Rodda Arms Heist 1914
Shrish Chandra Pal was the chief architect of Rodda Arms Heist, a most memorable incident in the history of revolutionary movement in India, one of the greatest successes achieved by the revolutionary groups in Bengal that had helped in changing the course of the revolutionary movement. Different revolutionary groups had mushroomed under the command of different leaders. Jugantar was a radical outfit named after the publication edited by Bhupendra Nath Datta, Anushilon Samity was the most prominent. Atmannnati Samity of Bipin Behari Ganguli and Harish Sikdar was another radical outfit in the guise of a social organization. Hemchandra Ghose's Mukti Sangha (later transformed into Bengal Volunteers) closely coordinated with all the groups.
In 1914 Shrish Chandra Pal, in one of the coordination meetings proposed that the revolutionaries should conduct a heist of the arms consignment of the Rodda company that included fifty Mauser pistols and fifty thousand rounds of ammunition, with the help of a clerk in the company called Shrish (Habu) Mitra who had provided the information. Narendranath Bhattacharya (later M.N Roy) called this idea as "insanity". But the person who gave a concrete shape to this insane idea was Shrish Chandra Pal, actively assisted by the other daring revolutionaries like Haridas Datta of Mukti Sangha, Anukul Mukherjee, Kalidas Bose, Girindra Bannerjee, Khagen Das, Harish Sikdar, Ashutosh Roy and leaders like Bagha Jatin and Bipin Behari Ganguly.
Shrish Chandra Pal had taken the revenge on the inspector Nandalal Bannerjee, who was the culprit to arrest Prafulla Chaki. He was killed in broad daylight in Serpentine Lane of Calcutta by Shrish Pal, who was never caught. So it was natural that this daring revolutionary would take up all responsibility of converting impracticality into practicality. Several equally daring people came forward to help - Shrish or Habu Mitra, Anukul Mukherjee, Haridas Datta along with the entire organizational strength of the Atmannati Samity. The mission was supported by Bagha Jatin, Hemchandra Ghosh and Bipin Behari Ganguly. A bullock cart was needed for the operation for loading the consignment of Arms. Habu Mitra, who had joined Rodda company a year earlier, was to load the arms in the bullock cart after customs clearance, and Haridas Datta was to drive the bullock cart. The Arms consignment was meant for Tibet for the ongoing China Tibet border skirmishes.
Prabhudayal Himmatsingka helped in providing lodging in Marwari hostel and also in dressing up Haridas as a Bihari bullock cart driver. On 26th August, 1914 the great plan was executed. Datta was able to drive the cart as efficiently as any regular cart driver. Shrish and Khagen Das followed the cart. The cart arrived in Dalhousie Square and the revolutionaries were armed with weapons to fight it out in the event that they were caught. The cart was loaded as per plan. The load was brought to a predetermined location, in a warehouse in Malanga Lane from where Anukul Mukherjee and Kalidas Bose delivered most of the ammunition and all the Mauser pistols to the revolutionaries across Bengal. Few Marwari community members like Hanuman Prasad Poddar of Marwari Sahayak Samity, Prabhudayal Himmatsingka and Ghanashyamdas Birla, helped in storing the arms temporarily at their places. Dukoribala Devi, an aunt of Ranen Ganguli who was involved in killing Nandalal Bannerjee, had helped the revolutionaries by storing some of the arms, for which she had to pay a heavy price in her personal life. These Mauser pistols were used by Jatindranath Mukherjee in his final battle in Balasore. A part of the consignment went to Motilal Roy of Chandannagore group. Rashbehari Bose kept a Mauser pistol with him. Rest were distributed among the the revolutionaries of Anushilon Samity , Mukti Sangha, Atmannnati Samity in Dhaka, Calcutta and other areas of Bengal.
Habu Mitra and Shrish Pal escaped to Rangpur and stayed in Dr. Bardhan's house as his cousin, from where Habu Mitra was sent to Assam once police caught his scent. The consignment of the remaining cartridges had to be removed to the house of Bhujanga Dhar. From there it was shifted to a godown in Burrabazar area. The only hitch in the plan was that, since Kalidas Bose's own cart did not arrive on time, the revolutionaries had to hire two hackney carriages to move the big boxes of the cartridges, which proved to be fatal, as the carriage drivers could identify them to the police.
