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Remembering Nanibala Devi - the first woman state prisoner in British Bengal

Nanibala Devi, or Pisima (Paternal Aunt, father's sister) as she was fondly called among the revolutionaries, played a stellar role in the revolutionary movement. She was perhaps the first woman revolutionary to do so. She was a widow, and like any other Bengali Brahmin widow, she lived a normal life until she developed an urge to do something for the freedom of India. It is hard to say when the desire came to her mind to help the revolutionaries, mainly young men. But perhaps her nephew Amarendra Chatterjee, a famous revolutionary of the Chandannagore group, had something to do with it. At the time of the First World War, the revolutionaries were active in hatching an international conspiracy taking advantage of the precarious condition of the British in the first world war. Rashbehari Bose was one of the masterminds. Himself from Chandannagore, a French colony, he kept close contact with the Chandannagore group of revolutionaries under Motilal Roy of Prabartak Sangha, and the great teacher Charuchandra Roy, who took full advantage of the lack of monitoring of the French police. Other notable revolutionaries were Ramchandra Majumdar, Shrish Ghosh, Sagarkali Ghosh, Naresh Sen, Satish Chakrabarty, Kochin Dutta, Naren Bannerjee, Manik Rakshit, among others. The revolutionaries like Dr. Jadugopal Mukherjee needed shelter in Chandannagore. But nobody was willing to give shelter to unmarried young men in those days for fear of the British police and the detectives. Nanibala Devi came forward and stayed as a young wife of a revolutionary - unthinkable for a widow of 22 years in those days. But she did it with aplomb. Not only that. After the Rodda arms heist, a large catchment of revolvers was with the revolutionaries (Mauser pistols). Ramachandra Majumdar was arrested, and he had hidden some of the pistols. It was needed to get their information from him. Nanibala Devi went to meet him in Presidency jail, posing the role of his wife and got the information. The police could not think that a woman would play such a daring role in their dream. When they got to know about her, she had gone to Kashi. The Kashi police were after her when she escaped to Peshawar. In Peshawar, the police caught her when she was ill with Kala -azar. She was brought to Kashi and was subjected to inhuman torture by the British police and their Indian collaborators. She did not reveal any information. She was brought to Bengal, and in Alipore prison, she was again subjected to inhuman torture. Under Tegart's instruction, red chili powder was put in her private parts. She did not lose her courage. She slapped the police officer Goldie when he lied to her and insulted her when she wanted to stay with the Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. Fearless Nanibala Devi was held captive for over two years, but she revealed nothing. Eventually, the British police let her go, but her health had declined by then. This great lady freedom fighter passed away as destitute, unwanted, and shunned by her relatives and friends. But she left an indelible imprint of the ideals of fearlessness and selflessness for all of us.

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