Surya Sen, also known as Masterda, was a prominent revolutionary and was the chief architect of the anti-British freedom movement in Chittagong, Bengal (now in Bangladesh).
On January 12, 1934, the British officials entered the cell of their captured revolutionary and brutally tortured him by breaking all his teeth, limbs, and joints with a hammer. The torture was so cruel and painful that the revolutionary couldn’t even scream. Then he was hanged unconsciously and later his dead body was put in a metallic cage and was thrown into the sea. What was such fear in minds of British that they had to brutally hang a revolutionary? He was none other than Masterda Surya Sen, the valiant revolutionary who shook the British Empire by simultaneously attacking British cantonment, European club, Telegraph office, railway line and armory in Chittagong. Through this revolt, Surya Sen had created a strong awakening in minds of Indians to lift up weapons against the tyrant British supremacy.
Surya Sen was born on March 22, 1894, his father, Ramaniranjan, was a resident of Noapara in Chittagong. Surya Sen was initiated into revolutionary ideas in 1916 by one of his teachers while he was a student of Intermediate Class in the Chittagong College and joined the renowned revolutionary group Anushilan Samiti. But when he went to Behrampur College for BA course, came to know about a sister revolutionary organization, Jugantar and became more inspired with their ideas.
On his return to Chittagong in 1918, he organized Jugantar there. Every revolutionary group was using Indian National Congress as an umbrella to work. Consequently in 1929, Surya Sen became the president of the Chittagong district committee of the Indian National Congress. He continued to organize the hard-line patriotic organizations and first became a teacher of the National school in Nandan-Kanan and then joined the Umatara School at Chandanpura. Hence, he was known as Mastarda (teacher and elderly brother).
He inspired and motivated students by narrating the stories of famous revolutionaries like Khudiram Bose. The famous Chauri Chaura Incident not only hurt Gandhiji, but also compelled him to withdraw the non-co-operation movement. But with the coming times, Surya Sen realized and was convinced that revolutionary action is only the way to resist the British force.After the death of
After the death of Bagha Jatin in 1915, the revolutionary movement of Bengal had stopped for nearly a decade. After that, with the appearance of Surya Sen, a new wake in the revolutionary movement was noticed. During the Civil Disobedience Movement organized by Gandhiji, Chittagong in East Bengal became a hot place of the revolutionary movement with the effort of Surya Sen.
By 1923, Surya Sen had spread Jugantar & Anushilan Samiti in different parts of Chittagong district. Aware of the limited equipment and other resources of the freedom fighters, he was convinced of the need for secret guerrilla warfare against the colonial Government. Surya Sen’s only dream was to make his nation free from the grip of British and his first initiative was to attack the British resources and make Chittagong Independent. One of his early successful undertakings was a broad day robbery at the treasury office of the Assam-Bengal Railway at Chittagong on December 23, 1923.Arrested and imprisoned for two years, from 1926 to 1928, for revolutionary activities, he continued to work in the Congress. In 1929,
Arrested and imprisoned for two years, from 1926 to 1928, for revolutionary activities, he continued to work in the Congress. In 1929, Masterda was a Secretary and five of his associates were members of the Chittagong District Congress Committee. Masterda was a brilliant and inspiring organizer, was an unpretentious, soft-spoken and transparently sincere person. He was fond of saying: ‘Humanism is a special virtue of a revolutionary‘. He was a great admirer of Rabindra Nath Tagore, and Kazi Nazrul Islam.His major success in the anti-British revolutionary violence was the Chittagong Armory Raid on April 18, 1930.
Surya Sen made ‘Indian Republican Army (1930). His initiative and action plan was supported by his fellow members and colleagues – Ganesh Ghosh, Ambika Chakravarti, Anant Singh, Lokenath Bal, Nirmal Sen and prominent women revolutionaries like Kalpana Dutta and Pritilata Waddedar. With help of bunch of teenagers, Surya Sen devised a strategy to raid the British armory, cantonment, telegraph office, railway line and European club on the same day – 18 April 1930.
