The Battle of Jalalabad Hills can be aptly summarized with this quote “It’s far better to live for two days like a lion, than two hundred years like a lamb”
A quote that proves the significance of courage and the futility of cowardice, this is quite apt for the valiant, who change the course of the history. Only wusses can say, this is impossible, for the valiant, as Napoleon said, ‘Impossible is a word in the dictionary of fools.’
In the times of 21st century, when under the garb of Gandhism, we have forgotten the true heroism of the Indian revolution, and intellectual terrorists like Sagarika Ghosh and Barkha Dutt trick us into believing that the idea of India never existed before British Rule, tales of reality need to be told to break these myths.
Everyone knows of the over hyped Dandi March, which inaugurated the Civil Disobedience Movement on Sunday, 6th April 1930. What few know, and is callously hidden from us, is a tale of unmatched heroism, which shook British rule from its very foundations. Breaking the myth that the British were invincible, a mere schoolmaster of 36 years, with his team of only sixty four revolutionaries, liberated his hometown from British rule, and kept it independent for a staggering week (The British could return only after 25th April 1930, when the link was restored).
The town was Chittagong (then Chottogram of Undivided India), and this forgotten hero was ‘Masterda’ Surya Kumar Sen. This is the tale of his battle with the British, which comprised an episode, which no British would ever share with his successors. The tale of Indian victory, at Jalalabad Hills, on 22nd April 1930, where a whole regiment of 22000 soldiers were defeated face down, by only 54 revolutionaries, most of whom were barely teenagers. Inspired by the famous Easter Uprising in Dublin, they scripted a victory unbelievable, and untold.
On the night of Friday, 18th April 1930, Surya Kumar Sen and his Indian Republican Army, Chittagong Division, attacked the British strongholds, and captured them, thus almost effectively paralyzing the British imperialism in Chittagong. A team led by Ananta Lal Singh & Ganesh Ghosh, along with Masterda, captured the Reserve Police Lines at Dampara. Their war cries were so intense and loud, that the 200 sepoys inside the police lines mistook them for a huge crowd, and even though they outnumbered the revolutionaries by one to ten, all ran away like cowards.
On the other hand, a team led by the senior most revolutionary of the Army, Ambika Chakrabarti, and woman revolutionary Pritilata Waddedar (a novelty at that time) snapped off the telegraph and telephone lines, thus cutting communication of Chittagong from the rest of India, and another team, led by young Jugantar member Lalmohan Sen, uprooted the Nangalkote Railway Line, effectively destroying chances of any source of help for the British forces.
A team, led by Chittagong College Students Union President, Lokenath Bal, who disguised himself as a British Major (courtesy his fair skin), and veteran revolutionary Nirmal Sen led the attack on Auxiliary Forces of India Armoury, where modern weapons, such as Lewis Sub Machine Gun, and .303 Bolt Action Rifles were stored. Although they captured the armoury, they failed to obtain the machine guns. Worse, there wasn’t enough ammunition for the .303 rifles, which rendered most of them useless.
A major failure was met at their final point of attack, the Pahartali European Club, where the British folk would normally retire. Since 18 April was the occasion of Good Friday, the British left early, and this jeopardized the revolutionaries’ well thought plan. Nevertheless, the Indian Republican Army had virtually, if not actually, liberated the whole of Chittagong. The British were so terrified, that all of them escaped Chittagong, and most of them took refuge in a ship moored some ten to twenty miles off the coast. District Magistrate H.R. Wilkinson, Police Chief DIG Farmer narrowly managed to escape, while Sergeant Major Farrell lost his life, after he over enthusiastically accosted the raiders.
Masterda and his fellow revolutionaries assembled at the Reserve Police Lines, and hoisted the Indian flag, declaring the formation of a provisional revolutionary government. However, as they burnt the empty Police Lines armory, one of the revolutionaries, Himangshu Sen, fell down as the first casualty. In spilling over the petrol, his clothes were soaked and instantly caught fire. He suffered fatal burns, and died the very night. The troubles for I.R.A. had just begun.
Chittagong, however was free for four days, from the British Raj. None could believe it, and yet, nothing was that true. The Britishers, nonplussed at such a humiliating defeat, decided to teach the revolutionaries a lesson. However, They were yet to learn the taste of their own medicine.
Four days had passed. Tuesday, 22nd April 1930, was nothing for the revolutionaries who had taken refuge at Jalalabad Hills. Most of them were starving, and yet, none cared about it. They only thought of getting back to the city, and reclaiming the town, along with their unfulfilled targets.
One of the younger brothers of Lokenath Bal, Probhash, who was assigned as the guard of their refuge, happened to see a train stopping by, at the foot of the hills. Strange, that a train would stop at no station in sight, until he saw some soldiers stepping out. He grew cold with fear, and informed Masterda and others about the arrival. The battle was imminent, everyone knew, but none thought it would come so soon.
The British forces were confident, and why not. They were well equipped with the Lewis submachine guns and over 22000 soldiers. However, the revolutionaries were far from discouraged. Led by Lokenath Bal, they began the attack at 3:00 p.m., attacking the bayonet chargers. The rapid musket fire killed most of the bayonet chargers. Another team was sent up, and they met the same fate.
However, all of a sudden, the revolutionaries experienced their worst nightmare, when they were attacked by machine gun fire. The ruthless firing pulled the heroes down, taking Harigopal Bal, younger brother of Lokenath, and nicknamed Tegra, as the first casualty. Others like Bidhu Bhattacharya, Nirmal Lala, Naresh Rai, Prabhash Bal etc. followed suit. Ambika Chakrabarti and young but experienced leader Binod Bihari Chaudhuri were gravely injured. Even so, the revolutionaries continued to fire rapidly. When the musket rifles began to heat up, they began to use their fallen comrades’ blood as lubricants. It felt macabre, but they had no choice.
General Lokenath, like a wounded tiger, exhorted his comrades, ‘Fire until the machine guns are completely silent!’ Rapid musket fire, rejuvenated, now attacked the machine guns. To the Britishers’ shock, the machine guns were defeated face down. Evening had begun descending the Jalalabad Hills, and the Britishers were compelled to take quick decisions. In night, they couldn’t trust the revolutionaries, they might attack by surprise. They were forced to accept one thing, and one thing alone. Defeat.
Yes, a well-equipped regiment was repulsed by merely 54 revolutionaries, with just musket rifles in hand. The casualties, on the government side, are never told till this day. Why would they? As Mel Gibson said in Braveheart, ‘History is written by those who have hanged heroes.’
The revolutionaries were more disappointed, rather than jubilant on their victory. They had lost some of their finest men. Lokenath had lost both his younger brothers to the British bullets. Surya Sen decided to continue the movement, although the activity would be guerilla based. Despite his personal grief, Lokenath Da assembled the army into a cordon, and gave the fallen a guard of honor. The hills trembled with the musket fire, and cries of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’
Although the movement was suppressed with Surya Sen’s arrest in 1933, and his sadistic execution on Friday, 12th January 1934 (You can’t call breaking all his teeth, limbs, joints, and plucking out his nails with a hammer civilized), the British couldn’t change their history of humiliation. Although few of them survived to tell the tale, yet the badass dudes of Chittagong fought an honorable battle to the last. As honored Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz said,
‘Jis dhaj se koi maqtal mein Gaya woh shaan salaamat rahti hain,
Ye jaan to aani jaani hai, is jaan ki koi baat nahin!’
(It’s the way a person dies, that is honored, What’s of life, it comes, and goes)