In about six days Rodda company discovered that their consignment did not reach the intended recipient. The British Government panicked. Every locality in Calcutta was put under strict vigilance and Tegart himself monitored any suspicious movement. Revolutionaries had a problem. They had not yet brought 21000 rounds of ammunition in safe custody. The box of the ammunition was placed in a storehouse belonging to a Marwari family. But Jorabagan police station was alerted and they deployed a police constable near that warehouse. Haridas Datta was entrusted to empty that warehouse. When he went to the owner of that storehouse he was detained by Shukdeo, the gatekeeper, and the police constable caught him and wanted to take him to the police station. Haridas tried to escape but was caught by the locals when the constable raised an alarm "Daku bhagta Hai". When brought to the police station, Charles Tegart told him, "Hallo, Royal Bengal Tiger! Now you are bagged." Police arrested Anukul Mukherjee, Kalidas Bose, Girin Bannerjee, Bhujanga Dhar, Prabhudayal Himmatsingka and others. Shrish Pal and Khagen Das had escaped.
Rodda Conspiracy Case ran for seven months. Haridas Datta, Kalidas Bose, Bhujanga Dhar and Naren Bannerjee were convicted and others were released. Hardidas Datta was put in prison for four years in Presidency Central Jail. Later he was rearrested under Defence Act three and put in Hazaribagh Central Jail. Khagen Das was also arrested later.
Habu Mitra died while traveling to China from Assam. His body was never found. Shrish Pal, who was living as Naren Datta, was arrested in 1916 and was imprisoned under Act Three. His health was broken but he was actively engaged in revolutionary activities until his death in 1939. Thus ended a most memorable chapter in the history of freedom movement.
(Adapted from Sabar Alakhye, by Bhupendra Kishore Rakshit Roy, the noted revolutionary leader)
Masterda Surjya Sen was the leader of the Chattogram Uprising that for the first time in the history of India dislodged the British Government. For a long period of time, Chattogram revolutionaries under Surjya Sen, the favourite Master da of the students, was planning for a major uprising. The revolutionaries had taken advantage of the Non Cooperation Movement for regrouping. After Non Cooperation movement was halted by Gandhiji, the revolutionaries had gathered under the umbrella of the Congress for gaining time and energy. The Congress Session of 1928 in Calcutta, which was coordinated by Subhas Chandra Bose as the GoC of the Bengal Volunteers, gave the revolutionaries an opportunity to come together and gather strength. In Chattogram, Surjya Sen prepared a volunteer corps in military style. They gathered arms and ammunition and money to conduct a major uprising. The day for the event was decided - 18th April, 1930. It was a Good Friday. The supreme commander of the operation was Surjya Sen. The War Council included Nirmal Sen, Ambika Chakrabarty, Loknath Bal, Ananta Singh, Ganesh Ghosh and Upen Bhattacharya. The name of the army was Indian Republican Army. The coordinated plan of assault was decided. Ananta Singh and Ganesh Ghosh would lead the Police Armoury Raid, Nirmal and Loknath Bal would lead Railway Armoury Raid, Ambika would attack the Telegraph and Telephone exchange to cut off communication. The Action Squads would cut off Chattagram from the rest of India and thus ensure delay in the arrival of the British Police's reinforcement.
Surjya Sen passed out BA from Calcutta University in 1918. After passing out he became a teacher in the Chattogram National School. He was a teacher in Mathematics. He did not interact much with people and students but he soon became a very popular teacher, called by all and sundry as Masterda. Surjya Sen was passionate about Indian Independence Movement. He set up a devoted group of youth that included Ambika Chakrabarty, Julu Sen, Nirmal Sen and others. He and his students took advantage of the Non Cooperation movement to secretly organize the revolutionary army, to coordinate with every revolutionary group that was active like Jugantar and Atmonnnati Samity. The revolutionaries joined the Bengal Volunteers group of Hemchandra Ghosh to further strengthen the revolutionary activities in a military way. Surjya Sen started preparing for the final assault and Chattogram was decided to be the place where the assault on the Empire would be launched. The revolutionaries had secretly met Subhas Chandra Bose earlier and got inspiration from him. A war council was prepared whose members included - Supreme Commander Surjya Sen, Nirmal Sen, Loknath Bal, Ananta Singh, Ganesh Ghosh, Ambika Chakrabarty, Uprendranath Bhattacharya. The name of the army was Indian Republican Army.
