ANDAMAN ISLAND’S BRITISH CELLULAR JAIL, INDIA
TRIBUTE TO INDIAN FREEDOM FIGHTERS AND MEMORIAL TO BRITISH OPPRESSION IN INDIA
Sabyasachi Ghosh Dastidar
Here are a few pictorial tribute to the valiant Indian freedom fighters who were incarcerated in distant – 1,200 kilometers off-shore from Indian mainland – infamous Cellular Jail in Port Blair of Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal of Colonial British India. Part of the jail is now preserved in memory of those seeking freedom from colonial servitude. These names of the jailed patriots are listed on a central column several floors high with dates and place of origin of patriots’ Indian provinces. The gallows are also preserved as memorial to the martyrs of British oppression. Among many, MasterDa (teacher-brother) Surya Sen, a Hindu Bengali, of Chittagong, Bengal – now Bangladesh – was hanged there after a brutal torture when he couldn’t even stand up as his legs were broken into pieces. Sen is famous for robbing the occupying British Army’s Chittagong Armory to free Mother India.
On the stroke of midnight of India’s independence, August 15, 1947, all the prisoners were freed from Andaman prison. In British India there were several vital centers of pro-independence activism, among them were Bombay (Mumbai), Lahore (now in Pakistan) and Calcutta (Kolkata), as well as several centers of activism in eastern Bengal – now Bangladesh – in Chittagong, Dhaka and Barisal districts. Ironically, and unfortunately, almost all of the indigenous Hindu Indian independence activists of eastern Bengal, deeply caring about east Bengal’s social, educational, economic development, were unable to return home to their loving east Bengal homeland as anti-Hindu pogroms raged throughout the region led by Bengal Province’s ruling Muslim League Party and pro-Islamist activists. Families back home were targeted for attack, arson, abduction, conversion and cleansing. Large number of names on the Andaman jail tablets are from eastern Bengal – now Bangladesh. They gained freedom but lost their home! Besides Congress Party patriots there were many anti-British activist groups. Among them were nationalist Anushilan, Jugantar, Biplobi Bangla (though this was essentially a forum of post-independence, post- [Hindu] cleansed individuals in Calcutta [Kolkata]) groups, and many leftists. After migrating to India many of these activists joined Communist movement in the Hindu-majority newly-formed State of West Bengal in India, although for a time in early 1940s Communist Party collaborated with British colonialists against Congress-led independence movement (as did the Islamist Muslim League Party), while at another time colonial British Administration was after communists (when one of the activists with same last name as this writer took shelter at my parents’ home in rural Lakshmankathi, now in Bangladesh, long before my birth.) One of the ironies and hypocrisies of post-1947 politics of Indian West Bengal (and Hindu Bengali-majority Tripura state) is that those Hindu politicians, at times claiming to have no religion, who chose not to live with the Muslim-majority neighbors in Bangladesh for migrating to Hindu-majority India, presented themselves as the champion of Hindu-Muslim cohabitation while not living with Muslims but those Hindu minority families who stayed back with their Muslim-majority in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, for example, were often portrayed as “communal” or “against Muslim-Hindu cohabitation” like the families of Indian Congress Party President Jatindra Mohon & Nellie Sengupta (Prime Minister Nehru requested Sengupta family to remain in East Pakistan), or the father of the idea of a Bengali nation Dhirendra Nath Dutta who in 1948 proposed Bengali to be a national language of Pakistan at Pakistan Parliament (left Calcutta for his home in East Pakistan/Bangladesh), or our friend Shyamal and Dhruba’s father Dr. Chakraborty who went back to Kishorganj (East Pakistan, now Bangladesh) from his practice in newly independent India’s Calcutta, or our friend Mathias Rozario’s family who moved back to Dhaka district from Calcutta. West Bengal State’s first Chief Minister after 1947 partition was Congress Party’s Prafulla Chandra Ghosh, a native of East Bengal, now Bangladesh, as were both the communist Chief Ministers Mr. Jyoti Basu and Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya during the 34-year rule of Communist Party-Marxist from East Bengal/East Pakistan/Bangladesh. And Mr. Kiron Shankar Roy the leader of colonial 1947 Bengal Legislative Assembly belonging to Congress Party who stayed in the safety of Calcutta while neither returning home to East Bengal/East Pakistan, nor speaking out against mass killing of Hindus in his Muslim-majority homeland. This is true of post-partition socio-politics of Hindu Bengali-majority West Bengal and Tripura states that were usurped by the Hindu refugees and their descendants.
From 1980 through 2001 this writer was very fortunate to come in contact with a large group of pro-Indian independence activists, many of whom spending years and years in British oppressor’s prison, including Andaman Cellular Jail. These activists, then in their 60s, 70s and 80s, almost all from eastern Bengal, now Bangladesh, would come to the Medical Office of Dr. Sankar Ghosh Dastidar at Ballygunj in Calcutta to reminisce about their days of activism, prison days and of their beloved east Bengal. Only later would we learn that one of the reasons for adopting my family as theirs’ was our frequent trips to Bangladesh, as they were not able to return back to their homeland. (Some of the stories from daily gossips at Dr. Ghosh Dastidar’s chamber is part of my 670-page book, Mukti: Free to be Born Again: Partitions of Indian Subcontinent; Islamism, Hinduism, Leftism and Liberation of the Faithful, Author House, USA.) These Indian freedom fighters would ask detailed questions about their home districts, their villages, the schools we were helping, and about food, flower, friendship and folklore of those places. Sometimes they would stick a few rupees to be donated to their desired institutions. Through Probini Foundation (www.probini.org and https://empireslastcasualty.blogspot.com/2008/12/educating-poor-and-orphaned-in.html) we help many schools in Bangladesh, West Bengal, Assam and Mizoram. (We started by selling tea for 50 cents at a puja event in New York.) Probini established Sri Loken Babu Scholarship – in honor of Mr. Lokendra Nath Sengupta of Comilla in eastern Bangladesh at the Ramakrishna Boys Orphanage at Thakurpara, Comilla. Lifelong bachelor Sengupta spent years in oppressor’s prison. Mr. Sengupta wasn’t able to visit his home in East Pakistan/Bangladesh as he was not given a visa to go to his birthplace which became a “foreign” land. Their ancestral home and property were taken over without compensation by Pakistan/Bangladesh Government through Enemy Property Act by simply declaring indigenous Hindus as “Enemy of the State” like tens of millions of Hindu victims. (This is true for Hindus still living in their ancestral lands of tens of generations in Bangladesh whose homes, ponds and paddy fields – even cremation grounds and temples – are confiscated through Enemy Property Act.)
