Ullaskar Dutt : A prodigal revolutionary who lost his mental balance due to atrocities during Kala Pani
“This Jail is not outside, that you will escape from work by playing tricks with us…The very first time you refuse, you will get standing handcuffs; the second time, you will get bar fetters; the third time, do you know what you will get? Mind what I say and take care, you will get thirty lashes, the very worst kind of punishment that is meted out in jail here and do you know what those thirty lashes mean? Each lash that you will get will cut into your flash one inch deep! We will treat you like the ordinary Badmashes..” warned the Jailer of Cellular Jail.
But Ullaskar Dutt was equally steely in his rebuttal to the Jailer and snapped back: “You talk of thirty lashes, you can try to cut me to pieces if you can and see if you can get a jot of work out of me as long as I consider it wrong to do that.”
In my Facebook series on the life of the travails and tragedies endured by the indomitable bright young revolutionaries during imprisonment at CellularJail, today I will be paying my grateful homage to Ullaskar Dutt of Bengal.
Ullaskar Dutt was born in the family of Shri Dwijdas Dutt and Smt Muktakeshi on 16th April 1885 in Kalikachha village of Brahmanbaria District in what is now Bangladesh. After his initial education at Kalikachha, Ullasker Dutt went to Calcutta to pursue higher education at the prestigious Presidency College. It was in Calcutta that he heard Shri Bipin Chandra Pal exhorting the public to give up “fruitless attempts at gaining concessions from Government by sending petitions and humiliating appeals” and “take to self-help and self-assertion.”
Bipin Chandra Pal’s exhortations had deeply influenced youths like Ullaskar, who soon got involved in student activism against foreign rule. Those were the days of Swadeshi movement in the wake of the Partition of Bengal and Ullaskar stopped using foreign clothes and started wearing traditional Bengali dress.
An incident at Presidency College forced Ullaskar to quit college. One of his teachers, Mr Russel had written derogatory remarks against the Calcutta students. It is said that he had slapped Mr Russel for using a foul expression. Ullaskar Dutt wrote: “I could not hold myself quiet any longer and did something for which I had to leave college for good.”
He was drawn to revolutionary groups and joined the Anushilan Samiti with Barindra Nath Ghosh. His father was a faculty member at Civil Engineering College at Shibpur. Ullaskar used the laboratory of the institute for his experiments and also reportedly to develop some explosives. In 1908, he was arrested on the charges of involvement in the AliporeBombCase. An attempt on the life of Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, Andrew Fraser was made, by causing a blast on the railway track near Midnapur to derail the train carrying him. This explosive was said to have been devised by Ullaskar Dutt.
In 1909, he was sentenced to death. Initially, he refused to sign the appeal against the death sentence arguing, “How could I appeal to a court of justice, whose very authority to try we did not admit”. However, after being convinced by fellow revolutionaries like Barin Ghosh and his own parents, he agreed to file an appeal. His death sentence was reduced to transportation to Kala Pani for life. He has written in detail about the prisoners’ experience, the atrocities they had to endure and the excruciating physical labour they were subjected to—“In our indigenous bullock-driven oil mills, the quantity of mustered oil that a bullock could give, going round and round the whole day, does not amount to anything more than sixteen pounds at the most, whereas the quantity we had to give was fixed at eighty pounds per diem.” He further writes “three men had to drag that iron thing, going round and round, not like a bullock at its slow and easy pace but like a horse literally running all the time, without halt or stoppage…”. It was abjectly gruesome treatment meted to bright young educated men.
Ullaskar himself was severely punished for his rebellious attitude against the Jailor and consequently fell seriously ill with the temperature reaching 107 degrees. He remained unconscious for days. It impacted his mental health and electric shocks used to be administered to him. In the recurrent fits of depression, he even thought of death by suicide “I began to blame myself for all this evil and felt as though I had turned out the very worst culprit imaginable on the face of earth, making mischief only and no good. During one of those mortifying fits of morbid imaginations and low vitality pangs of conscience, I preferred to commit suicide, rather than endure such horrible dejection.”
One can only imagine the deep scars his conscience had to endure. Revolutionaries like him not only faced physical torture but also had to suffer mental misery. His fellow revolutionary Shachindra Sanyal quotes Ullaskar describing the atrocities of Kala Pani as “ Haad Khabe, Maans Khabe, chamda diye dugdugi bajabe “- They will eat our bones and flesh and will even mount our skins on the percussion drums”.
Following deterioration in his mental condition, Ullaskar Dutt was first shifted to a local mental asylum and later to Madras to spend the rest of his life sentence. He was released as part of General Amnesty in 1920.
Even Kala Pani could not dim his revolutionary fervour for the motherland. After his release, he was arrested again in 1931 and imprisoned for 18 months. He returned to his native village Kalikachha after the country attained Independence and moved to Calcutta 10 years later. He married Bipin Chandra Pal’s daughter, who was physically challenged and a widow. From Calcutta they shifted to Silchar, where he died in 1965.
UllaskarDutt has written two books Dvipantarer Katha and Amar Karajiban in Bengali, giving a detailed description of life in Kala Pani. Amar Karajiban became extremely popular in Bengali and has been translated into English. These books are the primary source of the gruesome atrocities carried out by the colonial rulers. They are a first-hand account of how our great freedom fighters waged a relentless struggle against an oppressive British administration. They must be translated into different Indian languages, while the media must at the same time, publish excerpts from those writings. School text-books too must incorporate these accounts. I would also urge educational institutions to organize students’ trips to the Cellular Jail and other such places to gain an insight into the suffering our great revolutionaries and freedom fighters underwent in order to secure a life of freedom and dignity for us.