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Cellular Jail: Stories of Clemency and Betrayal

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By Zubair Ahmed

Modi’s recent visit to the Islands has brought Cellular Jail and Savarkar back into focus. Cellular Jail had many variants of inmates. And, though the common cause for which they fought might be liberation of the country from the British. But the contemptuous reference to others continued inside the jail premise, which led to even betray those ideological opponents to the British and brand them terrorists. If Savarkar submitted clemency petitions to escape the prison life, another inmate Khushi Ram Mehta complained about laxity of discipline in Andaman citing the revolutionaries as terrorists following communism and socialism.

VinayakDamodarSavarkar (Convict No. 32778) in his clemency petition to the Home Member of the Government of India on 14th November 1913, concludes with the statement:
“In the end, may I remind your honour to be so good as to go through the petition of clemency, that I had sent in 1911, and to sanction it for being forwarded to the Indian Government? The latest development of the Indian politics and the conciliating policy of the Government have thrown open the constitutional line once more. Now no man having the good of India and humanity at heart will blindly step on the thorny paths which in the excited and hopeless situation of India in 1906-1907 beguiled us from the path of peace and progress.”

 

“Therefore, if the Government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I for not but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English Government which is the foremost condition of that progress. As long as we are in jails, there cannot be real happiness and joy in hundreds and thousands of homes of His Majesty’s loyal subjects in India, for blood is thicker than water; but if we be released the people will instinctively raise a shout of joy and gratitude to the Government, who knows how to forgive and correct, more than how to chastise and avenge.”

“Moreover, my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide. I am ready to serve the government in any capacity they like, for my conversion is conscientious so I hope my future conduct would be. By keeping me in jail, nothing can be got in comparison to what would be otherwise. The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?”

“Hoping your Honour will kindly take into notion these points.”

Savarkar was later released and he abstained from any revolutionary activity henceforth.

Another ‘nationalist’ inmate, Khushi Ram Mehta hailing from Hoshiyarpur, Lahore betrayed other inmates by reporting to the intelligence bureau.

In a confidential intelligence bureau report vide file no. 90/41-Jails dated 5th Dec 1941, based on extracts of statements of Khushi Ram Mehta addressed to the Chief Commissioner, he accuses some of the inmates, adherents of communism, who fought the British forces, as terrorists.

Khushi Ram Mehta, a revolutionary convicted in a Ooty Bank Robbery case of 1933 and also suspected to be implicated in two mail runner robberies perpetrated in Jullundhur District in 1941 scouts for the intelligence agency and makes a statement which says,

“The supervision in the jail was extremely defective and the convicts had been able to smuggle in a lot of communist and socialist literature. Dr.Narain Roy, nephew of Dr.BidhanChander Roy, Niranjan Sen and Lahore Group smuggled the largest volume of literature in the jail.”

He also states how this was accomplished. He refers to the freedom fighters as terrorists.

“In the Indian jails, the ‘terrorists’ had been associated freely with Civil Disobedience Movement prisoners several of whom were men of high learning and had been permitted all sorts of books for study in jail. On their release the prisoners made over their literature to the terrorists, who brought them to the Andamans unchecked by the so many authorities which formally checked them, on their way to the Andamans.”

“The prisoners requested some contacts living in Andamans outside the jail to get books direct from the continent and smuggle them through warders.”

“The prisoners requested their relatives in India to send them particular books. When they arrived in jail, they were checked by the authorities who finding them objectionable set them aside. There were, however, some terrorist prisoners who were working as ‘munshis’ in the jail office who picked those books and gave them to their comrades”

He reports to the intelligence that in connivance with the authorities, the prisoners could include their literature into the library.

“Finally, the control of the library passed into the hands of the terrorists. This was about the year 1935. The prisoners spent most of their time in reading communist or socialist literature with the result that there was hardly any left who had not been become a confirmed Communist or Socialist. Apart from the leaders of the groups held study circles, in which the principles of Socialism and Communism were explained.”

Explaining the daily routine in the jail, he states:

“At 5.30 am, the locks of our cells were opened and after performing our daily ablutions, we had some exercises till about 8.00 am, when we took our breakfast. Later, we did the nominal jail work which was allotted to us. From 10 am to 4 pm, we attended the study circles with an interval for meals by mid-day. From 4 pm to 6 pm, we attended the games. We dined at 7 pm. We moved about in the compound till about 9 pm when the cells were closed.”

“It was then decided that an organ of the party which was called the Communist Consolidation, should be started immediately.”

He further reported that the group comprising Dhanvantri, Vije Kumar Sinha, B K Dutt, Bankeshwar, Narain Roy, and Niranjan were appointed to the editorial board of a manuscript paper, named “The Call”, which they published from the jail.

