Starting from Battle of Palashi (Plassoy) of june 1757, upto the strike of 700.000 workers in Calcutta in solidarity with the revolt of Indian navy in 1946 (February), Bengal was one of the main theatres of India’s struggle for Freedom against British Imperialism.
After Palashi, the next landmark has been accepted as the Great Revolt of 1857, the so-called ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ which according to Karl Marx was ‘India’s’ First war of Independence.
But, one hundred years in between these two well known landmarks in our history of freedom struggle, so many struggles, known and not so known, came into the fore.
First one to be mentioned is: The Sannyasi Bidroha (Rebellion) from 1763 to 1800. Noted historians have exposed the truth that in basically was basically a peasants’ rebellion. From Bengal Starting from Dhaka, it spread upto Bihar and some times the number of the rebels reached upto fifty thousand. According to Dr. Bhupendranath Dutta, the slogan ‘Vande Mataram’ was first raised by them. This great rebellion also witnessed, probably for the first time, the women power as Devi Chowdhuranee at one juncture successfully led the struggle.
During the same period there were many more remarkable peasants uprisings viz: two rebellions of the Chuarh community. One starting from 1770 and the second one in 1799; the weavers continuous struggle for a decade (1770-1780), the one after another rebellion by the Chakma, tribe’s struggle in the hill district of Chattagram (Chittagong) – 1776-87; the Neel-Bidroha; i.e. the valiant struggle of Indigo-planters in two periods – 1778-1800 and 1830-48; and relatively more known – the Wahabi movement which started from Rae Barelli and had their centre in Patna but it reached its peak in the district of 24 Parganas, near Calcutta under the leadership of Titu Mir. Under his leadership the struggle (1831-31) covered the districts of Nadia and Faridpur as well.
From amongst so many struggles and rebellions of this period, before the great independence war of 1857, the Santhal Rebellion of 1855-57 was the biggest and most remarkable, so far Bengal in the struggle is concerned. Of course, the main area (s) of the great revolt of 1857 was in North India/United Province. But Bengal in one way or other was the starting point as “The first shot was discharged by sepoy No 1446, Mangal Pandey, belonging to the 5th company of the 34th Regiment, Bengal Native infantry, on March 29, 1857, at Barrackpore” (Role of Honour-Kali Charan Ghosh). Barrackpore is very close to Calcutta.
Although Indian National Congress was founded well within 19th century, starting from almost the beginning of 20th Century, armed struggles by the revolutionary patriots, “Terrorists” as per the rulers, were more popular in Bengal. Actually two major splits within the congress and alternative formations, led by C.R. Das and Subhas Chandra Bose respectively, started from Bengal.
Lester Hutchinson was partially correct in saying, summing up on Sanyasi Rebellion, that – “After hundred years of this struggle, the terrorist struggle that came into the fore in Bengal, this ‘Sanyasi Rebellion’ was forerunner of that”. (Re-translated from Bengali).
Accordingly, it can be said that the attempts made by Rashbehari Bose and others in early 20th Century to make the army revolt must have got the inspiration from the Great Rebellion of 1857.
The first decade of 20th Century witnessed the foundation of at least two revolutionary organization viz – Anushilan Samity and the Jugantar group. This was the decade of a huge mass movement against the cunning effort of ‘Bengal Partition’. Rabindranath Tagore was very much there for this movement.
Yes, in so-many incidents the place of occurrence was the then Bengal. But it was never a provincial movement. When the revolutionaries headed by Master-da Surya Sen captured the Chattagram (Chittagong) city, it was clearly declared that the organization was only a (Chittagong) chapter of the Indian Republican Army.
The history of India’s struggle for freedom cannot be properly recorded without mentioning the sacrifices of the martyrs, be it on the gallows and/or on the streets or inside for torture chambers. Not only that, the sufferings and struggles were inside the jails, it was from Calcutta to the Andamans, from Lahore to Chattagram-everywhere. Bengal had such big imprint on those struggles that all the freedom fighters, prisoners in Andaman Jail would be called ‘Bangali-Babu,’ even if he was someone like Damodar Savarkar-a famous Marathi.