Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

A STUDY OF LIFE

KALYANI BHATTACHARJEE

Translated from the original Bengali JEEBON ADHYAYAN, by Dhira Dhar. Reproduced with permission of Jay Bhattacharjee (son of Kalyani Bhattacharjee)

One month in Presidency Jail during Congress Session of 1933

When the Congress Session in Calcutta was declared illegal, al the women delegates who arrived were arrested and sent the Presidency Jail. Srijukta Nellie Sengupta had been elected as president. We were all arrested early in the morning to prevent us from attending the open session and taken to Presidency Jail.

It seemed as if we were holding an all India Women's Conference in jail. We gladly took up the task of welcoming women from other states and tried our best to look after them. But the food that was given to us was"lapsi" a kind of gruel for breakfast and boiled vegetables with coarse rice for lunch.

At that time Maya was also in Presidency jail, arrested under the Arms Act. At first we could not recognize her for she turned so dark, and also reduced to half her size. We knew she had been cruelly treated at jail. She had to spend a fortnight in jail lying without a change of clothes or a bath. Here we found her always under strict vigilance. We were not allowed to speak with her and even looking at her was considered a crime. We often got into trouble by just looking at her. From a distance we could make out that she was not well for her face always bore the marks of unexpressed pain.

She had pointed out to us that she was always suffering from a pain in her chest. She could not eat on most days , and went away after washing her dish and glass. Seeing her in this condition we approached the doctor , and asked him why she was kept as a class three prisoner? She was not used to such a hard life. Could she not get some milk instead of the usual food which she was unable to consume? The doctor did nothing , or maybe he was unable to do anything. Matron had already told the superintendent that Maya's ailments were all imaginary So there was no need to give her any milk . Even though she was suffering , she had to do her usual hours of hard labour. Her task was to knit bags for keeping money. I wondered who would keep money in these bags , prepared by her tired and languishing hands.

One day I managed to have some words with her in secret , when I came to know how she had been beaten by male officers at Illysium Row. Her mother was also held on suspicion and kept in Hijli jail as political prisoner ,A few months later we came to know that she was on her deathbed. The jailors were trying to help her recoup ,but then it was too late. She might have survived , if they had given her good food and medicine when she was suffering in Presidency jail .It was a farce trying to save a tree that had shriveled to its roots for lack of air and water. We were witness to the ill-treatment she had received while in jail. All of us who were arrested for the Open Session of the Congress were released within a month.

After being arrested in 1933 I was taken to the Lal Bazar police station. A drowsy old woman was on guard in front of our room. Suddenly waking up at night , I found a sergeant standing in front of my bed with a grin on his face. I wanted to know why he was there without my permission. He said he was there to see if I was comfortable.. There were some young girls with me in my room and I worried about them. Later, when I heard that a sergeant had tried to hold their hands , I complained to the authorities, but to no effect.

Every afternoon we were taken to the Special Branch office on Lord Sinha Road, and were interrogated continuously by the police inspectors. We were surprised to see a thick notebook full of complaints against us. What a waste of Government's time and energy ! Maybe 0ne day I was returning from the swimming pool with a bundle of wet clothes. This was put down in the report book as Kalyani Das going with a package of revolvers from one house to another.

My elder brother had to report often at the S. B office. A senior officer had shown him a thick notebook ,almost as thick as Webster's Dictionary, full of reports against my name. He told my brother , "You have no idea what a dangerous girl your sister is. We have all the proofs. She would have been made food for bulldogs in other countries." My brother had answered with a smile, "I don't know if Kalyani had anything to do with the Dalhousie Square case or Steven's murder. But I am certain she did not give the revolver to Bina. If all your reports are as ill-founded, we better not discuss them. But about your kindness I must say psychologists are of the opinion that locking up a person indefinitely , is more cruel than having him eaten by bulldogs!"

