Sunday 12 June 2016

A Jail is a Jungle

I visited the Andaman Island a few years back. It was a British penal colony, and after the construction of the  cellular jail there in 1906 ( which I visited ) was used to keep political prisoners. The jail was originally like a bicycle spoke, with 7 long buildings ( only 3 of which exist today ) 3 stories high, radiating from the centre where there was a tall observation tower. The prisoners were kept in small dingy cells in isolation in these buildings. It is a horrible place, and is now maintained as a museum.

 At the cellular jail, I saw a light and sound show in the evening, which I thought was totally unrealistic.

 The show displayed prisoners shouting ' Inquilab zindabad ', ' Bharat Mata ki jai ',etc, which I thought could not have happened, and I will tell you why.

 A jail is a jungle, where the slightest indication of protest, or shouting of slogans or other kind of 'netagiri' meets with harsh punishment like whipping, etc.. So no one would have dared to shouted ' Inquilab zindabad ' etc in the cellular jail.

 In this connection I may tell you a story.

 When I was a lawyer in Allahabad High Court, I had a friend who was a leftist, who would often give fiery speeches against oppression, exploitation, etc.

 Once the police came to arrest him on some charge ( I forget what it was ) and take him to jail.. I told him while he was being taken away that in jail he must maintain a low profile and not do any 'netagiri', or he would get into trouble. But he did not listen. While in Naini jail, he would often raise slogans against the treatment of prisoners, and tried to organize a sort of trade union of prisoners to demand better conditions in jail.

 The result was that one night the lambardars ( guards who were themselves long term convicts ) came to him, threw a sheet over him, and beat him with sticks black and blue.

 The next day he managed to smuggle a letter to me informing me what had happened, and pleading that I get him immediately out of jail or he would die.

 I went to the jail and met him, and said to him  that I had told him to maintain a low profile in jail, but he did not listen, and this was the result. I then went to the Superintendant of Naini Jail in his office, and told him that what had been done to my friend was totally unacceptable, and I would file criminal proceedings against the jail authorities if this ever happened again. The Superintendant was very courteous, offered a cup of tea to me, and said " Mr. Katju, I will ensure that this will never happen again. But please tell your friend to keep quiet here. This is a jail, not a picnic spot ". I informed him  that I had already done so. The next month my friend was released.

 I have told this story to explain why the prisoners in cellular jail could never have shouted ' Inquilab zindabad ', etc. They knew what would happen if they did.

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