Sunday, September 21, 2008



Now, for a change, dear friends, let me introduce to you all the State Bird, State Animal and the State Tree of the gorgeous Andaman & Nicobar Islands:

Andaman Wood Pigeon” –State Bird

Andaman Wood Pigeon is an endemic bird, which is found only in the Andaman and Nicobar group of islands. This bird is of the size of a domestic pigeon with longer tail. This bird has whitish head with checkerboard pattern on neck. The upper parts are dark slate grey in colour and under parts are pale blue grey. Metallic green sheen on upper side and reddish bill with yellowish tip and purplish red orbital skin are identification characters. The bird lives in dense broadleaved evergreen forest.

Dugong” –State Animal

Dugong, an endangered marine mammal, also known as Sea Cow, is the only strictly marine mammal, which is herbivorous. It mainly feeds on sea-grass and other aquatic vegetation. Dugong is distributed in shallow tropical waters in Indo-Pacific Region. The animal is about three-meter length and weighs about 400 kg. In India, Dugong is reported from Gulf of Kutch, Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

Within the A&N Islands, Dugong has been reported from Ritchie’s Archipelago, North Reef, Little Andaman and parts of Nicobars.

Andaman Padauk ”–State Tree

Andaman Padauk is a tall deciduous tree found only in the Andaman Islands. It grows up to the height of 120 feet. The timber is highly prized for making furniture. Burr and Buttress formation adds charm to the tree and is used in making unique furniture.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008




On July 24, 1937, 187 political prisoners of the Cellular Jail undertook 4th and the last hunger strike while 72 went on work strike. Their foremost demand was the unconditional release of all detainees, State prisoners and convicted political prisoners. A good deal of sympathy had been aroused in Bengal in support of the hunger strikers, and a number of demonstrations took place in Calcutta and other places.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose threatened to instigate “campaign” on behalf of the hunger strikers throughout Bengal if steps were not taken to repatriate them. Later, Mahatma Gandhi intervened and an agreement between him and Viceroy Lord Linlithgow paved the way for the release of those political convicts and the hunger strike was abandoned on August 30th. The political prisoners of the Penal Settlement at Andaman Islands were ultimately transferred in phases to mainland prisons. The last batch of 109 freedom fighters (political prisoners) left Port Blair on 18th January 1938.

Though, almost all the political prisoners returned to mainland and the responsibility of creating a society mainly fell on the shoulders of the convicts’ families of the Penal Settlement who had inherited the noble spirit of resistance of their convict forefathers. Indeed, there would have been several other factors responsible for creating a society considerably different from the one in the mainland yet the role of the spirit of resistance displayed during the British colonial regime may not be undermined.

Saturday, September 13, 2008



The daunting saga continues…

On 17th May, 1933, the Cellular Jail administration under the orders of the Jail Superintendent – David Barry, started feeding the political convicts participating in the hunger strike forcibly.

At 12.24 am on the morning of 18th May, Mahabir Singh, a Lahore conspiracy convict, died. Another convict named Mankrishna Nama Das, a Bengali political prisoner, died of pneumonia on the morning of 26th May. After the death of two hunger strikers, the British Government of India accepted the death of two prisoners in a press communiqué on 28th May.

Another political prisoner, Mohit Mohan Maitra convicted in connection with the terrorist movement in Bengal died of double lobar pneumonia on the same day. Lieutenant Colonel Barker arrived at Port Blair on the afternoon of June 14th. He found 55 prisoners on hunger strike.

Lt. Col. Barker was known for his expertise in carrying out artificial feeding at Lahore Central Jail. A committee of the medical officers, which met at Lahore in 1929 to advise on the treatment of the hunger strikers in the Lahore Conspiracy Case, had recommended a procedure of artificial feeding.

Barker’s suggestions included certain measures to prevent spread of the strike. He suggested immediate separation of strikers from other prisoners and to isolate them completely. In certain cases, he recommended rectal feeding before nasal feeding was applied. He also asked to reduce the number of artificial feeds to the minimum required to keep the prisoner alive. In his memoir, Bejoy Kumar Sinha wrote:

Then one day, all of a sudden came the Deputy Commissioner, with SMO and many other high officials, and gave orders for the strikers to be carried to the Central Tower (of the Cellular Jail). They were taken there on stretchers one after another, barring those few whose condition made it impossible to undergo strain. The authorities then assured them that all their grievances would be removed and they would get necessary physical and cultural amenities. The details were also given. In the same breath, however, the officers said that nothing would be done as long as the hunger strike continued. While they were virtually surrendering, they wanted to have a show of victory. The comrades had consultations amongst themselves and next with their hospital friends. That evening the strike was called off… the struggle had just ended and as the circumstances were, we could not join it.”

