Aswathama Hatha Kunjara - Untruth that is Buried Inside the Truth

It was raining sparsely when we entered the gates of cellular jail. We had already made it sure that we visited the historic monument on the first day of our visit to Port Blair. I was emotionally charged to visit a place where the sweat, blood and tears of umpteen fighters were shed during the gruesome years of our anti colonial struggle. As an ardent follower of history, I had always longed to see this monument where martyrs suffered for our emancipation. Inside the gates there was a gallery of photographs of convicts and martyrs who occupied the jail over the period. Accused of conspiracy over various uprisings and of other motives, people from all over the subcontinent were kept in these prison rooms. Inspiring and heartening were the tales, that those photographs revealed.

Inside the gates between the two wings of the jail complex, a well maintained lawn gave it a feeling of some picnic spot. But as soon as we entered the prison complex, the story of “Kalapani” unfolded rather bluntly. The prison complex originally had seven wings which radiated from the central tower outwards. Only three wings of the jail remain undisturbed now. All the jail rooms were arranged in such a manner that each convict would be in solitary confinement having minimum possible communication with each other. When one sets foot inside those small rooms and stand behind the iron doors, the asphyxiating confinement itself will guide his mind to the ordeal those revolutionaries would have undergone. Stories were all around the premises; of the animosities of the Jailer David Barry and his jamadars, of the superhuman resilience of the political prisoners, of the heart-rending sacrifices of various martyrs. Those prison rooms fill us with whole whorls of emotions including fear, rage, despair, pride and jubilation. Emotions of how great a history of anti colonial and anti imperialist struggle we had, of how we had united as a country pushing aside our differences against a great enemy who looted our common wealth and thrusted upon us the tyranny of impoverishment.

Among many, including the moplah fighters and revolutionary figures like Batukeswar Dutt, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was a name that had repeatedly come up all throughout the Cellular Jail visit. In his early days spent at the Cellular Jail, Savarkar - widely perceived as a revolutionary anti colonialist - was being slowly transformed into a sectarian nationalist and Hindutva proponent.This in itself is an intriguing story that necessitates further enquiry. Kalapani does work in mysterious ways, one must say.

Among many, including the moplah fighters and revolutionary figures like Batukeswar Dutt, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was a name that had repeatedly come up all throughout the Cellular Jail visit. In his early days spent at the Cellular Jail, Savarkar - widely perceived as a revolutionary anti colonialist - was being slowly transformed into a sectarian nationalist and Hindutva proponent.This in itself is an intriguing story that necessitates further enquiry. Kalapani does work in mysterious ways, one must say.

After the prison complex, we visited a museum inside the premises, the “Gallery of First War of Independence” which was inaugurated in February 2004. Initial half of the museum rushed through the various early uprisings against the British Colonial Raj. It revealed the struggles for Independence, the 1857 mutiny and various other uprisings that took place all over India. Second half started with five pictures showing various news cuttings related to Mahatma Gandhi, termed as the Gandhi Era. Then the museum suddenly got transformed into a mono focused eulogy of V D Savarkar. It contained a whole stretch of pictures depicting his family, early life, his association with Bal Gangadhar Tilak etc. Owing to his prominence in the history of cellular jail this may seem necessary, but a large majority of pictures were showing his post jail life. These were about his rallies as a Hindu Maha Sabha leader, sharing stages with RSS ideologues including Hedgewar and Golwalkar. One may wonder how these activities of Savarkar had any relation with our Freedom struggle and how these pictures found such prominent share in the museum the “Gallery of First War of Independence!”

After his plea for clemency in 1921 Savarkar with his brother was transported back to Indian Jails and were later released. During this later period of confinement Savarkar came up with his idea of “Hindu Rashtra” with Hindutva as its core ideology. The break from the mainstream secular nationalism was quite obvious and the nationalism that Savarkar professed was anything but anti colonial. It tends to synthesize the “other “ from within our society and went on to become a tool in the hands of the colonial forces, as history very well shows. But now when our country's polity has turned rightwards over the years, the secular nationalism derived out of the glorious anti colonial struggle has faded to give way to sectarian nationalism. It is in this paradigm that one should read the museum in cellular jail. How history is being systematically distorted and vulgarised according to the political interests of the ruling class. How subtly ideas are infused even through structures of our common heritage and how we as a society fail to defend such heinous twists instilled in the historical narrative.

Any naïve person is bound to return from the cellular jail with a feeling of credibility for Hindu Maha Sabha and RSS in relation to the struggle of Independence where they had a very little role in reality. Without blatantly expounding anything, falsehood will be instilled into the minds of the spectator in utmost subtle manner. That is how ideology works in the postmodern era. It not only follows the conventional Goebbelsian methodology of repeating the untruth to create truth, but rather it does instill the untruth within a body of truth, making it palatable and more prominent than the truth itself. This subtle but conscious tampering of the historical narrative needs to be disputed defended and exposed.The contents of the Gallery on First War of Independence at cellular jail is definitely a betrayal of our anti colonial struggle and will be the last dagger that is buried in the chests of our martyrs at Kalapani.