On 18th April, 1930, on the day of the Easter Rising of the Irish revolutionaries, the Chattogram revolutionaries decided to launch a coordinated attack on the police armoury, the railway armoury and the other Government establishments like the telegraph and the telephone offices. Ananta Singh and Ganesh Ghosh would attack Police armoury, railway armoury attack would be led by Nirmal Sen and Loknath Bal, Ambika Chakrabarty would attack Telegraph and Telephone Exchange. A thirty member squad would be waiting at the HQ near the police armoury. The coordinated assault would be launched in motor vehicles.
The attack was successful. The revolutionaries controlled the entire Chattogram for three days. British left the town in hordes. Magistrate Wilkinson survived an attack by feigning death. National Flag was raised in place of Union Jack. There were debacles as well. Himangshu Sen was severely burnt and Ganesh Ghosh and Ananta Singh went to the city for his medical treatment. As Ganesh and Ananta were delayed, Surjya Sen, being unable to get complete information of the situation of the town, thought that they had been encircled and that Ganesh and Ananta had been captured. He therefore ordered the force to move to the jungles and hilly tracts. Ambika Chakrabarty led the team. The British police and army team reached Jalalabad hills with heavy weapons. The freedom fighters were without food and water. They were seen by the villagers, so police had got their trace. They had reached the hill top and started their fight when the army reached near the base. With heavy guns the army fought back from a trench and the revolutionaries began to lose their armymen. First to go was Tegra (Harigopal Bal), the younger brother of Loknath Bal. Then fell Tripura Sengupta, Naresh Roy, Bidhu Bhattacharya, Prbhas Bal, Madhu Dutta, Nirmal Sen, Ardhendu Dastidar, Jiten Dasgupta, Pulin Ghosh, Shashanka Sen, Moti Kanungo. As the evening came the British Army retreated. The dead soldiers of the revolutionary army were given Guard of Honour. Ambika Chakrabarty was injured but was thought to be dead. The rest of the revolutionary army started to go deep into the forest and jungles as morning would bring more forces. Ambika walked alone and took shelter in a village. Nirmal and Ardhendu were injured. Nirmal and Masterda went a separate way while others under Loknath Bal moved in a different direction. They later met in the Koapada village. They were further helped by Binoy Sen who gave shelter even by incurring debt for days, Mahendra Choudhury who assumed the role of a secret service officer, and Satinath Sen who had helped Mahendra in fulfilling his duty.
By morning thousands of Army men had arrived in Chattogram as reinforcement and had started to intimidate and terrorize the citizens. They had combed the entire area and recovered the bodies of those who were killed. Injured Ardhendu was captured and he died in jail.
The associates of Masterda in the meanwhile had gathered strength and on 5th May a group of six revolutionaries Rajat, Manoranjan, Deviprasad, Phanindra, Swadesh and Subodh went to attack the white dominated area of Chattogram. Police were alerted and they had to take shelter in Rajat's house. Then they escaped to Kalarpol village by crossing Karnaphuli river. The ignorant villagers thought them to be bandits and surrounded them. In the meanwhile police had arrived and a fierce gun battle followed after which three revolutionaries were caught and four escaped. But again their presence was betrayed while trying to take refuge in a Muslim house. Rajat, Swadesh, Devi and Manoranjan died in the gun battle that followed.
Ananta, Ganesh and two of their associates were caught in the Pheni station by the local police but they could escape by firing at random. Ananta and Ganesh reached Calcutta. In Calcutta they were met by Loknath Bal and took shelter with the Jugantar group. The Jugantar group had sent them to Chandannagore where they took shelter in a house rented by two revolutionaries Shashadhar Acharya and Suhasini Ganguli, who played the role of husband and wife in order to protect the revolutionaries.
On 28th June Ananta Singh surrendered himself to I.G Lowman. On 1st September a police force reached Chandannagore with Charles Tegart at the helm and raided the house of Shashadhar. In the gun battle that followed Jiban Ghoshal lost his life.
On 1st December an attack was launched on I.G Craig in Chattogram. Being indisposed Ramkrishna Biswas, a close associate of Master Da could not take part in Chattogram uprising. He took up the responsibility of killing Craig who was notorious for his high handedness in dealing with ordinary citizen in the aftermath of the uprising. In the station Chandpur the train had stopped and the revolutionaries Ramkrishna and Kalipada thought that Craig was sitting in a first class compartment. Unfortunately they had killed Tarini Mukherjee by mistake. Both were caught while escaping. Ramkrishna was sent to the gallows. He was in the condemned cell beside Dinesh Gupta, the daring revolutionary of Bengal Volunteers who had been captured while launching a ferocious attack in the Writers' Building. It was Subhas Chandra Bose who ensured that the two met before departing the world. Ramakrishna was hanged few days after Dinesh courted death. Kalipada was deported for life.
