“My own mind was kept agitated by the thought, ‘Why should I live longer?’ A sort of special feeling of uneasiness occupied my heart. Every moment I was debating within myself whether I should cut short my life or continue to live,” despaired Bhai Paramanand.
In my Facebook series on the freedom fighters who had suffered mental and physical torture at Cellular jail, today, I will be paying my homage to Bhai Paramanand who spent five years from 1915 till 1920 in Cellular Jail.
Many patriots, including intellectuals, who wanted to free the country from the colonial rule were driven to utter despair and desperation by the gruelling living conditions and the constant physical torture in the Cellular Jail. Bhai Paramanand wrote: “For the future-blank, despair for the present, the severity of punishment and of hard labour; under such conditions, many prisoners become indifferent to life and resolve to destroy themselves.”
Born on 4th November 1876 in the District Jhelum of present-day Pakistan, in a prominent family of Punjab, he had completed his Post graduation from Punjab University in 1903. It is said that he had declined a lecturer’s post at Punjab University, as he had taken a vow not to work for a salary above Rs 75, and taking up that post, would have breached that limit. Influenced by Arya Samaj, he, instead, became a Vedic missionary.
In 1905, he visited South Africa to propagate Vedic culture and philosophy, where he stayed with Mahatma Gandhi, who arranged his lectures in Durban. Bhai Paramamand was extremely impressed with the austere life and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa.
From South Africa, he proceeded to Caribbean Island, Guyana and the United States. During his visit to the USA, he had met Lala Hardayal and inspired him to organize the Gadar Party as a forum of overseas Indians to fight for the freedom of their motherland. Around the beginning of the First World War in 1914, it is said that he along with some 5000 activists of the Gadar party returned to India to launch a revolt against the British Government at multiple places. He went to Peshawar to lead the revolt. The plan was leaked and the revolutionaries were captured. He, too, was arrested and tried in what the British termed as “First Lahore Conspiracy Case” for waging revolt. He was sentenced to death but the punishment was later commuted to transportation for life in Cellular Jail.
At the Cellular Jail, he, like other convicts, was made to do physically excruciating tasks like extracting fine coconut fiber from coir husk, grinding oil tied to a mill like animals. Apart from solitary confinement, he had to face restriction of movement due to fetters and hand-cuffs. He was also subjected to lashes at the whims of the warder. Frequently, the prisoners had to face this kind of harsh treatment.
Mahatma Gandhi’ Ji’s close associate C.F. Andrews had written in The Tribune about the ignominy which patriots like Bhai Paramanand had to endure for years during their incarceration at Kala Paani:… “how futile, how stupid, how insensate it is to keep one of the brightest and keenest intellects in modern India, a man with such noble qualities of mind and heart, imprisoned along with the lowest criminals for the rest of his life and engaged in the useless, senseless and meaningless occupation of the grinding hour after hour at the mill.”
When Bhai Paramanand started a hunger strike to protest against the inhuman treatment of the prisoners, he was force-fed by the jail authorities. He narrated: “Hands and feet were held tight and a long rubber tube was introduced through the nose into the stomach through which the milk was passed down. The process was painful but this is the usual thing in jail and was done by force.”
During the incarceration of the freedom fighters at Kala Paani, their families used to undergo the trauma of prolonged anxiety and uncertainty. C.F. Andrews met Bhai Paramanand’s wife and family when he was in Cellular jail and wrote about their pitiable condition: “The room was of the smallest dimension — cold and dark. It seemed to be her only home. It was indescribably poor, and she herself was nursing on her lap her sick child, while the elder child was sitting by the mother, listless and pale. The child in the mother’s lap had a fever, and the mother herself told me how her eldest child had died of this only six months ago.”
The present-day youngsters and many others born in independent India may not be fully aware of the immense sufferings and sacrifices endured by freedom fighters and their families to free the country from the oppressive colonial rule. We owe this freedom to them.
Bhai Paramanand was released in 1920 under a general amnesty order. Following his release, the family of Bhai Paramanand continued to face financial hardship. His wife used to work at a local Arya Samaji school and her salary was the only source of income for the family.
Gandhi ji himself writes about Bhai Parmanand, “Bhai Parmanand belongs to the band of Indians daily growing in numbers who have set apart their lives for India’s service and have accepted comparative poverty as their lot.”
Subsequently, Bhai Paramanand resumed his teaching career where it is said that Bhagat Singh was one of his favorite students.
BhaiParamanand has written a book ‘Aap Biti’, describing the ordeal he and others like him suffered during their incarceration at the CellularJail. Several other freedomfighters too had narrated through their writings the painful and inhuman treatment underwent during the imprisonment at the jail.
I urge the Government to publish their writings in different Indian languages so that a larger number of people, particularly the youngsters could read those authentic accounts. I also, call upon various state governments and educational institutions to organize visits to the CellularJail to make youngsters and students aware of the immense suffering and torture underwent by thousands of freedom fighters during the freedom struggle.