Gossip, Gossip, Gossip ! The Jail is Full of Gossip.

On August 23, 2014 by admin

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Snehangshu Kanta Acharyya

[S.K. Acharyya was in prison in 1963, under the Defense of India Rules, which empowered the Government of India to imprison whoever it wanted as long as it wanted, without trial or charge. Barrister Acharyya was later the Advocate General of West Bengal. Here is a selection from his meticulously maintained diary.]

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I entered the Presidency Jail at about 9 PM. After long spending time in the general lock up. I was taken to Ward No. 18 and there I found an advocate of our High Court, Kazi Mohammad Ali who was known to me for I had appeared as his senior in some cases he brought to me. Apart from Kazi, there were two New Zealanders who were kept there as under-trials having involved in some smuggling cases. I was surprised to find two other detainees, members of the C.P. I., who were in the same ward as me though sleeping on the floor and staying downstairs in Ward 17 but without the privilege of being in Division I. After my arrival, I talked through the door which separated the next ward on the western side where all other detainees of the C.P.I. were lodged. When I saw these two detainees in my ward, I got the first hint of the division which had broken out openly in the C.P.I. which was reflected inside the jails as well.

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The evening was the dullest part of the day. Lights were bad, making serious reading an impossibility. The greatest irritation was that the lights were not turned off at night and as I had this habit of sleeping in the dark, the bright lights made sleeping a near impossibility. The convicts somehow managed by playing cards and then take a few puffs of ‘ganja.’ But for  time hangs heavily. I felt that it would have been better to have been in the thick of it and suffered than to have been in the fringe doing no good either to my family or to the movement. Anyway, this has cured me of vacillation.

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There was an announcement by the Jail authorities that persons donating blood will have remission of their sentences. This was greeted by continuous boos and howls. Some of our ‘Faltus’ commented that blood would be sold by authorities and not used for poor patients needing it. One of the prisoners told me that he had witnessed a strange sight: one night he saw in Kidderpore a lorry pick up some destitute and he joined them too. They were brought into a hospital having a blood back and all these persons were forced into a room and blood extracted. Some were paid paltry sums and after a heavily sugared cup of tea they were brought back in the lorry and left at Kiddepore again, but in a different route and were shooed off.

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The Librarian came and I returned all the books which I had taken, except for Agni Bina by Kazi Nazrul Islam. I somehow feel too overwhelmed to read novels, so I had selected some old Bengali dramas to renew my long lost memory. God alone knows when the books send by my wife will be ‘cleared’ by the Intelligence Branch for delivery to me.

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When I was in Conakry last October , I saw the prized representatives of the countries ruled by lesser Nehrus. All these representatives are typical boot-lickers of different Metropolitan Powers and are inordinately fond of European ways!

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Gossip, gossip gossip. The jail is full of gossip. What goes on in different wards. Yesterday, the P.D Act boys asked whether I shall be freed today. They had heard it in the office. I told them that my fate is not to be guessed by any jail officer. One new chap who has come along, has been, it seems, deliberately planted amongst us. The jails in India are run by convicts….The faltus do our work, bring food and also keep watch on us and on each other.

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The latrines are just too awful and I never go anywhere near these, unless I am literally forced to go. The bath, or the reservoir is full of cockroaches and insects floating about on the surface and the dropping of the birds and lots of feathers. The room or the ward is dirty, the roof is full of soot which descend on us quite often. The food, as I have said, is muck. The British had treated Indians as animals and convicted prisoner is certainly a creature below an animal and therefore this utter disregard to human desires or even human squeamishness. The Congress government and its champion Nehru, being a Harrow boy, has the identical mental attitude towards sub-human Indians, in general, and inhuman prisoners in particular, and have, therefore, kept the  British system intact.

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There was a sudden visit by the Jailer and his deputy to carry on a search of our bed, body and boxes. Then suddenly the Jailer asked me if I had bought four exercise books for writing and have asked for two more. I said that it was so. He wanted to see my writings for censoring. I told him that I shall not give them to him under any condition. These writings were my own thoughts put to paper. I would like to see the rules which state that he could see them. I am of the opinion that there were none. But in case there were indeed such rules, I shall burn my writing rather than allow any ugly and mentally deficient stooges of Nehru look into them. He told me that I had better talk to the Superintendent. I shall take this matter up, I replied, to the Home Department or to the High Court if necessary. Anyway, I have started another book with only cryptic notes, in case my writings have to be destroyed.

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While I was writing  a series of terrible shrieks came out of the lunatic ward. One of the sentries, was beating a lunatic mercilessly, and we could just see a bit of it in spite of the bad light and angle and distance between our wards. I have never felt so terrible in my life nor had seen such insensate cruelty.

