(Last Updated on : 29/02/2012)
The revolutionaries spent a gruesome and agonising life in the Cellular Jail
until they were released. The memoirs of Barindra Kumar Ghose, titled The Tale of My Exile (1922), Upendra Nath Bandyopadhyaya's Nirvasiter Atmakatha (Bengali) and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar's Mqjhi Janmathep (Marathi) along with its English translation The Story of my Transportation for Life (1950) by Prof. VN. Naik and the Hindi translation Aajanm Karavas (1966), portray in detail the excruciating routine, which the prisoners underwent in this godforsaken place. All of them spent almost ten years in this jail during 1909 to 1921 and their narration concerns this period. Ullaskar Dutt who left the Andamans in 1913 also penned down his memoirs. Some other revolutionaries who were gaoled in this jail from 1915-21 have also written about their experiences.
After three to four days of journey in the clogged bunk of the ship, the prisoners in chains could behold the Cellular Jail from the ship anchored about two to three miles away from Port Blair. From the ship they were taken to the shores of the Andamans. Then the revolutionaries in fetters were led to the Jail on foot with beds over their heads and utensils in hand. The enormous iron gates devoured them as it were and after crossing the corridor, they were taken in the open courtyard from where the inner structure presented a close eerie appearance. The convicts were provided the jail uniform consisting of shorts, a shirt measuring a little below the waist and a white cap. The sacred thread of the Hindus was removed, contrary to the practice in Indian jails.
The political prisoners were shut up in small grimy cells during the night. In the room was kept a low bedstead hardly wide enough to allow comfortable sleep. One was to be most vigilant as a least careless turn could land the sleeper with a bang on the floor.
There was no urinal or lavatory near the cells for emergency use at night. Only an earthen pot painted with tar was kept in a corner of the cell, which was brought by the sweeper regularly every afternoon just before the prison was closed and he used to take it away in the morning. But it was very difficult to answer the call of nature in this pot. This was the most painful experience for the political inmates.
If one by some means eased himself in the pot, it created the problem of bad odour. In the morning the prisoner had to request the sweeper to clean it and if the latter did not agree, he himself had to do it. It was considered to be a wrongdoing and the inmate was punished with handcuffs and standing handcuffs.
A loin cloth was given to each of the political prisoners for wearing while having a bath. It was so thin that it could hardly conceal any part of the body. Thus, when they had to change clothes, they were in a total helpless condition. They only had to submit to their fate; the inmates hung their head in shame.
Wholesome food could not be expected in such a situation. A dabbu, (the broken half of the coconut shell) full of Kanji, the salt less and tasteless gruel of rice churned in water, dal and little vegetable were dispensed to the inmates. On occasion, even kerosene oil was mixed in the Kanji. The daily ration as per rules consisted of rice 6 oz., flour for rod 5 oz., dot 2 oz., salt 1 dram, oil one gram and vegetable 8 oz. for every prisoner irrespective of their needs. Even this quantity of daily food did not reach the prisoners in this jail, as they had to part with their quota of wheat chapattis and give them to the Muslim prisoners turned warders and remain content with rice gruel under the threat that they would be punished on fake charges. Curd, which was given to the prisoners only once a week, was always snatched by the petty officers and the jamadars.
The inmates' appalling conditions were even more intensified with the cooks and caterers in the jail being more intimidating and a few of them stricken with diseases. Their dirty clothes, their perspiring bodies, the perspiration dripping down into the big pots of curry and rice which they brought out to serve, were all open to the view of the political prisoners. The kacha and un-skinned green plantain, roots, stalks and leaves boiled together with sand gravel and excretions of mice were served to the prisoners. They had to devour such "dainty" dishes with hungry glee, in the dirty iron dishes, which could not be cleaned even after great effort.
The prisoners had to be seated in a line while eating, irrespective of the weather. If somebody moved away from the line to seek shelter, he was abused and punished. Besides, the petty officers never gave them sufficient time to finish their meals. They had to stop and get up when the signal 'the time is up' was raised by the jamadars.
After the hard manual toil one needed water for washing and drinking. Even the water, the prime necessity of life was scarce in quantity for political prisoners. The luxury of having a bath was unthinkable. Only three katoras (shallow dish) of saltish sea-water was given for bathing. Sea-water was given not only for bathing and washing clothes but also for all other purposes except for drinking.
The inmates were even denied reading material. Only one book was given to each of them on a Sunday morning in the first week and in the evening it used to be collected back. The exchange of books with the other prisoners was prohibited and breaking the code invited standing handcuffs for several days. No paper, slate or pencil was allowed to the prisoners.