sulabh swatchh bharat

Tuesday, 12-December-2017

THE GREAT ESCAPE

During the brutal suppression of the Quit India movement, JP’s escape from prison reignited the flickering agitation

The “Quit India” movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi on August 9, 1942 was the final assault of Indian nationalism on the citadel of British imperialism. More than 91,000 persons were arrested, and over a thousand lost their lives in police and military firing, thousands sustained serious injuries; and property, both government and private, worth over Rs 30 lakh was destroyed. During this period, when the anti-British movement was raging throughout the country, Jayaprakash Narayan made a successful escape bid from the Hazaribagh Central Jail in 1942.
It was November 9, 1942, Jayaprakash Narayan (J.P.) and five other prisoners had escaped from the Hazaribagh central jail. Hazaribagh District Commissioner, K.V.S. Raman, was spending a sleepless night in his bungalow. He was in constant touch with his officers, but “Operation manhunt” proved futile.
J.P., who was then 40-year old, had successfully made the escape along with five of his friends - Jogender Shukla, Surak Narayan Singh, Shaligram Singh, Gulab Chand Gupta and Ramanand Mishra. According to Jagdish Singh, who looks after J.P.’s home at Sitabdiara and who was a detenue in the Hazaribagh central jail at the time of the escape: “It was such a well-planned escape that the authorities knew about it only nine hours after the escape.” Jagdish Singh had actively helped J.P. to escape.
The escape was originally scheduled for October 1942. But only three days before“D Day,” Ramanand Tewary, now a Janata party member of Parliament, who was then a police constable was brought to Hazaribagh central jail with 30 other constables. They had revolted against the British and had been arrested. In Jagdish Singh’s words: “We had to postpone the escape, as we noticed that after Ramanand’s arrival, security arrangements had been tightened and sentries were posted at all points. So J.P. decided to delay his escape bid.”
Originally 10 detenus including J.P. were to escape. But four men had to stay behind to keep the guard’s attention diverted, and to deceive prisoners whom they suspected would give them away. Realizing that it was too risky to approach the Indian jail staff, they kept the plan within the close circle of 10 men.
Jagdish Singh recalled: “The smartest among the group was Jogender Shukla, a handsome, strong revolutionary, who had been associated with terrorists like Bhagat Singh. It was his idea to scale the wall. He was like a monkey. He could very swiftly go up and down the wall. As he did it almost every day, our confidence grew.”
On Diwali day, 1942, their plan was finally put into effect. Countless tiny wicks burned in earthenware saucers containing oil. The Hindu wardens were allowed to go off duty to celebrate Diwali. Throughout the jail, there was a festive, relaxed atmosphere. At 10 p.m., the six men moved to the jail courtyard. They selected that time because, after dinner, wardens usually took to leisurely smoking or taking paan. Two of the groups were deputed to keep any approaching wardens at bay by offering paan and cigarettes and by singing Diwali songs. A dinner table was kept near the wall and Jogender Shukla knelt on it.
A knotted rope of dhoti was tied around Suraj Narayan Singh’s waist. Gulab Chand Gupta stood on Shukla’s back and Suraj climbed on his shoulders, grasped the top of the wall and drew himself up while the rest clung to the rope. Suraj slowly descended on the other side and signalled. Within minutes, the rest were over the wall.
One of the four who remained inside, threw the bundle containing their shoes, warm clothes and money. A sentry was spotted and in the confusion, the knot slipped and they had no option but to hurriedly retreat with the shoes and the table. Outside, the six escapees fled into the darkness. Under cover of the prickly scrub of the Hazaribagh-Monghyr hill track, they kept on running until about an hour before dawn.
J.P. had by then cut his feet and was unable to walk. Reluctantly, they called for a short halt, kindled a small fire, massaged their hurt feet and tied strips of dhoties around the wounds. After some time, they resumed their march and reached a hot spring where they bathed their swollen and bleeding feet. Jogender Shukla went to a nearby village to buy chattu (crushed pulses).
By the evening, J.P. was finding it impossible to walk. He had to be carried on the shoulders of the others. On the night of November 30, the weary group crossed Hazaribagh and entered Gaya district. They slept under some low bushes at the foot of a sloping rock face, which today is known as J.P.’s Rock. From there they reached Sokhodeora village and took refuge in the house of one of J.P.’s friends. In 1967, J.P. built the famous Sarvodaya Ashram there.
From Gaya, J.P. planned to go to Benaras. A third class ticket was bought for him and he reached the station in a horse-drawn carriage. He reached Benaras without detection and under cover of darkness he walked to the house of the professor of Benaras Hindu University, whom he knew.
But the latter refused to shelter him. J.P. then took refuge in the house of another professor and from there he contacted Achyut Patwardhan and other Congress Socialist Party friends. He was sent money and instructions. Risking another train journey, he reached Delhi from where he started taking an active part in the underground movement. Their escape from Hazaribagh jail went unnoticed for nine hours. It was a coincidence that the jail superintendent T. Nath was on leave for three weeks from November 7. His replacement for the period arrived on November 9. He went on a tour of the jail without finding J.P. At 11.30 a.m. he contacted the central tower and sent warders to every ward. At 2 p.m. it was discovered that six detenus were missing. But by that time J.P. and the others had made their historic escape.