“The “Call” was started as a monthly paper. Members of the Consolidation Committee contributed articles on different subjects dealing with Communism and Socialism. “The Call” was a manuscript paper. Only one copy was written and placed in the library. It had about 150 pages. These activities of the Communist Consolidation continued unhindered till about the middle of 1937.

Khushi Ram Mehta also reports about a Chittagong Group, which wanted to take the activities further.

“The Chittagong Group members therefore, started military parades, at first without the sanction of the authorities, but a little later with the full approval of the authorities. They also had their uniform prepared. They prepared their buttons and badges from the silver utensils they were given for use. Anand Singh was their leader instructor. They were able to put up a very impressive show. When they marched past, and performed several lying and attacking formations with their Bamboo sticks used instead of muskets, they appeared really magnificent. The Chittagong Group therefore attracted about 30 or 32 members of the unattached groups. Some members of the Communist Consolidation were so impressed with these military drills of the Chittagong group that they also sought permission from the Communist Consolidation leaders to join the daily parades of the Chittagong Group. This resulted in the number of the Chittagong paraders increasing to about 90.”

“Frequent public meetings were held in the jail which were addressed by different speakers on the burning topics of the day. The May Day, the October Day etc were celebrated in the jail with due solemnity.”

He also notes in his complaint that the wing where the political prisoners were lodged appeared to be a miniature Soviet school.

“The “BandeMatram” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and other national slogans were never used. Such was the state of affairs when Gurmukh Singh arrived. He was mightily pleased to see the work that had already been accomplished. He was placed in quarantine on his arrival. So much was the keenness of the prisoners to see the new comrade that the quarantine was not respected and somehow or other members, one after the other, even in his days of quarantine had protracted interviews with him.”

Gurmukh Singh’s idea was that they should first of all win over some warders of the jail and through them make contacts with persons living outside the jail in that Island. The latter were to establish contacts through soldiers, or employees on board the S. S. Maharaja which visited the Island about once in every ten days. He put his idea into practice immediately.

“The practice in Andamans is this that convicts transported from India to that Island are at first kept in the jail for a period of three months and then those of them who are considered less dangerous are sent out in the open to work independently if they have got private means and under Govt. supervision if they none.

“One Thakur Singh, a life convict from Amritsar who was working under government supervision was immediately got hold of by Gurmukh Singh and he agreed to work for the party. Thakur Singh was further successful in establishing contacts with two Sikh soldiers who were serving in that Island. It so happened that they were deputed on duty on board the S.S. Maharaja for escorting the prisoners back to India. Gurmukh Singh sent a letter through Thakur Singh and these soldiers to someone in Calcutta. These soldiers were however arrested in Calcutta.”

“Thakur Singh was also returned to Lahore Jail. The soldiers were not able to deliver the letter to the person for whom it was intended. The letter fell into the hands of the government. After this incident, the jail authorities made a general search of the cells of prisoners but the latter had come to know of it beforehand and therefore had buried all their books and other objectionable literature underground. The authorities also were not very keen in their search as they felt that if they recovered some objectionable literature they would not escape blame for inefficient control over the prisoners.”

When the jail inmates went on hunger strike ont July 1, 1937, Khushi Ram reported that Gurmukh Singh had incited them to go on strike against the authorities.

“After about six months of the arrival of Gurmukh Singh, 215 “terrorist” prisoners went on hunger strike. 80 other prisoners were to go on ‘work’, encouraging the hunger strikers and create noise and protest against the forcible feeding when it was resorted to. They were also to arrange to get information regarding Indian reactions to the hunger strike. It had already been arranged that the newspapers containing Indian reactions should be smuggled inside the jail through some warders and other contacts which had been established. It may be stated here that even after the arrest of the two soldiers mentioned earlier in this statement who had carried messages for Gurmukh Singh, the later had made adequate arrangements through warders and other contacts to receive and to dispatch information regularly from the Andamans.”

Cellular Jail has its share of stories of clemency petitions and betrayals, seeking favours from the British. And some of them were rewarded too. Savarakar was repatriated and released after he petitioned and Khushi Ram Mehta was repatriated in 1937 and released in 1938.


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Opinion

Why EVMs must go

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By G. Sampath

The recent Assembly elections — the last major polling exercise before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls — were not devoid of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) malfunctions.

Though the discourse at present makes no distinction between a ‘malfunction’ (which suggests a technical defect) and ‘tampering’ (manipulation aimed at fraud), there were several reports of misbehaving EVMs. Alarmingly, in Madhya Pradesh alone, the number of votes polled did not match the number of votes counted in 204 out of the 230 constituencies. The Election Commission’s (EC) explanation is that the votes counted is the actual number of votes polled — a circular logic that precludes cross-verification.