As large-scale killing of Hindus continued in (East) Pakistan, and as millions of poor oppressed-caste peasants fled to India – in bordering West Bengal, Tripura and Assam states of India – beginning in 1950s Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided to shelter some of them in the sparsely populated Andaman islands, especially in the northern island (as well as in central Indian Dandakaranya Forest Area that this writer visited several times, https://empireslastcasualty.blogspot.com/2008/12/rebirth-of-bangladeshi-hindu-refugee.html.) Strangely West Bengali leftists, including future Communist rulers, opposed these settlements to keep these hapless Hindu refugees in perpetual poverty. There were demonstrations in West Bengal against Congress Party for sheltering refugees in Andaman but not against the Muslim killers of Hindus or against Muslim League Party. (During communist rule they killed hundreds of oppressed-caste Hindu refugees in Marichjhappi Island in Sundarbans Delta of West Bengal https://empireslastcasualty.blogspot.com/2009/08/marichjhapi-west-bengal-india-communist.html as well as Hindu monks and nuns in the heart of Calcutta https://empireslastcasualty.blogspot.com/2009/07/hindu-monks-and-nuns-killed-in-india-by.html. Sadly no one has ever even been arrested for these mass murders, not even by the anti-communist now-ruling  Trinamool Congress Party of West Bengal who came to power by vanquishing communists and promising inquiries.) During my first visit to Andaman in mid-1980s with my wife, we were able to interact with several of those refugees. During my latest visit in 2000s with my son we were able to network with some of their more urbane descendants living in the capital city of Port Blair as well as in the Ramakrishna Mission ashram and temple where we stayed.
When one travels to that island chain, one realizes the lack of ingenuity, imagination and progressive ideas among India’s ruling elites. One wonders why 70 years after colonial oppressors have left India Andaman hasn’t become a Bali, Bermuda, Zanzibar, Hawaii, Maldives, Isle of Man, Easter Island, Fiji or Iceland who raised their standard of living just through tourism. Why her natural beauty or heritage has been hidden from rest of the world? Could we have created a development model based on nature or culture tourism? Why could it not be as attractive as Rajasthan deserts or Kerala waters or Odisha temples? Additionally, India has failed in projecting her glorious struggle for independence against the British oppressor. She has had one of the longest anti-imperial independence movements in the world spanning two centuries that stretched from Baluchistan to Burma, and from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. She has neither a museum dedicated to her independence struggle (which should be in every sub-district of India), nor does she have a partition museum. (Our Indian Subcontinent Partition Documentation Project in New York has started one, www.ispad1947.org and https://empireslastcasualty.blogspot.com/2013/07/ispad-indian-subcontinent-partition.html. In 1980s the Communist Government of West Bengal started a museum in a room on the 7th Floor at a building in Entally in Kolkata, but no one could find a key to the room during our visit in 1986. After hours of wait four of us left.) It is great that some in India and abroad have heard about Mahatma Gandhi. They should. Even before Gandhi arrived in India the struggle for independence had proceeded for several decades. (In 2017 we visited Pietermaritzburg Station in South Africa to pay homage to Gandhi where the Great Soul learned his first major lesson from an oppressor. Recently we visited Birla House in Delhi where Gandhi was murdered by a sick Hindu.) “Vande Mataram” was already composed before Gandhi’s arrival as was “Jana Gana Mana.” Jalianwalabagh massacre happened before Gandhi era, as well as the lecture by Swami Vivekananda in Chicago. Patriots were jailed in far corners of India from Kohima to Karachi and from Delhi to Dhaka and from Ranchi to Rangoon. Indians were hung by foreigners, including a grand-uncle of my wife’s Sengupta family originally from eastern Bengal, now Bangladesh. Thousands and thousands of men and women sacrificed their lives, careers and homes for India’s independence. My maternal grandpa Dadu, Mr. Girindra Nath Roy Chowdhury, a lawyer, and his wife, our Didima, Mrs. Niroda Sundari, and their two sons spent years in prison in their native Faridpur, now in Bangladesh, as well as in Calcutta, now in West Bengal, then capital of the British Province, for seeking India’s freedom. Yet unfortunately once independence and partition happened, their Hindu lives and sacrifice for India’s freedom didn’t matter to the ruling Muslim League Party of India/Pakistan.
Andaman Cellular Jail is but one more example. Many thanks to those who gave so much for India and the world. Let us remember all those who made our life better! Let us keep the freedom fighters memory alive! Jai Hind! Glory to Free Nations!
City of Port Blair
Massacre of Indigenous Andaman and Nicobar Population by British Army
Tribute to Freedom Fighters
The Gallows and Memorial Areas
Cellular Jail Area
July 30, 2018Mon, 9:10 PM
Posted in Facebook and Twitter
August 6, 2018, 6:41 AM
Thanks. Very nice. How we forget that most of the revolutionaries incarcerated in Cellular jail were Bengali Hindus like you and me.