A tale of two jails

A tale of two jails

An unflickering steady flame burns on a platform in Mallasajjana Vyayama Shala, Gandhi Bhavan at Bellary, as a mark of respect to the martyrs of the freedom struggle.

The Shala celebrated the 75th year of its existence on September 16, 2008. A torch was brought here all the way from the Andamans. There is significance to this gesture.

Bellary’s Bindu Madhav, who passed away in 2002, was a Gandhian par excellence. As a teenager he was inspired by the infectious spirit of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ of revolutionaries like Mahavir Singh, whom he met in the Bellary Jail in 1932.

Mahavir Singh, Bhatukeshwara Dutta and Gaya Prasad were the revolutionaries who exhorted Bindu Madhav and others to start a centre for the youth, like a Vyayama Shala, to infuse a spirit of patriotism in the younger generation. The Shala celebrated its anniversary on September 16, Mahavir Singh’s birthday, as a tribute to the memory of his pioneering spirit.

Mahavir Singh was one of the ten revolutionaries prosecuted in the II Lahore Conspiracy Case by a special Tribunal headed by Justices Cold Storm, Hyder and Hilton. The trial started on May 5, 1929. Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukhdev were condemned to death by hanging.

Mahavir Singh and others were awarded life imprisonment and sent to different jails in the then Madras Presidency and later shipped to the Andamans Cellular Jail in Port Blair in January 1933. In a letter to his father from Port Blair, in January 1933, after two years of imprisonment in Bellary Central Jail, Mahavir Singh describes his delight in meeting his compatriots at Bellary Central Jail.

“On the evening of January 19, when I stepped into Central Jail, I saw my close friend Kamal Nath Tiwari after nearly two years and during the night we heard the voices of Bhai B K Dutta and Bhai Kundanlalji. You can understand how much happiness it gave me,” he writes in a letter; the next day these revolutionaries were taken by a lorry to the then Madras Port from where they were shipped to ‘Kalapani’. Mahavir Singh died in May 1933.

Allipuram jail

The Bellary cantonment had a vast army jail complex with some 16 blocks established long before World War I. In fact, hundreds of POWs from various theatres of war of 1914-18, including Turkey were brought and jailed in the cantonment prison, called the Allipuram jail. Some of the Turkish prisoners were buried in a special cemetery and it includes even the then crown prince of Turkey.

Over 100 prisoners were mowed down by a trigger-happy officer in the cantonment. There stands a mosque in the place of carnage called ‘Khooni Thana Mosque’ referring to the place of bloodshed.

Even in the 30s, satyagrahis like C Rajagopalachari, Kamraj Nadar, Potti Sriramulu, Bulusu Sambamurthy, Tekur Subramanya and others were jailed here. A young Congressman, Gurram Chinna Venkanna, was imprisoned at Allipuram jail.

He later became a minister in the Andhra Pradesh government and was awarded a Padmashree. But the most touching story was that of young Kolliakal Kumaran of Thiruvilwamala in Kerala who was studying in Victoria College, Palakkad, in the year 1941. The young man joined the ‘Quit India Movement’ and was expelled from college.

He was jailed in Allipuram jail, Bellary by the British. He managed to escape from the jail in 1943; however he was re-arrested in Madras but managed to escape from police custody.

During his second conviction in Bellary jail, he was put in chains, humiliated and tortured by Col. Howe. After his release, he met Gandhi, who exhorted him to go back to his village in Kerala and spread the khadi movement. This young man took home with him a dozen charkas and established Gandhi Seva Sadan, which blossomed into a centre for art and culture too.

Like the Central Jail in Bellary, Allipuram jail is intertwined with the freedom movement. Only one jail block in the Allipuram jail, which houses Vijayanagara Institute of Medical Sciences, has been preserved. This prison block has been named ‘Swatantra Samara Soudha’. It is planned to make it into a National Museum enshrining memories and memorabilia of the freedom movement.