In Kolkata, in the summer of 1967, a couple of friends who had served time in the Andaman Cellular Jail used to meet occasionally to chat and have a cup of tea. This embryonic group soon grew to a core group of eight. They would meet frequently at Vishwanath Mathur's residence. As the circle grew bigger they also met alternatively every second Saturday at Fakir Sen's office. He too was an Ex-Andaman revolutionary and worked at the Calcutta Corporation's vigilance department.

The Andaman freedom fighters met and shared news and memories of the jail. They talked about the two almost legendary hunger strikes that lasted forty-five and thirty-six days respectively. In the first, three of their colleagues were martyred due to force-feeding and their bodies secretly thrown out to sea by the prison authorities. They also spoke of the revolutionary books they read and the fiery discussions that ensued. The atmosphere was akin to a university. It gave them inspiration towards their cause. Above all they tried to account for and locate old colleagues who were with them in the Andaman Cellular Jail. Of the 384 political prisoners who came from different parts of the country and who were repatriated back to the mainland, most of them belonged to Bengal. They were scattered all over and no one knew exactly where.

It soon became a very lively meeting place where jokes were told and friends ribbed each other as they recalled the antics of their colleagues in jail. This was a very special kind of camaraderie. These were people who had 'gone through the valley of death' together. They had faced the dreaded 'Kala Pani' and returned from where the British boasted no one ever came back. Every one of them had faced death, in one form or another. Many had been sent to the gallows, but due to their young age the sentences had to be commuted to life-term. Some had two life sentences. They had all gone to give the supreme sacrifice for the freedom of their country.

But there was another side to this. Some were old and growing frail. Most of them had some medical ailments due to a tortuous and prolonged prison life in an isolated small dingy cell. They were not economically well off. Many had been unable to complete their education. Nobody even knew about them and their glorious past. They were not recognized by the Government or invited to any special occasions or given awards. The history books and the majority of people of India knew nothing of their struggles.

One day a colleague came with the news that the Cellular Jail was being demolished. This disturbed them deeply. They were shocked to hear that a Government of free India would order the demolition of a place that was inalienably connected with the history of its freedom struggle since 1857. It was as if the Government did not want to let the people know what had happened there and the sacrifices that had been made by those who were involved in different movements and incarcerated there. They all felt very strongly that not only this had to be stopped but that it needed to be designated as a National Memorial. It belonged to the people of India and needed to be preserved so that future generations would be aware at what cost and with what sacrifices freedom had been achieved. Every nation around the world honours its valiant and preserves monuments that stand in silent testimony to the blood that has been shed.

This is the story of how this group of revolutionaries who called themselves 'The Ex-Andaman Political Prisoner's Fraternity Circle' once again dedicated themselves to fight to preserve the famous Cellular Jail and to have it made into a National Memorial. It has been a thirty-four year long road facing obstacles across different political lines and successive Governments. Even today while there are only 28 of them left, they continue to work towards making it a proper memorial worthy of its name. There are lists of suggestions outstanding, which are still to be acted on. Among them, they want research facilities and libraries should be established within the jail, so that it becomes a center of learning, where scholars are provided the necessary facilities by the Government to come from the mainland and all over the world to do serious research on all the freedom movements connected with the prison.

Some Milestones:

27th May 1967:The very first meeting of eight Ex-Andaman friends took place at Vishwanath Mathur's home at 4, Commercial Building, 23A Netaji Subhash Road in Kolkata. The others present were Deb Kumar Das, Benoy Bose, Samarendra Ghosh, Fakir Sen, Kali Roy, Samar Ghosh, and Sirajul Huq. They evolved three objectives (a) Just as there are other clubs in Calcutta Maidan they too should have a meeting place of their own for Ex-Andaman freedom fighters (b) A get together and meeting should be organised of all the surviving Ex-Andaman friends and (c) a wish to make a pilgrimage to the Andamans with family & friends.

5th November 1967:News had started coming in through the papers and the discussions in parliament that the Cellular Jail in Andamans was being demolished. Twenty-six Ex-Andaman freedom fighters got together for a luncheon meet, at the Mathur residence that had de facto become their meeting place. That Sunday they decided to form themselves into an organisation and have it registered as 'The Ex-Andaman Political Prisoner's Fraternity Circle'. The first office bearers were Nikhil Guha Roy (President) Vishwanath Mathur (General Secretary), Bangeshwar Roy (Asst. Secretary), Benoy Bose (Treasurer), Samarendra Ghosh (Executive Member), B. K. Banerjee (Executive Member), Satish Pakrashi (Executive Member), Fakir Sen (Executive Member), Deb Kumar Das (Executive Member).

There was a consensus that they should focus on two objectives: (a) Preserve the Andaman Cellular Jail as a National Monument and (b) Get the Government to take moral responsibility to look after the dignity and security of the Ex-Andaman freedom fighters and their families.

