The narrative of “Ghadari Babas in Kalapani jail” is a tribute to the spirit of revolution that burned inside those people. It sheds mild on the Ghadari movement, a sizeable yet frequently disregarded a part of India’s freedom war. The summary explores the adventure of these revolutionaries who left at the back of their homes to rally for India’s independence from British colonial rule.
Ghadari Babas in Kalapani Jail Summary
Ghadari Babas in Kalapani Jail Introduction:
This extract has been taken from Dr. Harish K. Puri’s book Ghadar Movement. Dr. Harish K. Puri is former professor of Guru Nanak Dev University. He has written extensively on political movements, religion and terrorism. In this extract he gives a harrowing account of the Cellular Jail (called Kala Pani) situated in Port Blair (Andaman and Nicobar Islands). This Cellular Jail (Kala Pani) was set up by the Britishers in far away Andaman Island. The main purpose of the Britishers was to isolate, punish and torture the freedom fighters of India during the early decades of the 20th century.
Ghadari Babas in Kalapani Jail Summary in English
Ghadar Party was an organisation founded by Punjabi Indians in the United States of America and Canada. Its object was to free India from the British rule. Its important members were Lala Hardayal, V.G. Pingley, Sant Baba Wasakha Singh Dadehar, Sohan Singh Bhakna, Kartar Singh Sarabha, and Rashbehari Bose. The World War I broke out in 1914.
The Ghadar Party members returned to Punjab to agitate for rebellion alongside the Babbar Akali Movement. In 1915, they started revolutionary activities in Central Punjab. They tried to stage revolts, but their attempts were crushed by the British government. The British government in India set up a special jail to teach these brave fighters for the freedom a lesson.
The Cellular Jail was set up in Port Blair. It is popularly known as Kala Pani. It is situated far away from the Indian mainland. It is also described as the British version of Devil’s Island’. In the beginning, the penal colony was created to isolate and torture for life the members of the Ghadar Party. The newly made jail was opened in 1906. Bengali revolutionaries convicted in conspiracy cases were the first group of 27 political prisoners brought there.
They were followed by others of the Nasik Conspiracy Case, such as V. D. Savarkar and his brother Ganesh Savarkar. The Ghadarites were the largest single group of political prisoners sentenced to transportation for life. Forty of these were brought there in December 1915.
More than 30 from the Lahore Supplementary and Mandlay Conspiracy cases followed later. Other groups of revolutionaries were young. Many among the Ghadar prisoners were quite old. Nidhan Singh was 60 years old; Kehar Singh 62; Kala Singh 55; Gurdit Singh 50 and a large number of them 40 years and above.
There were many difficulties for the prisoners. The weather was bad. The area had many mosquitoes. There were blood-sucking leeches. Many were frequently sick. They suffered from high fever, tuberculosis. They had to work on the oil-mill and extract a minimum of 30 pounds of coconut oil. They had to pound coconut husk to produce coir threads.
Summary Ghadari Babas in Kalapani Jail
If the quantity produced was less, the prisoners were abused and whipped with lashes. Prisoners cried loudly as blood flowed out of their skins. Communication between the prisoners was not possible as each one of them was kept in a small cell.
The recorded accounts of victims and eye-witnesses of over a dozen prominent revolutionaries provided heart-rending details of torture of political prisoners. All accounts refer to the Jailor David Barry, the Superintendent Murray and the Chief Commissioner as butchers and children of Satan. Some old criminals had been appointed as jamadars, petty officers and warders who got pleasure out of torturing political prisoners.
Barin Ghosh, brother of Aurobindo Ghosh, called them smaller gods who would abuse, humiliate and ill-treat the political prisoners and made their life most miserable. Some stories were smuggled out of the jail by Savarkar. They related to young Nani Gopal’s sharp and shrill cries because of whip lashes, his hunger strike that continued for 72 days and the long strike against tortures. The suicide committed by Indu Bhushan raised a storm in the country.
On arrival there, the Ghadarites learnt about the sufferings, the hard struggle of resistance of Bengali and Marathi prisoners. In the beginning, they decided not to suffer any indignity with a determined resistance. Parma Nand Jhansi was abused and threatened by the Jailor Barry for not producing the required quantity of oil. Parma Nand hit the jailor Barry.
As the jailor fell down, Parma Nand Jhansi was mercilessly beaten by the warders. The fall of Barry and the horrible torture of Jhansi created a stir in the jail. In another case of cruelty, Chattar Singh who slapped the Superintendent of Jail, Murray hard, was put in a cage.
Bhan Singh was beaten so hard that he died in the hospital. Resistance and most cruel punishment took the life of Ram Rakha within two months of his arrival in the jail. Eight Ghadarites lost their life in jail. They continued their repeated strikes from work and hunger strikes led by Bhakna. They were joined by 25 others for their rights as political prisoners.
Summary of Ghadari Babas in Kalapani Jail
The number of those who joined the strike rose to 100. Jyotish Chandra Pal passed blood in stool and went mad after a month. He was removed to a mental hospital. Prithvi Singh continued his hunger strike for four months. In the history of Andaman such a long strike had never been organised.
The impact of the strike was very powerful. The jail authorities were forced to discontinue some of the practices of bad treatment of political prisoners. The revolutionaries sang patriotic songs and Vande Matram, recited Gurbani and did not care for the harshest physical punishment.
They were fighting against brutal forces with soul-force. They were either released in 1921 or transferred to jails in the mainland. Bhakna explained that the crux of the songs which the revolutionaries sang in the jails was : ‘Hey Matribhoomi, this is true that we could not liberate you, but so long as even one of our comrades is alive, he will sacrifice everything to remove your chains.