 

A discrepancy of even one vote between votes polled and votes counted is unacceptable. This is not an unreasonably high standard but one followed by democracies worldwide. It might therefore be helpful to briefly look beyond the question that has hijacked the EVM debate — of how easy or tough it is to hack these machines — and consider the first principles of a free and fair election.

The reason a nation chooses to be a democracy is that it gives moral legitimacy to the government. The fount of this legitimacy is the people’s will. The people’s will is expressed through the vote, anonymously (the principle of secret ballot). Not only must this vote be recorded correctly and counted correctly, it must also be seen to be recorded correctly and counted correctly. The recording and counting process must be accessible to, and verifiable by, the public. So transparency, verifiability, and secrecy are the three pillars of a free and fair election.

Regardless of whether one is for or against EVMs, there is no getting away from the fact that any polling method must pass these three tests to claim legitimacy. Paper ballots obviously do. The voter can visually confirm that her selection has been registered, the voting happens in secret, and the counting happens in front of her representative’s eyes.

EVMs, however, fail on all three, as established by a definitive judgment of the German constitutional court in 2009. The court’s ruling forced the country to scrap EVMs and return to paper ballot. Other technologically advanced nations such as the Netherlands and Ireland have also abandoned EVMs.

If we take the first two criteria, EVMs are neither transparent nor verifiable. Neither can the voter see her vote being recorded, nor can it be verified later whether the vote was recorded correctly. What is verifiable is the total number of votes cast, not the choice expressed in each vote. An electronic display of the voter’s selection may not be the same as the vote stored electronically in the machine’s memory. This gap was why the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) was introduced.

But VVPATs solve only one-half of the EVMs’ transparency/verifiability problem: the voting part. The counting part remains an opaque operation. If anyone suspects a counting error, there is no recourse, for an electronic recount is, by definition, absurd. Some believe the VVPATs can solve this problem too, through statistics.

At present, the EC’s VVPAT auditing is restricted to one randomly chosen polling booth per constituency. In a recent essay, K. Ashok Vardhan Shetty, a former IAS officer, demonstrates that this sample size will fail to detect faulty EVMs 98-99% of the time. He also shows that VVPATs can be an effective deterrent to fraud only on the condition that the detection of even one faulty EVM in a constituency must entail the VVPAT hand-counting of all the EVMs in that constituency. Without this proviso, VVPATs would merely provide the sheen of integrity without its substance.

The third criterion is secrecy. Here too, EVMs disappoint. With the paper ballot, the EC could mix ballot papers from different booths before counting, so that voting preferences could not be connected to a given locality. But with EVMs, we are back to booth-wise counting, which allows one to discern voting patterns and renders marginalised communities vulnerable to pressure. Totaliser machines can remedy this, but the EC has shown no intent to adopt them.

So, on all three counts — transparency, verifiability and secrecy — EVMs are flawed. VVPATs are not the answer either, given the sheer magnitude of the logistical challenges. The recent track record of EVMs indicates that the number of malfunctions in a national election will be high. For that very reason, the EC is unlikely to adopt a policy of hand-counting all EVMs in constituencies where faulty machines are reported, as this might entail hand-counting on a scale that defeats the very purpose of EVMs. And yet, this is a principle without which the use of VVPATs is meaningless.

Despite these issues, EVMs continue to enjoy the confidence of the EC, which insists that Indian EVMs, unlike the Western ones, are tamper-proof. But this is a matter of trust. Even if the software has been burnt into the microchip, neither the EC nor the voter knows for sure what software is running in a particular EVM. One has to simply trust the manufacturer and the EC. But as the German court observed, the precondition of this trust is the verifiability of election events, whereas in the case of EVMs, “the calculation of the election result is based on a calculation act which cannot be examined from outside”.

While it is true that the results come quicker and the process is cheaper with EVMs as compared to paper ballot, both these considerations are undeniably secondary to the integrity of the election. Another argument made in favour of the EVM is that it eliminates malpractices such as booth-capturing and ballot-box stuffing. In the age of the smartphone, however, the opportunity costs of ballot-box-stuffing and the risk of exposure are prohibitively high. In contrast, tampering with code could accomplish rigging on a scale unimaginable for booth-capturers. Moreover, it is nearly impossible to detect EVM-tampering. As a result, suspicions of tampering in the tallying of votes — as opposed to malfunction in registering the votes, which alone is detectable — are destined to remain in the realm of speculation. The absence of proven fraud might save the EVM for now, but its survival comes at a dangerous cost — the corrosion of people’s faith in the electoral process.

