PATRIOTS IN DARK TUNNEL
In his report in 1864, Sir Robert Napier recorded out of 8035 convicts at Port Blair 2900 died. 612 presumed dead. Describing the condition as “deplorable beyond comprehension”, he recorded that the situation could have been avoided by making better housing arrangements. They were accommodated in tents and exposed to elements. When huts were constructed, there was hardly any improvement. The sides were open. The torrential rain accompanied by winds of high velocity could easily penetrate inside. The civil surgeon’s record says, “During rains not even one third of the convicts could keep himself or his clothes dry.” Hospital was dirty and the patients clothes scanty and filthy.
Sir Napier further recorded, “the high rate of mortality was due to moral depression resulting from exile, the effects of a new and severe climate, malaria, bad and insufficient shelter, clothing and want of dry clothes to put on when they got wet from frequent heavy showers, want of proper cleanliness, want of conservancy about the dwelling”. He also found the subsistence of ‘one anna’ and ‘nine paise’ not enough to feed and clothe an able bodied man.
The mortality among the convicts during 1882-1883 was 569. The convicts suffering from respiratory ailments – 1268. There were as many as 296 chain-gang inmates housed in Viper Jail in the year 1892-1893. Maharaja Gajapathi Bir Kishore Singh Dev, the King of Jagannath Puri, Orissa, was transported to the Viper Jail for supporting the rebels in the First War of Independence (1857). He was put to hard work of extracting coconut oil from copra, wheat grinding etc. He used to be whipped on the slightest lapse in front of what used to be his attendant. He died within a month and was cremated near Dundas Point.
Sher Ali who assassinated Lord Mayo, the Viceroy of India, on 8th February, 1872, was hanged on 11th March, 1872 at Viper Island.
By this time, besides mutineers the British regime had also started sending convicts involved in seditious activities and hardened criminals. The idea was to use them for spying on revolutionaries.
My dear friends,
History of Andamans rich in courage, bravery, sacrifice and patriotic spirit is being blacked out. It is forgotten that from 1858 to 1947, it is these people and their descendants who protected and preserved the Andaman Islands and the quintessence of Indian culture and tradition.
Now the focus is solely on the political prisoners incarcerated in the Cellular Jail by the turn of the century. But those people who were sent to the Andamans as a punishment for taking part in the First War of Independence of 1857 and to die in exile; those revolutionary convicts and their descendants who built the Andamans from scratch; those banking on whose strength Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose decided to choose Andamans as the seat of his Provisional Government and Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru could convince that the islands should come to India – are pushed in the background and forgotten. No place, no road, no building or any infrastructure is named after any of them. Nor are they remembered by erecting statues or suitable monuments in places sanctified by their presence. Why this ungrateful discrimination?
I appreciate my fellow brethren of Andamans for their capacity for patience for all the insults to the memories of their forebears.
Why full-throated voice is not raised to demand suitable monuments at Chatham, the scene of the first landing of the 200 revolutionary convicts on 10th March 1858?
Why Ross Island is depicted as “Paris in Andamans”, built for the comfortable living of British Administrators and officials! Why not the truth is told that in 1858 one half of the island was used to detain patriotic convicts? From there only the first attempt to escape was made. Those places also need a monument to mark a notorious chapter in the history of Indian Independence.
Thanks to the efforts of a few handfuls of spirited locals like Shri Madan Mohan Singh, at least after 150 years, 10th of March is now being remembered as “Andaman Day” and a simple function is organized at Port Blair every year in memory of the landmark date.
The first jail was built on Viper Island with gallows nearby.
All attempts should be made to preserve these historic monuments on the island that was once hell for the patriotic convicts.
All the VIPs must be told about the historical importance of these places and they must be asked to first visit these places in their chronological order of historical importance and pay obeisance in the same manner as is done in case of the Cellular Jail.
Let’s vow today on this auspicious “Independence Day” to return the honour of the unsung Patriots who made supreme sacrifices unconditionally and ensured the most prized independence for us to celebrate.