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Must Read: A Freedom Fighter’s Experience Of Fighting For India’s Independence

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(As told by Sri Atul Chandra Ghatak on 30/01/1997)

In the year 1924, at Bilaskhan Village, I was born. My father’s name was Late Harakanta Ghatak. I did my education from Palang High English School. In Faridpur (now in Bangladesh), under P.S. Palang, there was a small village named Bilaskhan, a small place for all the political activists especially being the home of honorable revolutionaries like Ashu Kahali, Jibon Thakurta, Rai Horon Sen and Pratap Chandra Sen. In that time, I did not have the wish, education or culture that could motivate me to walk in the path for the freedom of my nation. In that time, these young minds, jumped into the fire of revolution to see their motherland free and independent. Due to this, they were awarded imprisonment in infamous prisons like Cellular Jail.

When I was in class 9, I got involved in various social works. In our village, we had a Jatiya Ashram. In that ashram, the main priority of the members were to eradicate superstitions from the minds of the people and to encourage those people to sacrifice their government jobs at the British Empire and promote pro-active participation in the national freedom struggle with a spirit of nationalism. In 1905, after the Bengal partition, under the guidance of Barrister Parry Chand, Lathial Pulin Das, Trilok Chakraborty, Fegu Ray and Ashu Kahali; “Anushilan Samiti” was established.

I, being a student, became a leader of the “Anushilan Samiti” and therefore I got the privilege to come under the leadership of great leaders like Nalini Bhattacharya. There I pledged to be a member of the underground unit of “Anushilan Samiti”. This was my first step towards participating in freedom movement. At that time, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose made the great escape. With the second World War, Indian freedom struggle saw massive progress. Our preparations intensified.

In 9th August 1942, India was astonished to receive the call for “Quit India Movement” from Mahatma Gandhi. The people of India woke up and started their quest for freedom from the British regime at a large scale. Our revolutionary soul roared. Thus this gave the clarion call for students’ protest across the nation. Shops and markets were closed and there was a whirl of awareness and nationalism in the hearts of people. Everyone had two words for the British – “Quit India”

Voicing our dissent against the imperialist government of the British Empire in India and destroying their various institutions like post offices, police stations, and railway stations were our prime duty. The police of the government became more pro-active. There were huge arrests and detention of freedom fighters across India. Sachin Kar, Chitta Ray, Satya Ghatak, Jibon Ghatak, etc. too were arrested for quite a long time. Dr. Suren Banerjee and Nalini Acharya denied going to prison which led to a huge embarrassment for the British. The escapee freedom fighters were searched and were atrociously beaten. Their vindictiveness of the British knew no humanity and streets were filled with their informers.

Unable to withstand the atrocity of the police, I along with Manindra came to Nator. There we faced the same situation. Meanwhile we could contact Bijoy Paul and Chitta Sanyal. Ripping off the wires of telegraph, destroying post office and setting police station ablaze were our primary duty. There, the police started arresting and detaining common people on mere suspicion. Ramesh Munshi and I escaped and reached Balumooda. The village was still with a very less number of people living over there.

In early 1943, as per the command of my party, I returned to my native place. When I came in contact with Kali, I prepared myself for a new expedition. Suddenly, I got arrested from my own house. I was taken to Palang Police Station. There I met Jamini dada. The two of us were taken to Faridpur jail. Our happiness knew no bounds as we were young political prisoners but this came with a wave of sorrow. We were taken on a steamer. Sitting in steamer, I realized I love my motherland much more than I love my father, mother, brothers and sisters back at my home and this emotion for motherland is indisputable. This love for my motherland instilled the sense of contentment. Perhaps even if death embraces me, I have nothing to regret.

Entering the premises of Faridpur Jail, I met numerous political prisoners from various districts and provinces of Bengal. There were 100 political prisoners from a village called “Bhanga Gaon”. They broke the police station of their village. In this mishap, few police were injured along with a staff of British Government. In this jail, numerous lawyers, doctors, professors and scholars gathered. There we prepared ourselves to appear in our academic exams. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee paid the examination fees of all the political prisoners. Chakraborty Chatterjee & Co. helped us by giving us books to study.

Outside the frontiers of the jail, the poverty with ravaged the villages; the echo of the cries of thousands of villagers starving for food perhaps pierced the walls of jail and reached the ears of the political prisoners living inside. While we sat for food, not a single morsel could enter our mouth. Maybe our conscience did not allow us to eat while our brothers and sisters outside were forced to starve. Tears rolled down our cheeks. Pro-active initiatives were taken by Haripada dada, Sachin dada, Tarapada Lahiri and Shiva Singha, arrangements to donate a part of our food to those starving people and this was coordinated by the jail authorities.

In the year 1945, we were shifted to Dum Dum Central Jail. The jail looked massive and was the home to some very notable political prisoners like Hemanta Basu, Soumen Thakur, Charu Bhandari, Ramesh Acharya, Makhan Pal, Noni Bhattacharya, etc. and even Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s bodyguard Sher Waani. After two years, we were released without any conditions. After we came out, we saw the hullabaloo of the election of a free India. I participated in the activities pertaining to the elections. As expected, the Congress won this election with flying colors.

In the year 1946, I reached Bhojo (in Assam). There I started a primary school. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (who later became the 5th President of India) inaugurated the primary school. The number of students crossed 100. At last, I came to Tinsukia (in Assam). In 1947, India became independent and as a result of partition, I lost my motherland. In 15th August, 1947, under the initiative of Shanti Bhattacharya, for the first time, India’s national flag was hosted in the premises of Durgabari. Currently I am serving as the Secretary of Tinsukia District Freedom Fighters’ Association. Rajen Phukan is the President and Paresh Ray is the Treasurer.

Today our country is celebrating the 50th Golden Jubilee anniversary of India’s Independence but it’s a shame for us to realize the existence of poverty, illiteracy and diseases whose prominence we see if our nation. The nation, for whose freedom we sacrificed our life, still is in a state of dismay. I request this young generation of India to uphold the essence of nationalism and to portray India as an example of progress in front of the world where every citizen has a happy, prosperous and dignified life so that the vision of our founding fathers and sacrifices made by numerous freedom fighters do not go in vain. This will be the perfect tribute to our martyrs and fighters of freedom.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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