Yet there doesn’t have to be incontrovertible evidence of EVM-tampering for a nation to return to paper ballot. Suspicion is enough, and there is enough of it already. As the German court put it, “The democratic legitimacy of the election demands that the election events be controllable so that… unjustified suspicion can be refuted.” The phrase “unjustified suspicion” is pertinent. The EC has always maintained that suspicions against EVMs are unjustified. Clearly, the solution is not to dismiss EVM-sceptics as ignorant technophobes. Rather, the EC is obliged to provide the people of India a polling process capable of refuting unjustified suspicion, as this is a basic requirement for democratic legitimacy, not an optional accessory.

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Opinion

Doctor to serve the Humanity but ……….

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By Sheikh Umar Ahmad

Doctors profession is regarded as a noble profession world over and is given due dignity and honor in global community for their selfless service to humankind.Every educated person aims to become a doctor in order to serve humanity in best and better of their capacities, but as it is, everybody can’t become a doctor and there are other professions as well to serve the humanity in general. Among all other professions, the medicine is regarded as one of the coveted both in terms of requirement of its service as well in terms of monetary benefits. This profession is only among existing ones that cater to global community involvement as well as service dissemination. Every person has expectations from doctors to deliver in close coordination anytime, rather 24*7 when the need arises without any internal or external excuses, including personal ones. There is a deeper dissatisfaction & grudges when any person from medicine community refuses any other person of consultation when it is time for them to serve. If they are unable to deliver to society with utmost satisfaction, then their purpose of serving the society through this profession only does not hold any merit. A similar kind of episode some days before than happened at state’s premier maternity hospital, so called as Lal Ded has shaken the whole Kashmiriyat that is otherwise known world over for their hospitality and generous behavior but some doctors who in literal sense are there to grab the greater public shearing and for their mere monetary benefits, have deceived and decimated the expectations of one of economically, socially and educationally backward section of our society who yet hold equal weightage at the measures table when it comes to Kashmir diversity and harmonious ethnicity.

Their refusal to admit a women in labor pain and then her parturition at a roadside, has shackled the immediate conscience of whole educated lot of Kashmir who now think that there should be a humanity course for every doctor before only he is allowed to practice medicine. A doctor in true essence should be ready to work in any society, with any person, and to serve any other person in need irrespective of his caste, creed, colour, religion, sect and above all ethnicity. If a doctor is unable to work in any multi-cultural society, he loses his position in the eyes of society to be called as a doctor. This person dashes the hopes of weaker section of society as they think that such persons can never pay attention towards them being economically and culturally senile. The death of a newborn on the roadside at Srinagar area speak volumes about those gross irregularities that still exist in best of our essential & emergency services. This should not have been the case and nothing such things happen in world over but are common in Kashmir only and there is a greater need to overhaul the whole system so to debug these bogus and nefarious elements in society that tarnish the whole image.

 

There should have been a commission in place to look at those gross malicious activities thatdiscord the whole organisational setup. Now as we know, the enquiry will be put in place and at the end what will be seen, nothing but the ball will be put in the court of victim by falsifying & negating the whole episode. The little one has gone now and no one on earth can bring him back. This episode brings this message forth, that doctor being the representative guardian of life our earth, protect lives every day in every part of world and there is a greater sense of satisfaction and this dealing makes the person feel happy internally & eternally for this greatest benefit to mankind. But for us, it is high time now, that we repent of our past sins and relook at our duties to disseminate it properly at every time it is required. Every person will be suitably rewarded for his good deeds and kind gestures that he has done on humanity and doctors are none as exception.

They are the best representatives of selfless service and moral attitude, and kind reflection of ultimate hope. State administration in Kashmir at the helm of affairs need to reaffirm their responsibilities and duties, so that utmost discipline is maintained in hospitals both from public & doctors end. If public outrages over anything that may be the reflection and agony of intermix of pain and grief. It is the responsibility of doctors on duty to deal with those situations quite humbly and morally, so that the professionals deliver their duties in its true essence and totally error free. There should be limited biasness in dealing with culturally and economically down-centric groups of society. We need to be first ambassadors of humanity before guardians of life through practising medicine to protect the lives of people. We need to safeguard the hopes and expectations of our ethnic groups before we deliver our best to save the lives.

These episodes nevertheless should be repeated in the times to come, else this profession will loseits dignity and honor world over for not withstanding with the requirements of and fulfilling the criteria of being a doctor humanely. There are doctors who treat animals even, this never mean that we need to make an animal human first to be treated by a human doctor as animals are animals, rather we need to be real doctors to understand the physiology of animals before only we can treat them. This is the only message I can conclude with… ! Hence a change is imperative.

