“Our sorrows were many. The greatest of them was the want of company.” – Barindra Kumar Ghose
The colonial prison in Andaman was not only uninhabitable but was a living hell for the exiled political prisoners, who were subjected to inhuman and brutal torture for months together. The aim was to totally demoralize them and break their spirit.
Each prisoner lived in complete isolation and solitary confinement in a small cell. None was allowed to interact and communicate with each other, although, the prisoners were allowed to work together, walk together and eat together. No prisoner could share his despair and agony with fellow inmates.
As I move ahead 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 revolutionary freedom fighter, Barindra Kumar Ghose, who had spent nearly 12 harrowing years in the Andamans.
Barindra Kumar Ghose, the younger brother of the great Indian freedom fighter and philosopher Shri Aurobindo Ghose was born on 5th January 1880 in Croydon, England. His parents– father Dr Krishnadhan Ghose and his mother Swarnalata, used to fondly call him Barin. He did his schooling at Deoghar and later went to Patna College. Barin was deeply influenced by his elder brother Shri Aurobindo and he soon joined the freedom movement.
Barin, along with his associates, used to recruit young revolutionaries and organize revolutionary activities. They started a Bengali daily, ‘Yugantar’ which not only gave a call for revolt against the British rule but also enumerated ways to do it. Barin trained the young revolutionaries at his property in Muraripukur, Manicktolla which also turned into an ‘Ashram for Revolutionary Sannyasins’.
At the ashram, the young revolutionaries were trained in meditation, underwent physical training, learned about military strategy, use of firearms and studied Gita and Upanishads, among other things.
Following an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the British official Douglas Kingsford by Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki, the police started conducting raids in different areas in Calcutta which eventually led to the arrest of Aurobindo Ghose and Barin Ghose amongst others. Barin and his associate Ullaskar were sentenced to death by hanging but upon their appeal, in the High Court, the death sentence was reduced to transportation for life. Barin and several other revolutionaries were then deported to the most dreaded prisons of that time, the Cellular Jail of Andaman, which was also called ‘Kaala Paani’.
The treatment at the Cellular Jail was the worst kind of a nightmare for the prisoners. Imprisoned in tiny cells with no ventilation, they were assigned highly arduous, back-breaking and energy-draining tasks such as oil-grinding, rope making and coir pounding. “Some of the works imposed upon the prisoners, such as cutting wood in the forest, preparing brick and lime, extracting rubber are really so difficult that very often they try to run away in fright and many commit suicide when not able to get back home,” mentioned Barin.
While describing his agony about the life in Andaman, Barin said, “It will unhinge any man even, in ordinary circumstances, not to speak of a prisoner, to be so hunted and insulted all the 24 hours. It is quite an inevitable eventuality that many should try to find release through suicide. Those only whose hearts have turned to stone can bury their pain and count their days in the hope of a future.”
“What is the meaning of this tragedy? Is it to be called just punishment or revengeful oppression?” he questioned.
The prisoners of the Cellular jail were ill-treated in every possible manner– they were even deprived of decent food. Barin once described, “The food difficulty was not so very painful in the beginning. But as days wore on, the dismal monotony of the same dish everyday rice and dal and Kachu leaf—began to tell upon our nerves. The farther we left behind the atmosphere of the motherland and the more we inhaled the air of the Andamans, the greater was our repulsion to food and the keener our discomfort. It was the mere sense of duty and the cruel necessity of hunger that made us eat,”
The prisoners, who used to fall sick because of the uninhabitable conditions or due to the extremely taxing tasks, were even deprived of proper medical treatment. Barin once mentioned, “There is no arrangement for decent medical treatment. First of all, prisoners are often refused admission in the hospital, for thereby the work suffers. And then even if they are admitted, they do not get proper medicine or diet.”
Barin while describing life in the Andaman Prison said, “And what a miserable life it was, when day and night you had to smile anyhow a wooden smile and do a thousand obeisances to your many masters!”
The harrowing life at the Cellular Jail used to take a heavy toll on the physical and mental well-being of the prisoners. Surviving the harsh conditions used to require enormous mental as physical resilience.
The invaluable sacrifices made by our great freedom fighters to free the motherland from the oppressive foreign rule should always be remembered and the younger generation, in particular, should be fully aware of them. Once the situation becomes normal and the pandemic becomes a thing of the past, schools and colleges should organize visits by students to the Cellular Jail and other such places of historical importance to enable them to understand firsthand the huge sacrifices made by our freedom fighters to give us freedom.