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Lost At War

Reclaiming forgotten warriors

Lost At War
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
Do And Die: The Chittagong Uprising 1930-34
By Manini Chatterjee
Penguin India Rs 295, Pages: 356
Our history texts hardly have place today for the Chittagong armoury raids, then described by a British bureaucrat as having "no parallel in Bengal since the Mutiny of 1857". This well researched book was thus necessary. Chatterjee has tracked down masses of documents relating to the raids and met surviving members of Surjya Sen's (Masterda) army, to produce a gripping narrative. The book's signal triumph is that it never tries to hide the fact that this entire amateurish adventure was a series of tragic blunders.

Sen's men took control of the armoury, but found only arms, no ammunition; they didn't know that arms and ammunition are never stored together. A young revolutionary forgot a simple truth - that you don't light a matchstick while standing in a pool of petrol - and threw the entire field plan into disarray, something from which it never recovered. One of the leaders, Ananta Singh, was emotionally unstable. Another, Pritilata Waddadar, was driven by a death wish. And finally, Masterda was leading a bunch of schoolboys - the youngest was only 13 - into war against the British Army.

These boys never lost faith. On Jalalabad's hills they fought Gurkha machine-gunners with muskets. The British threw their bodies into a pit and mass-burnt them. Gandhi had not a word to say about them, reserving his commiserations for the mother of Vithaldas, who, as part of Gandhi's anti-liquor campaign, tried chopping a toddy tree and fatally wounded himself. Chatterjee captures the injustice in one reverberating sentence: "Even martyrdom, it would seem, lies in the ideology of the bestower."

You could call these people suicidal fools, but their courage shines through every page of this valuable book. Only two complaints: towards the end, Chatterjee can't keep her political biases out, and she omits the survivor's later lives (some had very chequered careers). But overlook that. Read this book and give it to your children, so they know about these misguided warriors who briefly halted the British empire in its tracks.

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