlier Congress Sessions, volunteers usually wore white khadi clothes and the white Gandhi cap. When they returned home they organised a district volunteer corps attached to the Congress party as a cover, inChittagong. They took months of secret preparations.
On the night of April 18 1930, a group of six armed men in a car, dressed in Army uniforms, approached the building containing the Guard room and the Police armoury. The sentry saw the car coming up.
Ananta Singh and Ganesh Ghosh stepped out of the car with all the authority of senior officers who had come suddenly for an unexpected inspection. The younger men jumped out
of the back seat as though they were their ADCs.
They stood less than ten feet away from the sentry who called out his routine challenge: ‘Halt, who goes there?’ Ananta and Ganesh shot him dead. Then they shouted as ploy to get the policemen inside the barracks on their side: Hato, bhago, Jan bachao, Gandhiji ka raj hogaya (get away, run, save your lives, Gandhiji’s raj have come). It worked; not a single policeman of the 200 or so stirred that night.
Things did not turn out quite as they had dreamed. When they broke open the armoury there were rows of ‘303 rifles, Lewis machine guns and revolvers, but empty wooden chests with no ammunition. Ananta Singh and Nirmal Sen knew their plans were doomed.
However, in honour of the Provisional Revolutionary Government, the solders of the IRA, Chittagong branch, fired three volleys in the air; the bugle was blown, and three times they shouted; Bande Matram. Masterda then hoisted the Indian national flag.
The 3/4 British officers in Chittagong, who were far from being cowards, were organising themselves. In the meantime, the revolutionary leaders who momentarily lost their nerves trudged out in the dark and eventually some of them hid on Jalalabad Hill, just outsideChittagong.
On April 22 there was a firefight with the British Indian troops. The dead bodies of the revolutionaries were burnt with petrol and wood.
Revolutionary activities continued until most of the top leaders were arrested in the later half of 1933. Among others, at the stroke of midnight of January 12 1934 Surya Sen was hanged in theChittagongjail, after he kissed the gallows. Kalpana Dutta was jailed for life in the Andamans. It marked the end of the Chittagong uprising.
The writer is based in the UK