Aerial view of the Cellular Jail at Andamans (After Independence)

The British Government of India received news from the Chief Commissioner, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, that all prisoners abandoned the hunger strike on June 26th. According to the Government of India, the prisoners abandoned the hunger strike unconditionally.

84 years old Bankim Chakravarty recalled in 1996:

After hunger strike, so many facilities were provided to us. A library was established there. We started playing. Kitchen came under our control. All types of political prisoners were treated in the same way now. All political prisoners ate same diet. I joined political classes there and read communist literature. Our teachers were Shiv Verma, Dr. Narayan Roy, Jaideo Kapoor etc.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008




The rapid growth of the militant nationalist movement against British colonialism during early years of the 20th Century began deportation of political convicts to the Penal Settlement. The division on the basis of political and non-political convicts at Andamans was made in the year 1909.

Hoti Lal Verma and Ram Hari, the editors of “Swaraj”, published from Allahabad, were the first political prisoners transported to Andamans. The convicts of Khulna conspiracy case and Alipore conspiracy case were transported in 1910. In the same year, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was also transported in 1st and 2nd Nasik conspiracy case. Oh! What a great revolutionary freedom fighter he was! He was the one the merciless German Jailor of the Cellular Jail was awfully terrified of. David Barry had series of nightmares host of times a day just hearing of the physically short and lean powerhouse revolutionary. I would talk to you about him in my ensuing posts.

Corridor of one of the seven wings of Andaman Cellular Jail

The arrival of political prisoners further matured the resistance movement and began giving it a political nature. This phase of political resistance began in 1912-13 and continued up to 1919. In this phase they mainly resorted to the ‘No Work Strikes’ and ‘Hunger Strikes’. The nature of ‘No Work Strikes’ was mostly well organized but the ‘Hunger Strikes’ of this period lacked participation of the majority of the political prisoners. Together with this they continued disobeying the jail authorities, occasionally attacking, abusing jail workers, and not completing their assigned works within stipulated time. There is unconfirmed information also about running a bomb-factory in the settlement.

However, the nature of their resistance reached its maturity after reopening of transportation in 1932, which was abolished in 1921 in the wake of the recommendation of India Jail Committee appointed by the Government of India in 1919. In 1932, the Government of Bengal proposed to transfer about 100 Terrorist (Militant Nationalist) convicts, including 3 women, to the Andamans from the jails of Bengal.

On January 3rd, 1933, seven of the political prisoners – Bimal Kumar Das Gupta, Sushil Kumar Das Gupta, Probodh Chandra Roy, Prabir Goswami, Bimalendu Chakravorty, Barindra Kumar Ghosh, and Subodh Roy went on hunger strike, in order to obtain certain concessions. The strike lasted from January 3rd to 9th, 1933. In this strike artificial feeding was not required because of the general satisfactory condition of the hunger strikers. The necessary disciplinary action was taken against the hunger strikers under the direct orders of the Chief Commissioner. Barindra Kumar Ghosh, one of the hunger strikers, told:

We decided to commence next strike after the arrival of another batch. After the arrival of BK Dutta and Bhupal Ghosh, we gave an ultimatum of one month to redress their grievances. But the government said that nothing could be done. Thereafter, one-month time was given to each of us to think who shall take part in the hunger strike because after beginning it once, it was not to be broken. 56 prisoners were in division three. 23 of them participated in the hunger strike. Rest of them decided not to work. It began on 12th May, 1933.”

Dhirendra Nath Choudhury, another striker recalled:

We were very few in numbers. Before our arrival, there were only 15-16 political prisoners. After our arrival (35 persons) we were 50 only. When we decided for hunger strike, all those present there before our arrival refused to participate. We had to wait for some more time. After some time, a group from Bengal arrived. They were ready for struggle. We ultimately got our comrades for the struggle. We gave an ultimatum to the jail administration before beginning the hunger strike.”

The Government of India informed the Secretary of State: “29 political convicts in C class, transported after August 1932” to the Cellular Jail of the Andaman Islands, “at the instigation of KB Dutta” (sic- BK Dutta), Lahore conspiracy convict, commenced a hunger-strike on May 12, 1933 “as a protest that their grievances were not being redressed.”

Achyut Ghatak, a participant in the hunger strike, told:

When we arrived in Andamans, no one of us could think of going back alive. It was a jungle. No sooner we were in the jail compound; it appeared as if we were in a hell. I went in the third batch. Those who had arrived in the first and the second batch had made enough preparations. They were waiting for the arrival of the third batch to commence their joint struggle against the Jail Superintendent. There was no arrangement of electricity. Mosquitoes were plenty but mosquito nets were not provided. Food was deplorable. In those conditions, we all decided that it was preferable to die sooner by observing hunger strike than to die slowly.”