It was like any other day in Central (Now Khudi Ram Bose Central) Jail in Muzaffarpur except that the scorching sun has lost some of its fury giving us considerable amount of relaxation. The approaching winter had brought ever so uncaring jail administration a sense of providing warm clothing to the prisoners including JP activists imprisoned there.
Thus, we were given Bandi (Indian waistcoat) made of coarse black blanket but without inner lining. All other prisoners were given the same. Many of us felt snubbed for the reasons of being treated like common prisoners and also the material given, in our opinion, was not fit for ordinary human wearing except for hermits or beggars. This treatment on the part of jail authority meted out to political prisoners like us was not only annoying but was also revolting. May the matter be so trifle, we decided to take this head on. Our seniors and experienced ones requested the administration for at least getting them re-stitched with cotton lining. They refused to oblige us. The hot and cold parley ensued for days together but the authority refused to budge even an inch from their stand.
In fact, the waistcoat was a real nuisance as its coarseness not only caused skin eruption but also its black yarn would spray out on all over our body. The fact that our identity of political prisoners was at stake was something that we could not digest. Some of us would fancifully call ourselves as prisoners-of-war and here we were being treated like thieves and thugs. The feeling was almost revolting. Though it was altogether a different matter that many of us could ill-afford the same material back home but the fact that we had raised a war against the government as a whole of which the jail administration was a part, was something that didn’t allow us to pocket this insult.
A section of DIR prisoners were also jealous of MISA prisoners who were given coat and pant of relatively fine quality wool. They would often call Mr. Sangrura by several names not spoken in social gatherings, for not putting them under MISA. This reminds me of Milton’s “it is better to rule in hell than to be ruled in heaven”. Although being in a prison, the mundane hypocrisy had yet to release them from its bondage. Similar was the case of other prisoners too. Had you asked any of them about the IPC section they had been charged under, the reply would often be 302, the murder case. As if the commissioning of murder was comparatively an act of bravery than any other act charged under any other section of IPC.
However, MISA was selectively used by Mr. Sangrura, the then District Magistrate of Muzaffarpur and perhaps it saved many a penny of state exchequer dissipating into the hospitality of so called class prisoners. In the event many of our inmates were disappointed for having charged under DIR only. This was not without a valid reason. The MISA prisoners had better standard of living that included good quality of edibles, fruits etc. Some of them would find ways and means to even support their families with prison surplus.
The rift between the DIR prisoners and the jail administration widened and reached to a point of no return. We decided to protest, and protest with determination, what may come. A meeting of prisoners was convened and a Sangharsh Samiti (Protest Committee) was formed. I was made the Chairman of the committee. It gave me a mixed feeling. In one side I was not able to suppress my temporal happiness for the position given to me by relegating the sitting and ex-MPs, MLAs and renowned Professors and Lectures of Graduate and Post Graduate Colleges in the background but at the other I was apprehensive too for, this appeared like a child’s game. The apparent triviality of the situation by the influential political leaders there worried me. I never had the political orientation to organize such a protest nor had the acumen of negotiating a deal. It all looked a conspiracy to make me a scapegoat. Nevertheless, my jubilant heart and the thought of future political prospect were the driving forces towards such a golden opportunity to grab. Besides, the sense of defeat without fighting the war was not acceptable to me either. I shouldered the responsibility in that state of mind.
