Indian Independence movement is widely believed to be a non-violent movement achieved by Octavian Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s repeated fasting, barefooted march with the support of a stick. The countless incidents and battles by freedom fighters brushed under the carpet say otherwise. From the first war of Independence in 1857 till the dominion status of 1947, Bengal has seen it all. Midnapore district of West Bengal was the hotbed of the nationalistic revolutionary movement for Indian Independence. Almost every household in the region, rich or poor, was involved in some revolutionary activity. One such revolutionary was Matangini Hazra.
Matangini was born to Thakurdas Maity and Bhagabati Maity in a hamlet named Hogla, under Tamluk Police Station of Midnapore district(undivided) in the union territory of West Bengal on 19th October 1870. As she came from a poor peasant family, she was merely ill-starred to earn her primary education at her early stage of life. At the age of twelve, she was married to a wealthy widower 60 years old named Trilochan Hazra, who had a young son. After six years, she lost her husband. Being helpless, she returned to her paternal village. She started to frame her life as a new shape comprised of assisting the distressed such as nursing men, women and children, also when smallpox turned into an epidemic.
In 1905 the Partition of Bengal took place, which prompted the revolutionaries of Bengal to organise and bear arms. Midnapore district was at the forefront of these activities. A notable succession of women participated in the freedom movement with a vast number, and Matangini was one among them. Although she never bore arms but continuously protested against the colonial rule.
In 1930, she took part keenly in the ‘Civil Disobedience movement, especially the ‘Salt Satyagraha movement. It commenced with the famous Dandi March with spontaneous support from merchants and shopkeepers. Many under an umbrella). ‘Salt Satyagraha movement’ kept an essential role on Matangini through manufacturing salt at her late husband’s village. As a result, she was imprisoned for violating the British salt law.
After her quick release, she again participated in the movement for the abolition of the ‘Chowkidari tax'(a tax collected from farmers in 1907 for the compensation of village watchmen or kind of police for that it affected the poor farmers). Consequently, she was arrested and detained for six months at Baharampur jail. After her imprisonment, she confirmed her membership in the Indian National Congress. She started to spin ‘Khadi’ with a protest motto failing her eyesight.
In the year 1932, she took part in the ‘Non-Cooperation movement’ and on 26th January in the same year was the turning point in her life as the inhabitants of her village made an awareness procession of the then political condition and was passing by her hut, she joined them at her age of 62, and from then she needed not looking back.
In 1933 she attended the sub-divisional Congress Conference at Serampore, under Hooghly, West Bengal, where she and the other INC members were mercilessly beaten by batons(a coordinated tactic for disappearing crowds, usually used by police or military). One more remarkable incident occurred in 1933 during the visit of the then Governor of Bengal, Sir John Anderson, where Matangini was able to fool the security and reached to the dais to raise the black flag as a symbol of protest. The British government rewarded her with six months of imprisonment once again.
Matangini abided by Mahatma Gandhi as her patriotic and political ideal in her thought. She was an ardent follower of Gandhi. Dedication of hers to India’s freedom struggle became possible only because of the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi. As a part of the non-violence of Mahatma Gandhi, she gave up all types of foreign goods and started to spin her thread and wore khaddar(coarse cloth). Today, she is remembered with adoration by the local people for her noble works in the village. Following the Gandhian principles of freedom struggle and protest style of non-violence like Mahatma Gandhi, she earned her nickname ‘Gandhi Buri’ or ‘Granny Gandhi'(Old Lady Gandhi).
Involvement in ‘Quit India Movement’
In August 1942, during Quit India Movement, local members of the INC, the people of Midnapore district, planned to come to possess the various police stations, courts and other government offices of Midnapore district to remove the British government in the district and set up a free Indian state in a parallel manner. Seventy-two-year-old Matangini was that active leader who took the initiative to speed up the entire planning.
On 29th September 1942, she led a procession with six thousand supporters, most of whom were women, to take over the Tamluk Police Station. In a time lag, the procession reached the town’s frontier; they were ordered not to violate section 144 of the IPC by the Crown Police. When undaunted, Matangini tried to disobey the Crown Police appealing to them not to shoot at the crowd, but she was shot once. Flying the face of that being steady, she moved forward, holding the tricolour high and requesting her companions to follow the desideratum. Then the British Indian Police fired two more bullets; one hit her other arm, and she went on chanting ‘Vande Mataram(Hail to the Motherland). But the last one breached her forehead. Later, her body was found drenched in blood, holding the tricolour still flying unsoiled.
Tamralipta Jatiya Sarkar(an independent parallel government) in Midnapore in West Bengal was formed on 17th December 1942, which urged the patriots for open rebellion, raising an instance of Matangini as ‘martyrdom for her country’. This independent government operated till 8th August 1944 until it was disbanded at Mahatma Gandhi’s explicit directions.
In free India, many schools, colonies and streets were named after Hazra to pay the heartiest homage to her. To commemorate her sacrifice for her country, a statue was erected at the Maidan in Kolkata in 1977. In the place in Tamluk where she lost her life, another statue also stands. In 2002, the Postal Department of India issued a five rupee postage stamp with Matangini’s image to complete sixty years of the ‘Quit India Movement and the founding of the ‘Tamluk National Government’. The remarkable ‘Hazra Road’ of South Kolkata is the sign of memory of this valiant and defiant freedom fighter of Bengal and India.
Image courtesy: Calcutta Mahajati sadan