Gone are the days we looked forward to the 15th of August, the parades and the celebrations; these are the times of “enforced and over-hyped patriotism” – or so they say. A mother, I overheard, complained how her 13 year old was mandated to stand for the National Anthem during the school assembly every morning, how this enforced patriotism is an imposition against one’s right – this is a free country after all. If your heart, too, tears apart seeing your child sweating in the sun for 52 seconds, hail the brave heart mother that birthed, Khudiram Bose, a lion-heart who kissed the noose at 18.
Free country? Sure it is. But it’s ironic how you want to enjoy this freedom employing it against the very emotions that brought it about. You may know the names of Baghat Singh, Rajguru, Netaji, Chandra Shekar Azad and a few more, but there are hundreds of thousands of nameless fighters who were suffocated to death behind the blind walls of Kalapani.
The cells, measuring no more than 4.5 meters in length, 2.7 in width, with almost no source of light were built to kill revolutionists in dark isolation. When hunger turned their stomach, they were served with worm filled bread, to quench thirst rain water with insects floating in it were poured in the contoured glasses. They were made to pass waste right where they ate, those shady cells were left uncleaned for days at stretch.
The mildest punishment was to tie them to a Kolhu – their arms and legs fastened by iron shackles, an iron ring around neck – with a warden chasing them around a mill. If they failed to deliver, they were put through unnerving atrocities.
To get information from these revolutionists, the British (in most cases, with the help of Indian officials) tied their hands and legs in different directions and caned or stuck with hot iron rods till their skin frayed. Torn and naked, they were then tossed on slabs of ice for beds. Their spirits couldn’t be overpowered, the mortal bodies however could only take so much. When dead, their cold corpses were flung into the ocean.
Now, let me introduce you to Diwan Singh, the director of health in the Indian Independence League who met the then governor to appeal against the inhuman treatment of the prisoners in Kala Pani. In response, Singh was thrown behind bars and tortured for 82 days at stretch. He was hung to the ceiling by the hair, nails were pulled out from fingers, flesh from his body, forced to sit on burning charcoal for days before he breathed his last on Jan 14th 1944.
The cellular jail constructed by the British on the isolated island was no less than Hitler’s concentration camp for our freedom fighters. Behind the bricks brought from Myanmar, these heroic men, aged as young as 17, as old as 50, were afflicted with unspeakable, unconceivable tortures that would pierce your soul at the mere mention. These men (and women) could have lived a regular life, they could have loved, married, had children, they could have accepted government jobs, brought home fat envelopes, visited the theater with family every Sunday, they could have disregarded the national flag that had yet to come to existence, but they chose to give up possibilities of a life of comfort, embraced every inhumanity, died without living, so your child could walk the soil of a free India, so he could belt out Vande Mataram with pride – without having canes rain on him. Little did they know, the mothers of free India will raise sons too feeble to face the sun for 52 seconds, too conceited to dismiss the mantra of Swaraj and National Anthem as an encroachment on their freedom, the very freedom that didn’t come that easy, a freedom for which a myriad lives were laid down.