The British administration carried out extreme repressive activities to terrorize ordinary population. At its forefront was communal Muslim officer Asanullah, who had carried the terror activities to the extreme by not even sparing school going children and Hindu women. On 30th Aug, 1931, Asanullah was shot dead by a young boy named Haripada Bhattacharya. Haripada was captured and was tortured to the utmost extent, needles were pricked through his finger nails, but the young boy did not budge and did not reveal any name. He was beaten daily for extracting information on the whereabouts of Masterda and his associates. When sever repression failed he was sentenced to deportation for life. The boy belonging to a poverty stricken family accepted the ordeal without batting an eyelid. Another brave son of mother Bengal was sacrificed. The revolutionaries did not stop, magistrate Durno was attacked next by Saroj Guha and Ramen Bhoumik belonging to the Jugantar group. In Kumilla, Ellison, the police super, who was notorious for his repressive measures, was killed by Shailesh Roy.
Surjya Sen, Nirmal Sen and Apurba Sen of Indian Republican Army took shelter in the family of Savitri Devi of Dhalghat. Police had raided the house and the revolutionaries retaliated. Nirmal Sen and Apurba Sen died. Masterda and Preetilata Wadeddar, the fearless woman revolutionary who would go down in the history book for attacking European Club, escaped. Severe punishment was waiting for Savitri Devi for sheltering the revolutionaries. Her meager property was confiscated, house was broken, she along with her son and daughter arrested and put in terrible condition in Medinipur jail. She lost her son Ramkrishna in jail as he contacted tuberculosis. She was not allowed to even meet her dying son who died owing to a wretched and inhuman condition in British jail. The Hindu widow could endure the various ignominies that she underwent in jail but could not bear the loss of her son in such a terrible plight. Such was the British fairness, British justice and British Governance system in India!
On 24th September, 1932, Preetilata prepared herself for the final assault on the European Club in Chattogram, to protest against the British repressions. The revolutionaries went inside the heavily guarded club dressed as ordinary cart drivers. By the time military police arrived the operation was complete and the revolutionaries escaped, barring Preetilata, who had consumed cyanide.
The last episode was unfolded in the Gairala village near Dhalghat. On 2nd February 1933, a local traitor called Netra Sen, being lured of the heavy prize money that police had promised, divulged Surya Sen's position. Masterda and his worker Brajen Sen were arrested. Terrible torture awaited both of them. They were brought enchained all the way on foot from Gairala to the central prison. On the way they were beaten continuously and mercilessly by the British police. Tarakeswar Dastidar and Kalpana Datta could escape in the dark. They were soon captured in a battle in another village where they had taken refuge. Netra Sen, the traitor, received his prize, his head rolled on the food plate in front of him by a revolutionary's dagger. A bullet was too precious for a worthless worm like him.
A special tribunal was created for the Chattogram revolutionaries. Sarat Chandra Bose, the elder brother of Subhas Chandra Bose, had appeared for the revolutionaries. On 1st March, 1932, the first special tribunal ensured deportation for Ganesh Ghosh, Ananta Singh, Loknath Bal, Ananda Gupta and others. The third tribunal awarded death sentence to Masterda. In jail Masterda was severely tortured in order to break his morale. But he remained unperturbed till the end. As a devotee of the Goddess Kali, he had already sacrificed himself and his associates to her. A eyewitness described in the Bengali book Chattogram Astragar Lunthan, as to how Masterda initiated the newcomers to the revolutionary army in a Kali temple. On 12th January, 1934, Masterda and Tarakeswar Dastidar were taken out of their cells, beaten to the pulp and then hanged unceremoniously before sunrise amidst chants of Bande Mataram. Chattogram lost its hero. As a revenge the young revolutionaries had staged another assault. On 7th January, 1934, during a cricket match of the British officers, four young revolutionaries Nityagopal & Himanshu Bhattacharya, Krishna Choudhury and Harendra Chakrabarty staged a daring attack and courted death.