Bejoy Kumar Sinha, the unsung revolutionary incarcerated at the Cellular Jail
“At the very jail gate, we asked the European Jailer to take us to our hunger-striking comrades,” recalled Bejoy Kumar Sinha.
After India’s First War of Independence in 1857, the Britishers wanted to punish India’s brave freedom fighters by deciding to isolate political prisoners in the Andaman islands, far removed from mainland India. They thought they could insulate the rest of the country from the pervasive spirit of Swarajya, which was building across India.
On 10th March 1858, a batch of around 200 prisoners were taken to the island and from then began a saga of ruthless British atrocities on Indian freedom fighters, which continued in the Andaman islands for many decades.
In continuation of my Facebook series on the freedom fighters who were incarcerated in the Cellular Jail at Andaman islands, today, I would like to share with you the life journey of Bejoy Kumar Sinha, the courageous revolutionary from Kanpur.
Bejoy Kumar Sinha was born in 1909 to Sarat Kumari Sinha and Markand Sinha in Cawnpore (present-day Kanpur). Even though Bejoy himself came from a humble family, the poverty and deteriorating conditions of his fellow Indians in his surroundings made a significant impact on his young mind and sparked the fire of revolution in him. Young Bejoy was filled with an intense desire to take to a life of action and change the worsening situation in his motherland. He was driven by a powerful impulse to free the nation from the clutches of British rule.
During his school days, Bejoy Kumar Sinha came in contact with the revolutionaries in his area and became an important functionary of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.
Following the arrest of his brother and other revolutionaries, who were sentenced for their involvement in the Kakori case, the responsibility of keeping alive the flame of revolution fell on the shoulders of Bejoy Kumar Sinha and other young revolutionaries.
Bejoy was given the task of organising secret wings in different parts of the country. In his memoir, he recalls, “I was entrusted with the work of organising the secret wing in different parts of the country and in this connection, I moved from province to province. Two years of intense activity of our members in different provinces landed some of us in the Lahore Prison to stand our trial in what was known as the LahoreConspiracyCase of 1929, against Bhagat Singh and others.”
In the Lahore Conspiracy case, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were given death sentences and seven others including Bejoy Kumar Sinha were sentenced for life. After his conviction, Bejoy was moved from one prison to another in different provinces.
When he received the news of being deported to the Andaman Jail, Bejoy was, to the astonishment of many, happy at the prospect of joining his comrades at the Cellular Jail and spend the rest of his term with them. Although he and other political prisoners were fully aware of the atrocities being committed by the authorities at the Cellular Jail, they remained steely and unfazed. They decided to join the ongoing hunger strike when they arrived at the jail.
“The government was sending us to exile, but we felt as if we were starting on a pilgrimage to a field of battle. We had discussed and decided that as soon as we reached the Port Blair Jail, we would be by the side of our fighting comrades,” he mentioned in his memoir.
He further recalled, “At the very jail gate, we asked the European Jailer to take us to our hunger-striking comrades.” But their request was turned down.
The hunger-strike was one of the many such protests by the prisoners against the inhuman treatment meted out to them. The 55-day long hunger strike was finally called off after the Jail authorities assured the prisoners that their demands would be met if they would quit the hunger-strike. Three freedom fighters, Mahabir Singh, Mohan Kishore and Mohit Moitra died during the prolonged hunger strike.
Not only were the conditions in the Cellular Jail unfit for living, but the political prisoners were deliberately assigned unachievable tasks in a stipulated time frame. On failing to complete them, they were handed down harsh punishments which included, handcuffing for weeks, flogging, putting bar fetters, neck ring shackles and gunny bag uniforms, and other forms of torture.
The living conditions were so squalid that many prisoners contracted diseases like tuberculosis, rheumatism, asthma and diarrhoea. The miserable and extreme circumstances drove some of the prisoners to depression and insanity, while others took their own life. Over and over again, the prisoners raised their voice against the jail authorities’ tyranny. The inmates used to write letters to the higher authorities demanding fundamental rights and better conditions for prisoners in the infamous jail. However, all their efforts were in vain.
As the prison authorities continued with their inhuman treatment of the prisoners, BejoyKumarSinha and his fellow revolutionaries went on a hunger strike. This time, however, their strike caught the attention of people and other freedom fighters living in mainland India. The British authorities did not want anyone to succumb to the hunger strike and made many attempts to end it. Letters from relatives and political leaders were sent to the protesting prisoners, and after 45 long days, the hunger strike was called off keeping in mind the wishes of the people.
Following intervention by MahatmaGandhi and Gurudev RabindranathTagore, all the political prisoners were repatriated to mainland India, putting an end to the horrific experience the heroic freedom fighters had to undergo during their stay there.
Unfortunately, numerous sacrifices made by countless freedom fighters have not been fully recounted in our history books. There is an absolute need to retell them in every Indian language. State Governments must bring out special editions to mark the 75th year of Indian Independence and remind the youth about the sacrifices of the great freedom fighters from their state. I call upon everyone, especially today’s youngsters, to visit the CellularJail and other such places to educate themselves about the extraordinary deeds of our freedomfighters, each one of whom was a legend in his or her own right.