22nd JULY 1908 BAL GANGADHAR TILAK SENTENCED TO ANDAMAN- NICOBAR ISLANDS PRISON

In 1879, Vasudev Balwant Phadke of Pune was sentenced to Transportation for Life to Aden, 3200 km from Mumbai, by sea. Some 60-70 of his followers were sentenced to Transportation for Life and deported to the Andaman Islands. Even in exile, Phadke was denied the company of his followers. He died in Aden in 1883 clutching the soil of his motherland which he had kept with himself.

Vasudeo Balwant Phadke

In May 1907, Lala Lajpat Rai and Sardar Ajit Singh (uncle of Bhagat Singh) were transported from Lahore to Mandalay (Myanmar), 3400 km away. So strict was the security that the two leaders did not know that they were imprisoned in the same place. In 1908, at the age of 52 years, Lokmanya Tilak was sentenced to Transportation for 6 years to Mandalay and kept in isolation in an area of 150 ft x 50 ft with only the company of a cook. There was no parole for him even when his wife was on deathbed in 1912. The distance from Mumbai to Mandalay by sea and land is 4800 kms. The average life expectancy of an Indian male in 1908 was 48 years, so it is safe to presume the British wanted Tilak’s dead body to come out of prison.

Lokmanya Tilak

Lala Lajpat Rai

In 1909, Savarkar’s elder brother Ganesh Damodar (Babarao) was sentenced to Transportation for life to the Andaman Islands, for publishing four poems. All his earthly possessions, including even saucepans and broom, were confiscated. His wife Yesu was left homeless, penniless and destitute. She sought refuge in the local crematorium for some time. She never saw her husband again and died in 1918. Permission to visit her husband came a day after she died!

Savarkar and Babarao

In the Andamans, Babarao was denied even basic medical treatment; it was a miracle that he survived. Even after his release, he was lodged in Belgaum (solitary confinement) and Sabarmati jails. He was finally released in September 1922 only when the British were convinced he was going to die.

In 1911, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was sentenced to Transportation for Life, twice, to Andaman Islands; the sentences were to be served in succession. Savarkar’s personal property and possessions, including his spectacles, were confiscated. His father-in-law Mr Chiplunkar was Dewan of Jawhar principality in Thane district. British authorities forced the Raja of Jawhar to sack Chiplunkar and expel him from Jawhar state overnight.

Transportation to Andaman Islands did not mean prison sentence for life. According to rules, regulations, customs and practice of the British Administration, prisoners were allowed to work outside the prison after a year or two, settle on the island, and call their families from India. Savarkar and his elder brother Babarao were detained in the prison for more than 10 years in flagrant violation of these rules! They were also forced to do physical hard labour all the time.


In 1924, Savarkar was released from jail on condition that he would not leave Ratnagiri district and would abstain from political activities for five years. But the Raj extended this duration periodically so that Savarkar was unconditionally released only in 1937. Many contemporaries of Savarkar including Bhai Parmanand, Hotilal Varma and Hemchandra Das, were sentenced to Transportation for Life to the Andaman Islands.

Bhai Parmanand

Apart from the deaths at the gallows, many prisoners committed suicide to escape the harsh prison conditions. One of them was Indu Bhushan, an accused in the Alipore Bomb Case.  He was yoked to the oil-mill and tortured sadistically, which turned him into a physical and mental wreck. On 29 April 1912, he ended his agony by committing suicide.

The Cause

Action by armed revolutionaries, characterized as ‘extremists’ and ‘terrorists’, with supposed links abroad inspired new and more draconian legislation between 1905-1914, and the advent of World War I served as a pretext for strengthening the forces of the state, of course in the name of ‘national security’. In 1908, the government passed the Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act and the Explosives Substances Act, and shortly thereafter the Indian Press Act, the Criminal Tribes Act, and the Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act.

Although these pieces of legislation have not been etched into the pre-history of anti-terrorist legislation, the purported intent was to prevent ‘terrorists’ from calling public meetings, publishing material inciting the people to revolt, disseminating revolutionary literature, and so forth. In actual fact, as numerous studies have shown, the legislation was of such wide scope as to render suspect all political activity that was even mildly critical of the British Government of India, and it put an effective end to whatever freedom of expression the Indian press had been allowed. The Foreigners Ordinance of 1914, which restricted the entry of foreigners into India, accomplished the exclusion from India of men harboring evil designs towards the Government of India, ‘suspects’ in the official vocabulary. The ‘foreign hand’ theory, which is invoked with notorious monotony by the Indian state to the present day to account for the rise of secessionist and communal movements, owes its origins partially to this ordinance. Meanwhile, the Ingress into India Ordinance (1914) allowed the government to indefinitely detain and compulsorily domicile suspects, while the Defence of India Act (1915) allowed suspects to be tried by special tribunals sitting in camera whose decisions were not subject to appeal. Regulation III also continued to be available for the indefinite detention of suspects.

The Legislation

1915 legislation was designed to give the government of British India special powers to deal with revolutionary and German-inspired threats during World War I, especially in the Punjab. A special legal tribunal was set up to deal with such cases without prior commitment and with no appeal. Power was also taken for the internment of suspects.

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