One night after attending a cousin's marriage I was returning home with my brother with a packet of food in my hand for my Mejdada who was at home. Immediately a report was sent to the I, B. office that I was returning home with a large packet of revolvers and cartridges. That night the police chief ordered "Thus far and no farther, we must not let her go any further. Tomorrow early in the morning she must be arrested." The Police officer woke up as the warrant reached him ,and from four-o'clock in the morning he surrounded our house with his police battalion. Later I asked him ."Where were all the revolvers and cartridges that I was supposed to have brought with me? You searched the house thoroughly. You even looked into my mother's box. Did you find anything?" He replied ,"You have trained up your young brother very well. He must have taken them away. Or your sister-in-law could have hidden them in the shopping bag which she whisked out to the Ashram. Your sister-in-law also appeared to be quite tough ."

One day a Bengali police officer called me to his room. He introduced me to his superior officer as , "She is Lila Nag's counterpart - Lila Nag works in Dacca and she works here in Calcutta. Both of them are turning us crazy..." I felt embarrassed being compared with Liladi. She was so much my senior in every way . She had started working much earlier and her sphere of work was so much vaster than mine .

While talking with me the officer turned to the phone and told some one , "Oh he has been arrested ! Good, send him here and I'll teach him a lesson." I shivered at his words for I was afraid of the awful tortures he was planning for the victim. Calmly he turned towards me with a smile and went on with his comments.

I had heard of a torture room in the office at Lord Sinha Road. I believe ,all the worst forms of torture invented in this world , were stored in that room. Making one sit on ice, burning ones hand and then rubbing chilly powder on it , passing electric charges through ones body, forcing one to do continuous push -ups, and whipping a person after hanging him up by his feet-all such forms of excruciating punishments were practiced there.

We were taken to court twenty-four hours before the trial. We found great commotion going on in the office. People were rushing round busily. We learned on enquiry that revolutionary Dinesh Majumdar was also being taken to court that day. He was to be taken there in chains. We had heard earlier at LalBazar that he was not allowed to wear a 'dhuti'for he might try again to escape. An inspector said,"We are taking your Gurudev to court .He will have to die now -- we cannot allow him to live any longer." There was a cruel smile of vengeance on his face. He too was a Bengali youth!

At court we found a young boy of eighteen or nineteen years ,brought for his trial. He was in such a physical condition that he could hardly stand. He was leaning against the wall, with marks of torture all over his face and body. Last night we had seen him in an adjacent cell walking around in good condition. He must have borne all the torture silently, for we had heard nothing at night . The police inspector on duty was a young man and he seemed new to his job. I requested him to allow the prisoner to sit , for he seemed so exhausted. He turned down my request with the words, "A prisoner cannot be pampered-let him stand."

Later we were taken in a prison van from Lord Sinha Road to the Park Circus police station. In the van we found a large Anglo-Indian lady in a voluminous gown. We had seen her in the S.B. office. When she accompanied us to the 'thana' we guessed that she was coming with us to beat us up when it would be necessary .

Anxiously we awaited our fate in the 'thana' Later , we came to know that as there was no provision for safe-guarding young girls in the 'thana', she was there to look after Madhuri, Jyoti, Bonolata and other young girls. So being assured of no disturbance at night we went to sleep. But sleep was not possible. One small room had been divided into three parts. The two side portions were kept for us ; one for me , and the other for men prisoners . All office work was being conducted in the middle.

Many people were being brought there after their arrest. Groups of hawkers were being fined. On suspicion of being a thief , a person was being beaten mercilessly, while he cried continuously , "I don't know anything , they just picked me up-----" .I was reminded of that old man in "Crime and Punishment" who was falsely accused of murdering the old woman. As the shouting went on I sat up stopping my ears with my hands. A drunken gentleman was picked up from the road. He went on discoursing sometimes in. English, sometimes in Bengali.

In a nearby room there was a young boy , hardly eighteen tears old . He was arrested after the Watgunge bombing. With terror-stricken eyes he was watching all this. In dirty clothes , with unkempt tangled hair, he was a picture of hopeless misery. I learned he was the son of a poor widowed mother. After trumping up a case against him , the police were harassing him for quite some time. After a day in court , he was again left in prison for two or three months. He had no legal assistance, nor did anyone come to meet him from home. He was passing his days in his hopeless lonely condition. I wondered what was keeping him alive. He had no one to care for him , nor was there any hope of honour or reward at the end . The sacrifice of such silent selfless workers was truly great. No one will remember them when the nation will emerge independent, but their united effort was invaluable in our freedom struggle.
 

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