Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 12, October 1930, No. 10, pp. 635-637, (1,432 words)
Transcriptionp: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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The following is the text of the Memorial addressed to the Governor of the United Provinces by the working-class leaders who have been in Meerut Jail under trial since March, 1929. This memorial was “disallowed,” but the text was made available in the Hindustan Times, September 4, 1930. It throws a vivid light on the terrible conditions prevailing in Indian prisons to-day. It should be borne in mind that the difference between “A” and “C” prisoners is not dependent on offence but is a classification based on the social status of the prisoner. The memorial was signed by all the thirty Meerut “Conspiracy” prisoners.
Meerut, September 3, 1930.
YOUR EXCELLENCY,—The memorial of the undersigned most respectfully showeth—
(1) That your memorialists as under-trial prisoners in the Meerut Conspiracy Case, are the inmates of the District Jail, Meerut, and have been here since March, 1929.
(2) That since the Civil Disobedience Movement began there has been a very large addition to the population of the jail, so much so that we believe that the jail is overcrowded far in excess of its usual capacity and the prescribed maximum.
(3) That apart from the fact that the system of making differentiations among political prisoners is bad in principle, the classification of these political prisoners into “A,” “B,” and “C” Classes has been made in such a way as to cause great dissatisfaction, and in many instances no regard is paid even to the rules on the subject framed by the Government. Instances are not wanting where invidious distinction has been made between prisoners of equal status and education.
(4) That the “C” class prisoners were from the beginning dissatisfied with the food supplied to them, particularly with regard to the “bhuji.”
(5) That they made repeated representations to the authorities concerned, with no practical result, and when a number of them declined to take the food, they were punished with “cells,” “standing handcuffs,” and “bar-fetters.”
(6) That the whole jail was full of all sorts of reports and rumours regarding the treatment meted out to them, and representations were made on their behalf by the “A” and “B” class prisoners. A number of your memorialists also made representations in writing to the Superintendent of Jail on August 21.
(7) That it may be mentioned in this connection that since the present jailor has come the discontent has further increased by reason of his harsh treatment and the abusive language he is reported to have been in the habit of using towards the prisoners.
(8) That alternately with the punishment meted out to the prisoners, and reported assaults on them by the ordinary convicts at the instance of the jail officials, offers are reported to have been made to these prisoners of prompt release if they would tender an apology. About sixty prisoners, unable to stand this treatment, accepted this offer and were released.
(9) That a number of boys were kept in cells at the absolute mercy of the convict overseers about whose habits and character the less said the better.
(10) That interviews with relatives, &c., such as are allowed by the jail rules, have been forbidden in many cases. The relatives of the prisoners coming to the jail for interviews have also been treated discourteously, having been kept waiting all day outside the jail gate, where there is no convenience for visitors, only to be told in the evening that interview is refused.
(11) That it was hoped that the Inspector-General of Prisons, in the course of his visit, which took place on August 27, would inquire personally into the grievances of the “C” class prisoners, but so far as your memorialists are aware he did not visit them at all. One of your memorialists, Dr. Mukerjee, as well as the “A” and “B” class prisoners, made an oral representation about the “C” class prisoners to the Inspector-General when he visited them.
(12) That on the morning of August 29, at about 8.30, your memorialists were surprised to hear loud groans, and it seemed to them there was considerable commotion in and about the circle where the “C” class prisoners are lodged. This was shortly followed by a gunshot and the alarm bell. Within a few minutes a very large number of armed policemen, preceded by a number of warders armed with lathis and rifles, rushed inside. Subsequently the Superintendent of Jail and the Superintendent of Police followed within a few minutes by the District Magistrate and the Joint Magistrate, went in. The cries and groans continued until these officials went inside. As long as they were there, and thereafter, there was absolute silence.
(13) That some of your memorialists returning from court at about 12 noon found whipping going on and several prisoners lying on the ground groaning and bleeding.
(14) That within less than four hours from the start of what the District Magistrate calls a “serious” mutiny, inquiry was finished and punishment was given, and it did not, so far as your memorialists’ information goes, take more than half an hour to conduct the inquiry.
(15) That the official communiqué issued by the District Magistrate, which states was a “serious mutiny,” and that it was quelled “without the use of firearms,” and that “no prisoner was reported to have been injured,” seems to your memorialists to be self-contradictory, and calculated to mislead the public as to the extent and character of the matter.
(16) That although the disturbance itself was of a trivial character, and no allegations being made that any jail official was hurt, and it being stated that no prisoner was injured, nevertheless no fewer than fifty-six prisoners were given bar-fetters, and thirteen prisoners were given the maximum punishment (thirty stripes) allowed under the Whipping Act, which is a severe and inhuman punishment. It is further reported that a large supply of bar-fetters has been ordered.
(17) That the victims of the whipping were mostly boys from sixteen and seventeen up to twenty-two years.
(18) That your memorialists have reason to believe that in some cases at least the whipping administered was not in accordance with the regulations laid down by Your Excellency’s Government. One Anglo-Indian Inspector of Police is alleged to have snatched the rattan away from the convict who had been ordered to do the job, and began flogging him. As a result certain parts of the body were injured which are not specified in the regulations. It is alleged that all those who were flogged have been put in cells and have not been given proper medical care. One of them, who was extremely weak and was in bar-fetters, was caned in that condition against the provisions of the Prisons Act, and subsequently flung into a solitary cell. One prisoner was so severely injured by the flogging that two days after he was still subject to repeated fainting fits.
(19) That in identifying the persons for punishment, it seems that those who had taken a prominent part in presenting the common grievances to the authorities were singled out. It may be mentioned in this connection that a number of ordinary convicts who took part in the identification and in the execution of the caning order were given substantial remission.
(20) That according to the official communiqué the District Magistrate held a summary inquiry. It is not clear what this means nor under what law the whipping was administered. According to the Prisons Act, it is the Jail Superintendent who is authorised to inquire into the jail offences and mete out punishments.
(21) That your memorialists, as inmates of the jail for the last eighteen months and as political prisoners, consider it their duty to acquaint Your Excellency’s Government with all the facts which are within their knowledge or information. While from the limitations of their present position your memorialists cannot verify all the reports and rumours that have come to their ears, they assure Your Excellency that in spite of many things much more serious than what has been stated, being heard by them, they have put down only those which they seriously believe to have the largest amount of truth as foundation.
In these circumstances your memorialists pray that a searching and strict inquiry be made into the event of August 29, the inhuman and brutal punishment of thirty stripes given to thirteen Satyagrahis, and that the officials responsible for these be brought to book. It is further prayed that the serious injustice and oppression which the “C” class political prisoners are suffering be forthwith removed.