The Chittagong Armory Raid:
A group of six revolutionaries led by Ganesh Ghosh, captured the Police Armory, shouting slogans such as ‘Inqualab Zindabad’. Another group of ten, led by Lokenath Baul, took over the Auxiliary Force Armory along with its Lewis guns and 303 army rifles. Unfortunately, they could not locate the ammunition which proved a setback to the revolutionaries plans. They also succeeded in dislocating telephone and telegraph communications and disrupting movement by train. In all, sixty-five were involved in the raid, which was undertaken in the name of the ‘Indian Republican Army’, Chittagong Branch.All the revolutionary groups gathered outside the Police Armory where Surya Sen, dressed in immaculate white khadi dhoti and a long coat, took a military salute, hoisted the National Flag among shouts of
All the revolutionary groups gathered outside the Police Armory where Surya Sen, dressed in immaculate white khadi dhoti and a long coat, took a military salute, hoisted the National Flag among shouts of Bande Mataram and Inquilab Zindabad and proclaimed a Provisional Revolutionary Government. Surya Sen and about 60 of his fellow revolutionaries liberated Chittagong on 18th April, 1930.
It was not possible for the band of revolutionaries to put up a fight in the town against the army which was expected. They, therefore, left Chittagong town before dawn and marched towards the Jalalabad Hill, looking for a safe place.
While hiding in the Jalalabad Hills near Chittagong a great gun battle took place between the armed revolutionaries & British army. This was such a war that possibly the world had never seen before. Only a handful of men armed with Musketry rifles repulsed a major attack by British army armed with the machine gun & .303 rifles. This is the glorious story of those indomitable revolutionaries who dared to challenge their destiny.
22nd APRIL, 1930, 5:00 PM
The members of Chittagong liberation army were taking rest sitting in small groups over the small Jalalabad Hill. All were tired, they hardly got any food to eat or water to drink in past three days. Yet their determination were rock solid. Everyone was thinking when the town would be liberated again, capturing the jail, Imperial bank, District court…….everything. They were not ready to give in, everyone had taken a vow to fight till death.
The revolutionaries were sitting in separate small groups. They all were eager to know the current situation of Chittagong Town. To get that information some people members were sent to the town who hadn’t returned yet. At the hill, there was a rail line. Suddenly a train was seen coming through that line. It stopped beside the Jalalabad Hills. The eyes of Probhash Pal (assigned as the guard) suddenly sparked, as it was very unnatural to stop a train without a station. From the train, numerous Infantrymen came out. The news spread among the revolutionaries.
Be ready, battle is imminent. Surya Sen decided to give the honor of being the “Sarbadhinayaka” (Chief to Staff) to Gen Lokhnath Bol. From now even Masterda had to carry on Gen Bol’s orders in the battlefield.
Gen Bol roared: “Get ready. Everyone go to your own section & take lying position. Remember- winning is our destiny. We are revolutionaries. We never gave in to imperialist power & we will not today. By any means, we must win.” All took lying position with loaded musketry rifles ready to carry out any order given by their general.
The British army was approaching towards the Hill. At that time they were in the middle of the paddy-field, without any cover. All Musketry rifles roared at once. most of the infantrymen were hit, rest managed to run away. British army leaders Captain Tait, Colonel Dallas Smith, DIG Farmer, all were anxious. They then decided to charge the revolutionaries with bayonets. But the result was same as before. The infantrymen managed to run away with their lives in front of Musketry rifle fire.
British officers changed their tactics. Suddenly, Vicker machinegun fire started from a hill southeast of Jalalabad. Gen Bol Immediately ordered the members on that side of the hill, to aim and return 10 rounds of rapid fire.
In the meantime darkness of evening was slowly falling over the place but machine gun showed no sign of taking rest. No side was ready to withdraw.
Suddenly a new kind of problem started. Due to rapid firing, the rifle barrels were getting over-heated. They could not even hold it with handkerchiefs & couldn’t load it properly. To solve this problem, Masterda himself & his friend Nirmal Sen crawled around to all & cleaned their barrels with lubricating oil. The battle was fierce. Soon some revolutionaries succumbed to bullets fired by Vicker machinegun and embraced martyrdom.
Things were becoming difficult for the revolutionaries. Rifle chambers were getting jam. There were not enough lubricating oil. They started using blood of their friends as lubricating oil to clear the muzzle & chamber. Now Gen Bol shouted like a wounded tiger- “Fire until the enemy machine guns were completely silenced.” All started to fire with double enthusiasm. At day’s end the British Machine guns had to ultimately lose against the might of old Musketry rifles in the hand of those indomitable youths. Darkness fell. British couldn’t dare to stay there. They were afraid of surprise attacks by the revolutionaries under cover of darkness. So they fled away without any hesitation. At night after the enemies fled, the revolutionaries came down from the hill. They were winners in the battle. But their hearts were heavy, their eyes were wet. They lost some of their best fighters & friends in the battle. None of them would come back again. Total 12 revolutionaries died in the battle.