Mrs. Urmila Mathur took a photograph on this occasion at Dalhousie Square in front of Writer's Building (Photograph above From Right to Left: Deb Kumar Das, Vishwanath Mathur, Jagadanand Mukherjee, Sirajul Haque, Bangeshwar Roy, Shashin Chakraborty, Fakir Sen, Haripada Bhattacharya, Samarendra Ghosh, Lalit Raha, Hira Mohan Chatterjee, Haripada Dey, Ranadhir Das Gupta, Ajay Singh, Benoy Bose, Gopal Acharya, Benoy Roy, Sitangshu Dutta Roy).

6th April 1968: The Fraternity Circle had started locating and lobbying other Ex-Andaman colleagues across the country and sent its First Memorandum enclosed with 56 signatures to the Prime Minister, Smt Indira Gandhi asking her to stop the demolition and preserve the Cellular Jail as a National Memorial.

April 1968: It was felt that it was important to rally public and media support. Accordingly the General Secretary, Vishwanath Mathur, held a press conference and briefed the media about the memorandum they had sent to the Prime Minister and their demand to have the Cellular Jail preserved. Bhupesh Gupta MP lost no time in taking this matter up very strongly in Parliament on 5th May 1968.

29th May 1968: An Andaman Shaheed Smriti Sabha was held at Mahajati Sadan, Kolkata. Sixty Ex-Andaman freedom fighters along with their families and friends met to honour the memory of the martyrs who gave their lives at the Andaman Cellular jail.

May 1968: A memorandum was given to the West Bengal governor that sixteen living Ex-Andaman revolutionary leaders should be publicly honoured and recognized for their outstanding contribution to the nation.

June 1968: The Fraternity Circle met and submitted their representation to the Left Front, Congress Party, Praja Socialist Party and all other political parties to generate public opinion to prevent the demolition of the Cellular Jail and have it preserved as a National Memorial. They met with Ganesh Ghosh, Bhupesh Gupta, Ashok Sen and Samar Guha all four M.P.s to seek assurance for their joint effort in Parliament to raise these issues. Three MPs N.C.Chatterjee, Smt. Renu Chakraborty and Niren Ghosh had recently visited the Andamans and shared with the Ex-Andaman freedom fighters that demolition work of the Cellular Jail was still going on.

Mr. Chatterjee who was the leader of this group made a statement that was published in the Hindustan Standard on 28th February 1968. It contained an appeal to the Prime Minister to order stoppage of further demolition of the Cellular Jail. He said "… It was shocking to find that some of the wings of the famous Cellular Jail were destroyed" and in conclusion stressed ". That every patriotic son of India looked upon the Andamans and specially Port Blair as a place of pilgrimage.".

Mrs. Renu Chakraborty MP (wife of Nikhil Chakraborty) raised this issue in parliament and also wrote a very moving personal note to the Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, asking that the demolition be stopped. "I am writing this personal note to you because I was very much emotionally moved when I saw the way the historic, famous Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands is not only being neglected but also torn down and effaced… We, who have had the opportunity of seeing France's Bastille or the Soviet Union's Winter Palace, know what great respect and honour is paid by these countries to preserve their great seats of revolutionary history…" Inderjeet Gupta MP also voiced his outrage in parliament.

August 1968: A protest was launched to the Government against this news of demolition and it was demanded that this be stopped and the Jail declared a National Memorial. There had still been no official written response from the Government to the Fraternuty Circle's April'68 Memorandum to the Prime Minister. Unofficially, intermediaries in the Government had started saying that there had been a lot of Japanese bombardment in the Andamans and the Cellular Jail had been damaged and weakened, which is why it was necessary to tear down some of the wings.

Reassurances were given by them that the Central Tower would be preserved (not the wings) and that a 'Shaheed Smarak' had already been erected nearby to honour the martyrs who were there.

2nd March 1969: A big luncheon meeting was hosted by the Fraternity Circle at Kolkata Maidan where Ex-Andaman freedom fighters from different parts of the country met and chalked out their future course of action.

Photograph from Left to Right: (Sitting) Keshav Chatterjee, Rishi Dutta, Kali Pada Roy, Sirajul Haque, Samar Ghosh, Kalinkinkar Dey, Haripada Bhattacharya, Biren Lahiri, Parimal Ghosh, (Middle) Saroj Roy, Nikhil Guha Roy, Ashutosh Lahiri, Dr. Narayan Roy, Khushiram Mehta, Satish Pakrashi, Abani Ghosh, Vishwanath Mathur, (Standing) Satya Ghosh, Bangeshwar Roy, Bhupesh Guha, Relative *, Satya Bose, Sunirmal Sen, Sarda Bose, Mani Dutta, Hira Mohan Chatterjee, Relative *, Relative *, Miss Manju Mehta (d/o Khushiram Mehta), Relative *, Probodh Roy, Ramesh Chatterjee, Santosh Dutta, Relative *, Deben Talukadar, Benoy Bose, Mohan Nag * Denotes relatives of the Freedom Fighters.

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