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Pritilata Waddedar – demanding equality in the struggle for Indian freedom

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Issue 2718
Pritilata Waddedar
Pritilata Waddedar

Pritilata Waddedar looked set for conventional success.

A hardworking student from a middle class Indian family in the as yet undivided Bengal, Waddedar seemed to excel at everything she put her mind to.

After completing her degree she walked straight into becoming head of a school in her home city of Chittagong.

But India in the 1930s was a country in turmoil and before long she would be near the centre of it.

The threads of British rule were breaking, but the Empire responded to the movement for Indian independence with the utmost brutality.

And while Mohandas Gandhi organised mass protests that involved millions, he was quick to retreat if he sensed violent conflict coming.

Periods of demoralisation would follow, and the British would capitalise by fanning the flames of communal division between Hindus and Muslims.

Younger nationalist activists became increasingly angry with the impasse. Many turned towards revolutionary methods, organising illegal strikes and protests—and launching armed attacks on the British.

Waddedar identified with the impatient activists. She read illegal pamphlets and books that asserted the right to use violence to defeat the violence of Empire. Her new convictions led her to a revolutionary group led by Surya Sen.

A fellow teacher, Sen combined a love of political philosophy with a talent for armed struggle.


Soon Waddedar was running guns to clandestine groups around her city. The British were soon on her tail and military police raided the houses she stayed at—although always one step behind her.

But secretly carrying arms and ammunition was never going to be enough for Waddedar. She wanted to be part of the attacks herself and insisted she be allowed to join Sen’s secret camp where promising new recruits were trained to use arms.

It was there that she chalked out plans to launch an audacious attack on the Pahartali European Club, where wealthy Brits wined and dined and Indians were allowed in only to serve and cook.

The sign at the gate read, “Dogs and Indians not allowed”.

As tension mounted in the attack group, there were new developments. Gandhi announced a “fast until death” in protest at British rule.

Panic spread among nationalists that he would die without seeing India free.

Gandhi, violence and victory – which tactics can win real change?
Gandhi, violence and victory – which tactics can win real change?
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On 24 September 1932 Waddedar led a detachment of fighters who stormed the club.

They opened fire on the building killing four British officers and injuring seven women.

Waddedar was caught in the crossfire and badly wounded. Cornered by the enraged British she bit on the cyanide capsule that revolutionaries carried.

She died at just 21 years old and left this note—“There may yet be many among my dear countrymen who would question [women being fighters].

“Nursed in the high ideal of Indian womanhood they may ask, how can a woman engage in such ferocious task of murdering and killing people?

“I am pained at the distinction being made between a man and woman in the struggle for freedom of the country. Today if our brothers can enlist in the war of independence, we too the women should be allowed to do the same and why not?”

This is part of a series about radical black lives Go to

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