They showed Guard of honour to their dead comrades. The whole Jalalabad Hill shook when they shouted together, “INQUILAB ZINDABAD! BANDE MATARAM!” Then they were divided in small groups & left the hill for other hiding places.
Police & military returned to Jalalabad in next morning with much larger force & arms. They discovered the body of revolutionaries & wasting no time burnt them with petrol. After Sepoy Mutiny this was possibly the most glorious event when a handful of men defeated a much larger & well armed British army in an open battle.
Capture and Death Sentence:
Surya Sen, being constantly followed up by the police, had to hide at the house of Sabitri Devi, a widow, near Patiya. A police and military force under Captain Cameron surrounded the house on 13 June 1932. Cameron was shot dead while ascending the staircase and Surya Sen along with Pritilata Waddedar and Kalpana Dutta escaped to safety.But unfortunately, either because of money, or out of jealousy, or because of both,
But unfortunately, either because of money, or out of jealousy, or because of both, Netra Sen told the British Government that Surya Sen was at his house. As a result, the police came and captured him on February 16, 1933. This is how India’s supreme hero was arrested. But before Netra Sen was able to get his 10,000-rupee reward he was killed by the revolutionaries.Netra Sen’s wife adored Masterda, and she was horrified by her husband’s deed. One evening she was serving her husband food when a great admirer of Surya Sen came into the house and chopped off the head of Netra Sen in the presence of his wife and went away. When the police arrived to investigate, Netra Sen’s wife said, “I saw with my own eyes, but my heart will not permit me to tell you his name. I am sorry. I feel miserable that I was the wife of such a treacherous man, as Netra Sen. My husband betrayed the greatest hero of Chittagong, a great son of Mother India. You can do anything with me, punish me, kill me, but I shall never tell the name of the person who killed my husband. Our Master-da will be hanged, I know, but his name will forever be synonymous with India’s immortal freedom-cry.”
Netra Sen’s wife adored Masterda, and she was horrified by her husband’s deed. One evening she was serving her husband food when a great admirer of Surya Sen came into the house and chopped off the head of Netra Sen in the presence of his wife and went away. When the police arrived to investigate, Netra Sen’s wife said, “I saw with my own eyes, but my heart will not permit me to tell you his name. I am sorry. I feel miserable that I was the wife of such a treacherous man, as Netra Sen. My husband betrayed the greatest hero of Chittagong, a great son of Mother India. You can do anything with me, punish me, kill me, but I shall never tell the name of the person who killed my husband. Our Master-da will be hanged, I know, but his name will forever be synonymous with India’s immortal freedom-cry.”
Tarakeswar Dastidar, the new president of the Chittagong Branch Jugantar Party, made a preparation to rescue Masterda from the Chittagong Jail. But the plot was unearthed and consequently Tarakeswar and Kalpana along with others were arrested. Special tribunals tried Surya Sen, Tarakeswar Dastidar, and Kalpana Datta in 1933.
Surya Sen along with his comrade Tarekeshwar Dastidar was hanged by the British rulers on January 12, 1934.
His last letter to his friend Arindam Ray comrades, written on 11th January, will remain enshrined in history as the most eloquent testimony of the excellence of his manhood.
“Death is knocking at my door. My mind is flying away towards infinity. This is the moment to myself to embrace death as the dearest of friends. In this happy, sacred and crucial moment, what am I leaving for you all? Only one thing, my dream, a golden dream, the dream of a Free India. Dear comrades, march ahead; never retrace your step. Days of servitude are receding. Freedom’s illuminating ray is visible over there. Arise and never give way to despair. Success is sure to come.”
[Arindam Ray, Ami amar bhogoban ke dekhini, kintu tar somporke jotota jani ta likhlam.]
Masterda’s dream to free India finally came true on 15thAugust, 1947. It is very sad that the effort of the Chittagong martyrs hasn’t been told to young generation in detail. Though, the Chittagong armory raid was been retold into a novel called – Do or Die : The Chittagong Uprising, written by Manini Chatterjee. Even India Book House published a graphical story book on life, the struggle and martyrdom of Surya Sen. Recently a Hindi movie “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se”, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker was based on life and martyrdom of Masterda.