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.”

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