Chittagong's Greatest Revolutionary Hero: Surjya Sen

Chittagong produced a great many revolutionaries who fought to throw the British rulers out of India. The revolutionaries of Chittagong embraced death happily and proudly while singing Bande mataram, "Mother, I bow to Thee." They were uttering the sacred heart-offering, Bande mataram, invoking Mother India's name.

These revolutionaries had quite a few leaders, but their main leader was Surjya Sen. Everybody had such love, admiration and adoration for him. The entire city of Chittagong loved him unreservedly. His very name gave them immense joy and courage. In earlier years, he had been a school teacher; but he gave up teaching and entered into the revolution. In the vortex of the revolution, Surjya Sen was the most prominent.

Surjya Sen happened to be a distant relative of my Mother's younger sister's relatives. A few times he came to my Mother's sister's place to hide. The last time I was in India, I went to see her. She left Mother Earth at the ripe old age of 103.

The British Government was always in search of Surjya Sen. They wanted to arrest him and kill him. But secretly he used to go from one village to another and instruct his people about what to do. These revolutionaries did many, many heroic things. From the British Armoury, they stole arms to fight against the British. It is a long story. They were extremely strong and extremely courageous. Their love for Mother India was unparalleled, and their actions were in the vanguard of the sacrifices of the revolutionaries.

They used to call Surjya Sen Mashtar-da — Mashtar means 'teacher' and da is for the affectionate respect for the elder brothers of the family and also for those who are older. Everybody knew Mashtar-da. Even West Bengalis knew him so well.

The British Government offered a 50,000 pound reward for anyone who could give them information leading to the arrest of Mashtar-da. He had a relative named Netra Sen. This Netra Sen also was a revolutionary under Surjya Sen. When Netra Sen heard that he could get 50,000 pounds, tremendous greed entered into him. Along with other revolutionaries, Netra Sen knew where Surjya Sen was hiding.

Alas, Judas is everywhere. For 30 pieces of silver, Judas betrayed Jesus and told the authorities where to find Jesus. Then they gave him the money. After Jesus was captured and crucified, Judas committed suicide.

Netra Sen told the British Government where Surjya Sen would be found, and the great leader supreme was arrested. Where was he going to be found? In Netra Sen's own house! Because they were so close, Netra Sen invited Surjya Sen to come and eat with him. Can you imagine? They lived only three or four miles away from each other.

The British soldiers came while Netra Sen's wife was serving food. The wife was also a revolutionary, and she was extremely, extremely fond of Surjya Sen. All the men and women loved and treasured Mashtar-da in the very depths of their hearts. He was their unparalleled Hero.

Surjya Sen and Netra Sen were both eating. The wife was serving them food and she knew nothing about her husband's treachery. The British soldiers knew that they could easily arrest Surjya Sen while he was eating, so they chose that moment to come and arrest him. They put him in the Chittagong Jail. Even before Surjya Sen was arrested, they gave Netra Sen his money.

The wife became furious. She cried and cried. Other revolutionaries came to her place, and they were cursing her husband. They knew that Netra Sen had betrayed Mashtar-da.

The wife said to their friends, who were all revolutionaries, "Please, please do me a big favour."

"What is the favour?" they asked.

"I am telling you, you must do me this favour!"

"We will do any favour you ask of us," the friends replied.

"Now we have lost Mashtar-da. But I want to punish my husband." She added, "Tell me, who is going to fulfil my only desire?"

They said, "Whatever you say, we shall gladly and immediately do."

The wife said, "I want my husband to be killed while I am serving him food. I shall tell you at what time we eat in the evening. If you people really love your Motherland, then I want one of you to cut my husband's throat while I am serving him dinner."

"You will not feel sad and miserable? Your own husband will be killed right in front of you!"

"No! No! Our Mashtar-da was arrested because my husband wanted the money. I do not even know where he has hidden it. Even if I found the money in my house, I would just throw it away."

All the revolutionaries were extremely devoted to Mashtar-da. Those who were listening to Netra Sen's wife were disgusted and sad, because Surjya Sen had been betrayed by Netra Sen, her husband. The British even set a date when he would be hanged. First there would be a court hearing and other proceedings. Surjya Sen himself was completely shocked when he heard what Netra Sen had done.

"I do not want to live with my husband," the wife cried. "I do not want even to look at him! My husband happened to be a revolutionary! Now he has cast a slur on all the revolutionaries. This is what money can do." She begged the revolutionaries to kill her husband. She said that she would not tell her husband what was going to happen to him.

In a few days time, while Netra Sen's wife was serving him dinner and he was eating, one of the revolutionaries came and cut Netra Sen's throat. He died immediately. Netra Sen was assassinated by one of the revolutionaries at the request of his own wife!

When the police came, they demanded that Netra Sen's wife tell them the name of the person who killed her husband. "You have to tell us!" they said.

She answered, "No! You can kill me. I will not tell you. I do know who the person is. I know, I know. But I will not tell you. If you want to arrest me, arrest me. If you want to kill me, kill me. I am ready. I can't have a husband who has betrayed our beloved Mashtar-da."

The police could do nothing. The wife was not crying at all for her husband. When Mashtar-da was arrested, she was crying so bitterly and was filled with grief. She kept saying, "How could my husband do this to our Hero supreme, our beloved Leader, Mashtar-da!"

The police demanded, "You have to tell us!"

When the police demanded, "You have to tell us," she said, "No! Do anything you want. I am not going to tell you the name of the person. I know the person very well, because I myself made the request."

This story is one hundred per cent authentic. The wife lived for many more years, serving the revolutionaries most devotedly and most faithfully. Women like Netra Sen's wife did not even go outside of their homes, but they made such significant contributions to the revolution!

This incident took place around 1932, when I was one year old. It shows how much people can love their Motherland. For India's freedom and independence, they revolted. As other places in India revolted, Chittagong also revolted and Chittagong's supreme leader was Surjya Sen.

On 12 January 1934, before the sun rose, Surjya Sen was hanged. The evening before he was hanged, he sent a farewell message to his followers from the Chittagong Jail. He wrote:

"Rope is hanging over my head. Death is knocking at my door. At such a solemn moment, what shall I leave behind for you? Only one thing" — that is my dream, a golden dream — a dream of Free India. If you die before the goal is reached, then give the charge of your further pursuit to your followers, as I do today. Onward my Comrades, onward — never fall back. The day of bondage is disappearing and the dawn of freedom will be ushered in. Be up and doing. Never be disappointed. Success is sure. God bless you.

Netra Sen's wife went to the place where Surjya Sen was to be hanged. Just before he died, Surjya Sen blessed her and said, "I am not the hero. You are the hero. I am not the real leader. You are the real leader. The sacrifices that you have made for Mother India have made you the real leader of Chittagong's revolution for our liberation."

As he was dying, Surjya Sen was only saying over and over, " Bande mataram! Bande mataram! Bande mataram!" Mother, I bow to Thee….

All around him, people were shedding tears. Surjya Sen asked, "Why, why, why? Why are you doing this? I am bowing to my Mother. If they arrest you, I want all of you to say, 'Mother, Mother, Mother — for you, for Mother India, for Chittagong, I embrace death.' By invoking the Mother, I am embracing death. Indeed, there is no death for a revolutionary. My love of my Motherland is infinitely stronger than death. Janani Janma Bhoomischa Swargaadapi Gariyasi. " Mother and Motherland are superior to Heaven itself.

Once more he chanted, "Bande mataram! Bande mataram! Bande mataram!" Then he passed behind the curtain of Eternity to be in the galaxy of the immortals.