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.”