One had to pass through a big gate built during the time of the British. Guards manned this gate from the inside. To enter the prison complex, one needed the permission of the subedar, who noted each and every person who came and went. Phones, money, purses weren’t allowed inside and had to deposited at the gate. The same rules applied to the jail employees, who would then have to pass through another iron gate to enter the complex. But the guards, inmates and any else entering had to go through a small entrance on the right side. The guard on duty there checked everyone before letting them through.
Once through the main gate, there was a pucca road that led straight to the open-air theatre and 200 Kholi. To the right of this road was Tilak barracks, where freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak was jailed during the fight for independence. Opposite it was the women’s barracks, behind a huge iron door and guarded by female security personnel. None passing by could see what was going on inside. Next to Tilak yard was an open barracks. No inmates were kept there, but officers used it to give out instructions to the prisoners.
The pucca road inside the prison had a large entrance that allowed vehicles to enter the complex. The subedar manning the gate would let these through only after relaying their details and purpose to the control room, which would then grant permission. Once permission was received, the jail guards would thoroughly search each vehicle before letting it pass. The vehicle would then be stopped after the first gate and before a second—while both were shut—for another inspection. Only once this was done would the vehicle be allowed to proceed. And the same exercise was carried out while exiting the premises.
To the left of the main gate was a place all the inmates loved—the Kaushalya Kendra, where they were taught different skills. It was about 25m from the pucca road that began at the main gate and separated by a huge wall. Next was the Sardar ward, where Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was lodged, and then the similarly named Gandhi ward. The Jail Udhyog was a little ahead, housing different businesses.
The Indira Gandhi National Open University courses were to being that day, so the inmates were going to the Kaushalya Kendra from the open-air theatre. They were happy to be getting the chance to study. Mohammed and his companions were brought in by four guards. While the other inmates were allowed to venture out of their barracks on their own, they were not. The eight of them took slow steps towards the Kendra. This was the first time the entire group had been let out together. It had been some years since they had been taken to court, since the hearings were conducted within the jail as the police feared they’d attempt an escape if taken outside. The judge came down once a month and would ask them if they had any complaints against the jailers. The others would look at Mohammed, who would respond with a “no.”
That day, there was still a different happiness showing on Mohammed’s face. He noticed the others looking at him, but he didn’t care. He wanted to see every corner of the jail for himself. He saw the board indicating Tilak barracks. He’d heard the inmates inside were taught how to polish diamonds. He bowed slightly in front of a temple while passing Tilak yard. The next moment, anger flared at the thought that the barracks that once held the freedom fighter now housed Amar Thakor, a former minister accused of murder, who was kept apart from the other inmates and provided with different facilities.
Mohammed turned to the right of the yard, where they were to have their classes that day. He glanced at the high wall to the left, noticing the electrified barbed-wire fencing at the top. Escape would be impossible. “But I shouldn’t give up,” he thought.
To be continued…
This is the 11th part of the serialized novel 'Deewal' based on the Sabarmati jailbreak attempt, written by Prashant Dayal, the editor of MeraNews.com.