What followed afterwards was the ultimatum to jail authority followed by hunger-strikes and the lock-up refuse as the last resort. I was advised by some of the better informed co-prisoners that these are some of the methods to protest against the atrocities of jail authority and the history bore testimony of such instances. I was elated by the fact that I too would certainly leave my imprints in the annals of history. But the worst fear that I deliberately kept suppressed would surface at the slight thought of the repressive measures likely to be taken by the administration. Danda-Berri ( two iron bars attached to the two iron rings on each of the ankles at one end and the other end hangs by a hook in front fastened with a sling around the waist), Khada Berri (handcuffed and tied with both arms up and ankles cuffed in such a way that disallow both the heals to touch the ground), restricted diet( popularly known as PINGLE DIET-I have tried to find the correct expression but in vain) and of course the sending of erring prisoner to a solitary confinement, were some of the methods used by the prison administration to subdue the inmates. The description of such methods would render even the bravest of the braves to give up and here I was – a mere beginner. My heart would sink at the thought of being subjected to such horrendous methods and that too with the formidable person such as Mr. R. C. Sinha ,the then Jail Superintendent in the forefront. The fellow was very English, awfully fair, potato-like nose sticking out on his blotch face, with large nostrils, soldier cut hair style (nicknamed as ‘Katoria’ by prisoners) were,to count a few, some of his striking physical traits.
Before I could come out of the thought of To-be-or-not-to-be, our call of lock-up refuse was countered by a sever Lathi-Charge by the administration. All my politically charged spirit abandoned me at the first sound of Pagli Ghanti. As they said that anyone caught outside the prison ward after the bell starts ringing, will be beaten up without warning. The prisoners began running helter-skelter. Before I could come to my senses, somebody hit me on my back so severely that I could not sit on my back for several days. He was an ordinary constable. It enraged me to the extent of taking a vow to avenge this once I would be out. However, I must thank him now for saving me from the more brutal whiplashing that followed and which I witnessed from my ward. We were hurled by the police personnel to the ward and locked in. The Lathi-Charge continued nearly 2-3 hours. One among many others who received the wrath of administration was Shri Thakur Prasad Singh, a professor in Ram Dayalu Singh Post Graduate College, Muzaffarpur who was beaten up black and blue by one convict-stout and brutal. This convict was seen working in food store and would often try to curtail the food material of MISA prisoners. One another elderly prisoner under MISA, who hailed from Kanti was also treated by the same convict in the same fashion. This convict would often seen picking a quarrel with them on the eligibility of ration quota. Probably he got a chance to pay back the MISA prisoners with interests. It was mostly the convicts who created the horror of the day and thus, proved the real power inside the prison. Thakur Baboo, as he was lovingly called, had an impressive personality whom I had met on the second day in prison. He was charged under MISA. As I remember, he was the only politically famous person then in prison who was worth calling upon. He later had the association of Gaya Baboo, the Vice-Principal of the same college who was said to be an active member of RSS but I seldom witnessed him patronizing RSS activities there.
After the beating exercise was over, we were made to line up before the Superintendent who began picking inmates for solitary confinement. Anil Kumar Sinha, an inmate, who was behind me, whispered that it was then our turn for being beaten. The Superintendent, as Anil narrated later, had a peculiar way of punishment. He would make prisoners to line up before him and would call them one by one. The constables posted either sides would start charging with Lathi the moment a prisoner reaches the Superintendent. But the Superintendent didn’t do anything of the sort that day. He began sending us to prison cell at his whims and fancy and in the exercise it was evident that he had little feedback about an individual prisoner’s conduct.
I was ordered for Phansi Khatal. I took a vain pride for being in the cell where Shaheed Khudi Ram Bose was once kept before being hanged.
Five of us were kept in one cell. One elderly prisoner, I don’t remember his name now, under DIR was also amongst us who fell flat on floor after half an hour in the cell and complained about chest pain. After some time, he was taken out where he lay on the ground for hours together before being sent to ward. Four of us remained in the cell thereafter. But following the rule of keeping the prisoners in odd number in the cell, we were reduced to three from four by evening that day.
After some months I refused to go to the ward when asked by the Superintendent. Rather I requested him to allow me to stay in the cell as I was going to appear for my degree examination and no place was as convenient as the cell to prepare for it. He looked askance first but later was pleased to know that I had not shunned my studies even in prison. I earned my degree from jailgate that was my examination hall. May God allow Mr. Sinha’s soul to rest in peace.
S. S. Thakur, Guest Contributor, PatnaDaily.Com