Punjab Jails and Cooperation Minister Mr Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa has demanded dignified space for Punjabi freedom fighters in the narrative of Cellular Jail at Port Blair in Andaman, then notorious as Kalapani.
In a letter to the Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh, Mr Randhawa expressed disbelief and disgust at the way Punjabi freedom fighters have been side-lined in the Cellular Jail Museum and the Light and Sound programme that is staged there every evening.
In a veiled attack on the focus on Hindutva author V D Savarkar in the Kalapani narrative, he said, “This is an issue that relates to India and not just Punjab or the role of Punjabis. Such distortions in history must be rectified. The people who apologised to the British in writing have been given priority bypassing these valiant freedom fighters who preferred to suffer than seek forgiveness. This is all part of record.”
He demanded that the names of all the freedom fighters from Punjab deported to Andaman should be displayed, along with photographs. The Light and Sound programme should be recast to reflect the totality of situation in a balanced way with addition of Punjab’s contribution to freedom struggle in the context of Kalapani.
Mr Randhawa said Cellular Jail in Andaman the most distinctive symbol of the struggle for freedom of the country. This jail also symbolises composite culture of India. It would not be an exaggeration to describe Cellular Jail as the emblem of contribution of Punjabis to the freedom struggle. Unfortunately, the same is not reflected in the museum to which this jail was converted in the seventies, including the Light and Sound programme.
He pointed out many of the Punjabis were executed when the Japanese took over these islands, the most prominent among them being Dr Diwan Singh Kalepani.
Jail Minister detailed that the deportation of freedom fighters to Andaman from Punjab started with the Kuka movement and peaked during revolutionary struggle that included the Ghadar Party set up on the US soil by Punjabis to liberate their country. Many of them who returned to India were either hanged to death or sentenced to transportation for life and deported to Cellular Jail. The list of Punjabis having been interned at Andaman is long.
He asserted the issue was not just that of numbers but also of the worst of torture many of them suffered that is just unimaginable. These freedom fighters continued their struggle against the brutal British rule even when in chains in this then the most notorious jail. Master Charan Singh was kept in a CAGE for more than four years and this is a record and example of how the prisoners who resisted the British Empire even in jail were treated. He could not even stretch himself in that cage.
He regretted this narrative of Punjabis interned in Andaman has not been given the recognition proportionate to their sufferings and contribution. He expressed shock over lack of comprehensive record of Punjabi freedom fighters deported to Andaman. He said intervention of the Prime Minister was is necessary to preserve this national heritage in the right perspective.>