Masterda Surya Sen

Armed resistance against the British rulers had actually started in Bengal, proving it wrong that Bengalis were  a non-martial race. Khudiram’s name struck terror in the minds of the English rulers remembering how he had shot one of them with a small pistol. Then came the news of the daring raid on the police barrack in Chittagong by a group of young Bengalis in Chittagong. 

The name of Masterda Surya Sen travelled as far as London when the news of his attack on the European Club situated on Pahartali Hill in Chittagong treached there. He was captured, tortured and hanged. The other name that is uttered in tandem is that of Pritilata Waddedar. They are among the many heroes of the resistance against the British rule in Bengal.     

Surya Sen was a Bengali independence fighter who led the 1930 Chittagong armoury raid against the British colonial rule in India. A revolutionary at heart, he was the chief architect of the anti-British freedom movement in Chittagong (present day Chattogram), Bengal. He was instrumental in building the momentum for a nationwide non-cooperation movement that spread to far corners of the country. Independent minded and idealistic from a young age, he first learned about the Indian freedom movement from one of his teachers when he was a college student. 

The seed of revolution took root in his heart and he proceeded to join revolutionary organization Anushilan Samity. He also became associated with the Indian National Congress, the most prominent political party at that time. After completing his studies, he embarked on a teaching career and earned much respect in this profession. 

He continued his involvement with the freedom struggle with increased intensity and in 1930, led a group of like-minded revolutionaries to raid the armoury of police and auxiliary forces from the Chittagong armoury. Even though the group had made elaborate plans to completely cut off Chittagong from rest of the British India, they were not able to execute their plan in its entirety. Surya Sen was eventually arrested by the British and tortured and executed. 

Childhood & Early Life

His father’s name was Ramaniranjan Sen, a resident of Noapara, Chittagong. He was a teacher by profession. In 1916, he was invited to join the revolutionary activities by one of his teachers while he was still a student of the intermediate class in the Chittagong College and he obliged by upholding the flag of the renowned revolutionary group, ‘Anushilan Shamity’. But when he went to Behrampore College for a BA Course, he came to know about ‘Jugantar’, a revolutionary group and became inspired with their ideas.

On returning to Chittagong in 1918, he organized Jugantar and joined the Umatara School at Chandanpore. Hence, the name ‘Masterda’ (Elder Brother) came into being. By 1923, Surya Sen spread the revolutionary organization to different parts of the Chittagong district. Aware of the limited equipment and other resources he was convinced of the need for the secret Guerilla War against the colonial government. One of his successful undertakings was a robbery at the treasury office at the Bengal-Assam Railway at Chittagong on December 23, 1933 in broad daylight.

Later Life

After completing his studies, Surya Sen became a teacher at National school, Nandankanan. During this time he also intensified his involvement in the Indian independence struggle and became associated with the Indian National Congress, the most prominent political party there. In 1918, he was selected as president of Indian National Congress, Chittagong branch.

He quickly gained respect as a teacher. In addition to his regular duties as a teacher, he also used to discuss the relevance of the freedom struggle with his students. He formed a revolutionary group along with other like-minded individuals such as Nirmal Sen and Ambika Chakraborty.

By the early 1920s he was successful in spreading revolutionary ideals to different parts of the Chittagong district. He was convinced that a secret Guerilla was the need of the moment given the many challenges they faced, including the lack of equipment and other resources.

Chittagong armoury raid

 and its aftermath

He believed violent action was needed to revolutionize the independence struggle and planned to raid the armoury of police and auxiliary forces from the Chittagong armoury in Bengal province of British India. He teamed up with other revolutionaries like Ganesh Ghosh, Lokenath Bal, Naresh Roy, Sasanka Datta, Ardhendu Dastidar, and others to plan this raid.

His major success in the anti-British revolutionary violence was the Chittagong Armory raid on April 18, 1930. Subsequently, he marched to the Jalalabad Hills along with his fellow revolutionaries. After the ensuing battle with the British troops on April 22nd, 1930, he escaped. Surya Sen was constantly followed by the British police and had to hide at the house of Savitri Devi, a widow at Patia. A police and military force under Captain Cameron surrounded the house on June 13th, 1932. Cameron was shot dead while ascending the staircase and Surya Sen along with Pritalata Waddader and Kalpana Dutta escaped safely.

Surya Sen was always in hiding, and moved from one place to another. Sometimes he used to take a job as a workman, a farmer, a milkman, a priest, a house worker or even as a pious Muslim. This is how he used to avoid being captured. Either because of money, or out of jealousy or because of both, a man named Netra Sen informed the British that Surya Sen had taken shelter at his house. As a result, the police came and captured him in February, 1933. This is how India’s supreme hero was arrested. But before Netra Sen was able to get his award of `10,000/-, he was killed by revolutionaries.

Netra Sen’s wife was all for Surya Sen and she was horrified by her husband’s deed. She felt mortified by her husband’s betrayal of Surya Sen. One evening when she was serving food to her husband; a great admirer of Surya Sen came into the house. He was carrying a big knife, which was called a ‘Daa’. And with one stroke of the ‘Daa’, chopped off the head of Netra Sen in the presence of his wife. Then, slowly and steadily he went away. 

While the police arrived to investigate, they asked Netra Sen’s wife if she had seen who the murderer was. She said, “I saw with my own eyes but my heart will not permit me to tell you his name. I am sorry. I feel miserable that I was the wife of such a treacherous man, such an undivine man as Netra Sen. My husband betrayed the great son of Chittagong. My husband betrayed the great son of Mother India. My husband cast a slur on the face of India. Therefore, I cannot take the name of the person who took his life. He has definitely done the right thing. You can do anything with me. You can punish me, you can even kill me, but I shall never tell the name of the person who killed my husband. 

Our ‘Masterda’ will be hanged, I know, but his name will forever be synonymous with India’s immortal freedom cry. Everyone loves him. I too love him and adore him, for he is the greatest son in the firmament of Chittagong. ‘Surya’ means ‘sun’ and he is truly our son.” 

Tarakeshwar Dastidar, the new president of Chittagong branch of the Jugantar party, made a preparation to rescue Surya Sen from the Chittagong Jail. But the plot was unearthed and consequently frustrated. Tarakeshwar and Kalpana alongwith others were arrested. Special tribunals tried Surya Sen, Tarakeshwar Dastidar and Kalpana Dutta in 1933. Surya Sen and Tarakeshwar Dastidar were hanged by the British rulers on January 12th, 1934. Before the death sentence Surya Sen was brutally tortured. 

It was reported that the British executioners broke all his teeth with hammer and plucked all nails and broke all limbs and joints. He was dragged to the rope unconscious. After his death, his dead body was not given any funeral. The prison authority, it was found later, put his dead body in a metallic cage and dumped into the Bay of Bengal.