I am condemned to death, but you are sentenced to transportation for life. You will live and, while living, you will have to show to the world that the revolutionaries not only die for their ideals but can face every calamity,” wrote Bhagat Singh in his last letter to his dear friend Batukeshwar Dutta, who was extremely upset that he was not sentenced to be hanged till death instead of his friend Bhagat Singh.
As I continue with my Facebook series on the freedom fighters who were incarcerated in the infamous Cellular Jail, today I will share with you the story of the great patriot and freedom fighter, Batukeshwar Dutta.
Batukeshwar Dutta was born on 18 November, 1910 to Goshta Bihari Dutta and Kamini Devi of Burdwan District in West Bengal. He did his schooling in Kanpur and was a bright student and an avid reader.
One day, an incident witnessed by him ignited the spark of revolution in him and he never looked back. He saw a British officer mercilessly beating a child. Upon enquiry, he got to know that the child was beaten because he stood at a road that was prohibited for Indians to stand on. He was deeply affected by the incident and decided to stop the British atrocities on Indians in their own motherland.
In 1924, Batukeshwar Dutta met Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad, who were members of the revolutionary organization Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), which was actively working towards freeing India from the British rule. Dutta got impressed and motivated by the work being done by the HRA and soon joined the organisation.
The two young revolutionaries Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutta in an attempt to protest against two bills that were to be taken up for passage– the Public Safety Bill and the Trade Dispute Bill– decided to make their voice heard by hurling smoke bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly. On the 8th of April 1929, they carried out their plan and hurled the smoke bombs. While hurling the bombs, they raised slogans like “Inquilab Zindabad” and “Long Live Revolution” and also threw leaflets titled ‘To make the deaf hear’ which declared their motive behind the incident. Instead of fleeing, the brave men decided to surrender as they believed that their actions would inspire other revolutionaries to participate in the freedom struggle.
The incident shook the entire country and both of them were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1929. Later, Bhagat Singh was sentenced to death by hanging for his involvement in the killing of John Saunders and Dutta, on the other hand, was transferred to the most dreaded jails of that time, the Cellular Jail of Andaman, which was also known as ‘Kala Pani’. He was ultimately released in 1938 as his health condition deteriorated.
The radial, seven-winged jail built in the middle of the sea was a living hell for the prisoners. They were ill-treated, tortured, starved, deprived of basic necessities and assigned to do tasks that were not humanly possible to do. Worst of all, they were not allowed to mingle and speak to each other as it could have led to unity among the prisoners. Many prisoners succumbed to the harsh conditions and inhumane treatment at the jail.
Batukeshwar Dutta, like others, faced brutal treatment at the hands of the prison authorities. But being a revolutionary at heart, he stood up against the abusive treatment of political prisoners and started a hunger strike to protest against discriminatory and inhumane prison conditions. His years in the Cellular Jail took a massive toll on his health and he contracted tuberculosis soon after he was released from the prison. Although, Tuberculosis had an adverse effect on his health, it could not deter his spirit to fight for the freedom of his country.
In 1942, Dutta actively participated in the Quit India Movement led by Gandhiji and was again arrested. Dutta, who had joined the freedom movement at a young age, was imprisoned for most of his youth and was moved from one prison to another until 1947 when he was finally released after India attained independence.
Great freedomfighters like Batukeshwar Dutta made huge sacrifices for the motherland. The CellularJail is a stark reminder of the extreme maltreatment that our freedom fighters endured during their incarceration. The brutality and atrocities of the British failed to neither break their fighting spirit nor diminish their patriotism. We must all remember these great men and women and the younger generation must visit the cellular jail to know the torture and suffering undergone by our freedom fighters during the struggle to free the motherland from colonial rule.