By Rijuta Dey Bera
Jamshedpur, April 20: Ninety years ago, my grandfather was shot and left to die by the British forces after a fierce battle, bleeding into the soil of Chittagong or Chottogram of Undivided India.
A 36-year old schoolmaster and his disciples, inspired by the 1916 Easter Uprising in Ireland, challenged the tyranny of the British Raj, and for a few glorious days threw off the yoke of imperial servitude.
They paid a heavy price, many with their lives, but a tinder had been struck, and a group of scrappy young Bengali men and women had briefly managed to break the back of the colonisers by attacking and capturing British strongholds.
I am referring to the little-known saga of the Chittagong Armoury Raid that took place on 18 April 1930, and the ensuing Battle of Jalalabad Hills on 22 April 1930, led by ‘Masterda’ Surya Kumar Sen, who had once held the mantle of president of the Indian National Congress’s Chittagong branch.
My grandfather, Suresh Chandra Dey was one of the 65 members of the Chittangong branch of Indian Republic Army who had created history by raiding the local armoury and cutting off the communication systems to isolate the strategically important port city.
A few days later, a regiment of more than 20,000 British troops struck back, cornering the revolutionaries in the verdant hills of Jalalabad, who raised the slogan ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and fought back despite being heavily outnumbered. It was during this fierce gun battle that my grandfather was shot in his left hand.
As fate willed, Suresh Dey survived the bullet injury and was helped by his comrade Shanti Nag who carried him down the hill on his shoulders to safety.
Suresh Dey was eventually arrested years later and jailed without a trial being incarcerated as a political prisoner. When his tormentors could not extract information from him through coercion and torture, they tried bribing him, offering to send him to England and fund his higher studies as a barrister.
The young man did not give in and was eventually released and placed under house arrest. So much so, when Suresh Chandra Dey wed Kironmoyee, it was in the presence of British soldiers.
Suresh Dey then made his way westward and eventually established a shoe business in the then small town, Jamshedpur but later went on to become an established brand beyond the national borders.
Suresh Dey opened the first Sreeleathers store in Jamshedpur in 1952, its genesis etched by the principles of a young man who refused to bend to tyranny.
Dadu’smasterda Surya Sen met a different end: Sen was betrayed to the British and was hung to death in 1934 along with his friend Tarakeswar Dastidar, and both men were reportedly subjected to brutal torture before their execution.
I have seen the cinematic representation of the uprising in two separate Bollywood movies, but I always go back to my father’s retelling: the revolutionaries hoisting the Indian National Flag on the premises of the armoury, my grandfather facing his adversaries in an unequal gun battle in Jalalabad Hills, his going underground and dodging the authorities for years, his eventual capture and incarceration, setting off in quest of a new beginning in a new city, and finally, setting the foundation in an industrial town in the Chhota Nagpur Plateau.
My grandfather had chosen to dedicate his young life to the ideals of an independent India, but such are the vicissitudes of life and vagaries of fate that the pocket of earth on which he and his comrades bled was carved out during partition, first as East Pakistan and then as Bangladesh.
The shadow lines of nation building may have separated my grandparents from their homeland, but it falls upon all of us to remember our forbearers, and cherish the fruits and dreams of our independent country that was founded on the blood drenched sacrifice of so many forgotten heroes.
Suresh Chandra Dey (Born 21 April 1911, Died 21 May 1990) was one among such Indian freedom fighters who founded a tradition — Sreeleathers