(The author is Doctoral Research Scholar, currently working as DST INSPIRE Fellow at CSIR Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine Jammu)

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Opinion

The angry Pakistani

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By Arifa Noor

IT takes an outsider to point out the anger within us. Last week, a former US ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, spoke at an event, arguing that our anger prevents us from telling the good story about Pakistan to the world.

It reminded me of an interaction that took place nearly 20 years ago. Back in 2000, a soft-spoken Indian professor from Delhi had asked why the Pakistani people were always so pessimistic about their country — present and future — despite the fact that till the 1990s, Pakistan had always enjoyed better social and economic indicators (including a higher growth rate) than India. It was a question I had no answer to. The hostile questions about Kargil and military rule were easier to answer during that trip to India than this gentle insight and a sense of bewilderment about our state of being.

 

But since that morning in New Delhi, there have been so many moments when the professor’s question has come back to mind. Countless memories that came spilling out echoed what former ambassador Munter said. Some as clear as the question asked by the Indian professor; some a little less sharp. But each one testifies to our despair, anger or lack of confidence in what is known as Pakistan.

We have been living in an age of anger, decades before Pankaj Mishra wrote about it.

Fast forward from 2000 to the last months of 2007 or the beginning of 2008: a faded memory, I am unsure of the exact month, but it was during the days of that heady yet difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy. Musharraf was fighting for his survival. Benazir Bhutto and the Sharifs were clawing their way back to relevance (followed by the devastating assassination of the former). A lawyers’ movement had caught Pakistan’s imagination. And there were terrorist attacks galore.

In the midst of these trying yet hopeful times, an op-ed had discussed Pakistan as a possible failed state. I was told that the writer had gotten a call from an amused friend in Afghanistan who said that despite all that had happened in and to Afghanistan, no Afghan would ever call his country a ‘failed state’.

We, of course, have used this term so often for the country that many of us believe it is a failed state — despite the term’s problematic origins as one used by Washington to describe countries it ‘disapproved’ of rather than an empirically established concept.

Then there are jumbled up memories of various track II dialogues. Each such seminar or conference is coupled with at least one discussion (on the sidelines) of how the Indians (and more recently the Afghans) present a united stand unlike Pakistanis. There is always a sense of frustration at how we end up helping ‘their’ cause rather than supporting our interest.

Why do we do this, as the professor asked?

Perhaps it stems from our long bouts of dictatorships. Denied their due and rightful say in policymaking has made entire swathes of the populace angry, hostile and critical of the state. They are angry at being left out: it’s an anger that is accompanied by a sense of helplessness at the direction that the country and society have taken. And in recent times, too, there is a sense of outrage because course correction (if there is any in their opinion) has not included their input. Hence, many refuse to believe that there has been any course correction, or criticise it for moving too slowly.

This is why perhaps the anger is most palpable when it comes to foreign policy, especially relations with India, and the radicalism that has engulfed state and society.

Being denied a voice, there is little left to do but express rage at the state, what it has come to stand for and to also conclude that there can be little hope for the future. (Pakistan has not just been at the crossroads ever since I can remember, it has also forever been in danger of being torn apart).

The rage has gotten worse post-2008, for the hope that accompanied the transition then has turned bitter. We thought that the worst was over, that ‘true’ democracy had returned to Pakistan and politicians would now rule — fixing all that had gone wrong. The 10 years of exile and powerlessness had also given the politicos a sheen of competence and maturity. But it was yet another shab gazida sahar (night-bitten dawn).

Ten years later, the anger has grown for it seems that decision making was never transferred. But because the hope this time was greater, so has the rage been too. And perhaps because the urban middle class fought for this transition in greater numbers than before, the disappointment is greater. They are angry for they cannot see the change they had fought for or protested against.

The judiciary turned out to have feet of clay. The military didn’t really share as much as they had promised. And the politicians didn’t deliver the reform or show any inclination for democratic norms once in power. And we continue to rail, against all of them or the one we had placed most hope in, or the one we hated most.

In addition, the rage has turned into hatred of the institution that has disappointed us the most. Indeed, the anger is expressed with malicious glee at times: the Sahiwal incident is a case in point, as was the controversial statement by a former high court judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, or any terrorist attack which reveals chinks in the armour of the security forces. And, of course, the various JITs revealing the shenanigans of our political ruling class.

It is as if we have no option but to express our rage, so all energy is poured into it.

But expressing outrage, however cathartic it may be, is not a strategy, which is what Cameron Munter was trying to say.

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