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A condemned prisoner is to be hanged in a few days time as all his appeals and clemency petitions have been turned down. I feel miserable and watch the reaction of others. Quite different from that of Brendan Behan’s character in ‘The Queer Fellow’ and the Irish jail atmosphere. Here it is too sordid and pathetic. Knowing the way police procure evidence and also the way the allow real killers to go free on certain considerations, I am never sure whether anyone is really guilty of a crime he is accused of. Suddenly, like a flash I remembered  The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

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One chap, under-trial for cheating and a Division I prisoner, looked after our kitchen. After we arranged for our cooking he used to come along to find out of requirements. Incidentally, I talked to him about his case and advised him a little. Today I drafted a short petition for him for an adjournment and also made some guidelines for his argument. He was very grateful and now has sent us some eggs and extra meat.

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V.K. Krishna Menon, it has been reported in the press, had openly stated that socialism was on the ‘downward grade’ in India and gradually the grip of monopoly capital was tightening over India’s economy. What a lovely certificate to his friend Nehru and his administration and the tall talks of building a socialistic society in India. But, as usual, Menon added a sting by saying that the Chinese were also partly responsible for such a state of affairs.

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A lovely sight this afternoon. The Jailer fell down in a puddle and got up with his clothes full of mud and slime. How we crowed with delight. A few days ago, it was arranged that one long term prisoner, on proper consideration, would pour a pot-full of human excreta on the Jailer. After the proposal was duly passed, this elite among the convicts had filled up an earthen pot, scouring the latrines and covered the top with a light smear of curd, procured from the hospital. The Jailer was on his rounds, when this convict went up to him on the pretext of discussing this curd business and then—down on his head, the mixture was poured! As we had not witnessed that sight, we were happy to have seen this minor discomfiture.

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The 14th of July—the Bastille Day—a lot of reminiscences for me , especially of 1033, when I was in Paris on this day. O-the singing and dancing throughout the night –and here I am in Jail stewing my own juice.

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The Motion Picture Employees Union sent me a bouquet of flowers and food for the victory in the case. I had fought this case tooth and nail against all the big guns and turncoats at the bar and the case caused a lot of bitterness too. The said big guns and turncoats took recourse to all sorts of dirty and mean tactics only to defeat the poor workmen getting a very small benefit from the Minimum Wages Act.

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I just organised a real nest snatching spree and caught two storklets or baby cranes. My daughter is terribly fond of all sorts of animals such a bizarre catch will surely make her happy if I am able to smuggle these to her outside of the Jail.  The two baby cranes are very young and will have to be fed carefully with fish and offal. I have obtained some cages too- made of simple wire-mesh.

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There was a convict in the umbrella making department and I wanted to find out why he was here. The story he narrated was fantastic. He told me that he came to India with Dalai Lama. He speaks a little bit of Nepalese, enough for me to understand him and make him understand my questions. He said that after his arrival in India and after he was fed and trained by the Government of  India, he was recruited by the Indian Army. Strangely enough he said he was not an Indian at all. Still, he and many many Tibetans were drafted into the Indian Army.

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I was almost an eye witness to a terrible beastliness. It was  morning, about  8:00 am and I was  doing my usual constitutional in the veranda in front of my cell  when I saw a young under-trial prisoner,  hardly 12 years of age, along with some other boys, clearing fields and yards in front of my cell. As I looked up, I saw a real B class convict, tough and raw, take this boy into the new yard and then I lost sight of him. I felt something was amiss and as I went out I heard sounds of deep sobbing and shrieks.  I walked a little faster and there in the new ward, by the latrine, in a little secluded spot, the tough chap had already committed buggery on the youngster and the poor chap was crying his heart out.  What was really unspeakable was that a whole lot of other convicts and sentries were all gazing without  stirring a finger. I completely lost my temper and caught the swine and gave a  real swipe on his temple  and knocked him down. There was a  hell of a running about and when the  Chief Head Warder and the Jailer came to the spot I demanded an immediate punishment and said that otherwise I’d send this man for trial in the Sessions and also sate  the circumstances of connivance by the Jail staff.  They somehow persuaded me not to drag this matter any further and got the swine properly beaten up and then put him into a solitary cell with bar and fetters for a long period. I still think that I should have taken it to the Court and got the swine another conviction.

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A real bit of good news in the paper. Dange was frightened to death to visit Kerala as the people  there have promised to welcome him with a garland of dirty shoes; so Govindan Nair had wired Dange not to come to Kerala. Only a few days ago Namboodripad and Gopalan were received with flowers and thousands of people went beyond the city limits to the Airport to receive them. More news like this  and my detention would be worthwhile.

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Last night I had peculiar dreams of going out, dreams of Europe and of mass fighting. This morning I felt bewildered and I woke up in the lonely, desolate and overwhelming prison compound. I felt like lying down again and crying. But tears have long been dried up—the emotions spent and all I have are the intense hate and subtle planning to fulfill my revenge. “They also serve who only stand and wait”—well, I shall have to, now, follow the great blind poet.

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