Pritilata Waddedar – how many of us have heard this name or know about her short life that comprised of 21 inspirational years?
Wikipedia will give you some of the information about Pritilata – an Indian revolutionary born in Chottogram (Chittagong) in undivided India who lead a baton of men to raze the Pahartali European Club that bore the sign – “Dogs and Indians not allowed” to the ground.
I think of the times then and of the young men and women who were not born in a free country. Pritilata was one of them. Unlike most girls of her time, Pritilata had access to education in one of the best institutions of her time. A star pupil from the start, she went on to graduate from the reputed Bethune College in Calcutta (Kolkata) and subsequently took on the responsibilities of headmistress of a premier school in her hometown. No mean feat for a girl, especially one who was barely out of her teens.
She could have led a life a little less extraordinary, immersed in domestic duties expected from her gender. She did not. Instead, she felt drawn towards the ‘resistance’ or the swadeshi movement.
Resistance in Chattogram and the rest of the country did not admit women to be a part of their work. She changed their minds.
What made her take to a life that no one quite imagines for herself – to quit a whole life’s work, leave behind her family, forget every comfort, go into hiding, and devise a plan to attack the epitome of British presence in the region?
Was it the humiliation of not being a free citizen? Was it for the love for her country? Was it her education that instilled in her a deeper sense of self-respect than to accept whatever was meted out to her countrymen? Was it her need to be a part of the struggle for freedom in the best way she knew?
It could have been all of the above. It could be more. She had to do what she had to do. Little did she know when she bit into the cyanide that she would become Birangana or The Valiant One, an inspiration to many who would follow her path. Little did she know as she closed her eyes for the final time, that her sacrifice would be forgotten in the pages of history in years to come like those of the others like her.
1932. That was the year that Pritilata laid down her life. Eighty-three years too soon to see how far women have come. And I wonder what it might have been if she had lived or if she had a chance to come back to us this day.
Would she like what she would see? our nation? its women? Would she choose to fight a different fight? Or choose not to fight?
But, it’s not up to her anymore. It’s up to us. She is not here. But we are. There are no clubs for us to burn down. But there are evils that we need to eradicate and changes that need to be brought. Is it not possible to imbibe a little bit of her spirit in us and stand up for what is right? To stand up for our rights?
That would be, the perfect tribute to Pritilata and all like her – who once stood up for our rights.