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‘My Fifty-One Days in Prison’: How Dr Stya Paul fought against all odds for India’s independence

In the wake of Gandhiji’s clarion call for the Quit India Movement, Dr Stya Paul – Educationist, Industrialist, Freedom Fighter, Philanthropist, Visionary, and the inspiration behind all Apeejay Education Institutions – was arrested under Defence of India rules on his birthday. Read his inspiring memoir



“During the years 1939-41, I was studying in the Government College, Lahore (now in Pakistan), for my Master’s in Mathematics.

My stay was in Aggarwal Hostel which was nearby. Aggarwal Hostel was a place where mostly good students were accommodated and therefore, I had a chance to be in the best of company. It was at this time that the communists decided to join the Congress in their movement against the British regime, and it had its effect on some of the students in the hostel. Quite a few of them had been attracted by their nationalism. I also decided to help them in the distribution of their (at that time) literature, which was illegal from the British point of view. This seemed to be very fascinating, and it gave me an opportunity to come in contact with national minded elements in the student community also. The spirit in those days for doing something to get independence for the country was very strong and I was also very much inspired by it.

“My crutches were not allowed to be taken according to the rules.”

After finishing college in 1941, I came back to Jalandhar and started my rumblings in family business, although still deep in me was that something should be done in my humble way towards the goal for independence.

In August 1942, Gandhiji gave that call for the ‘Quit India’ movement and I was also greatly touched by it. In those days, two boys came in contact with me, and we made certain plans in our own way to help this movement. However, it seemed that something leaked out and on Dussehra Day (which, incidentally, is my birthday), a telephone call came from the police that the CID inspector wanted me. I went there. He told me that I was under arrest by Defence of India Rules and ordered that I should be thoroughly searched. My little purse was taken away and then the inspector thundered, “Throw this boy in such a place where he dies overnight.” The idea was to threaten me in order to get our plans out of me. But it did not work. In fact, the threat took the fear out of me completely. Then he detailed two sub-inspectors with a police force along with me to search our house. They were on the lookout for some chemicals or incendiary material, but they did not find any. My own study room was in an annex of our house which was connected through a door of the main house. An idea dawned upon my sister Bimla, and she shut the door and feigned as if the annex belonged to a different person, and so these people could not get there, or else the most incriminating literature which I had plenty in my study room would have brought greater trouble. Thus, the search ended in a fiasco, and we returned to the police station.

From there I was sent to police lockup which was opposite Jalandhar District Jail. When I went there one of my friends, Kundan Singh, was in the lockup. I was happy to see him there because I had a companion. But he never suspected that I was also under arrest. He thought I had come on inspection of the police lockup. But soon I was put behind bars with him. My crutches were not allowed to be taken according to the rules but were to be given only when I was to move from one place to another. This was a small room and very dirty and crowded with about 10-12 people most of whom were criminals who were caught drunk or otherwise on Dussehra Day.  

Later at night, a police party came and took me in the police van to Jalandhar Cantt Police lockup so that my relations could not keep a track of me. But my father was a very strong-willed person, and he did locate me there. I was in this police lockup for 2 days more. The authorities were very strict. Nobody was allowed to meet or communicate. The fear of Defence of India Rules used to be great. Then I was transferred to the Jalandhar District Jail. Here, after making the necessary records, they sent me in. When I went in, I saw a good crowd of political prisoners including Sardar Karam Singh Kirti and Sardar Darbara Singh, out to receive me and they gave me a royal welcome while shouting slogans against the British. It was a great thing. Outside, if one uttered even one word against the British, he would be sent behind bars. But here in the jail they could not do anything worse.

“The inspector thundered, ‘Throw this boy in such a place where he dies overnight’.”

After that I was sent to my barrack. The first day the chapattis given to me were absolutely uneatable. The vegetables in steel bowls would become absolutely black all though we were told by the fellow prisoners that they were good because there was iron in them. However, I could not even take a morsel. But the whole barrack (there were about 40 people) would not eat unless I did. So I managed to eat about a quarter of a loaf. Although after a few days I was not even satisfied with the 3 rotis that we used to get. After meals, there used to be a daily session of national songs, sung at the top of our voice. Everybody used to feel elated, including me. I got the book ‘Complete Works of Rabindranath Tagore’ after due censor. This book was very inspiring. In the mornings and evenings, I used to recite my favourite couplet: “Tu shahin hai parwaz hai kam tera (You are a falcon and soaring high is your nature)”. This used to be a real source of inspiration for me and even up till today it works with me.

Jail life had its very interesting side experiences. The warder’s call “tees ki ginti ath number sub accha (In barrack No 8, 30 prisoners are all intact)” would be fascinating. Then the jail doctor had 8 mixtures that were good for all human ailments. The latrines used to be a nightmare. Once in a while, we used to get something sneaked from outside which we shared with each other. The great thing was that this was like a family group. There was great sharing in each other’s happiness and sorrow.

For 42 days, I was kept in jail and then I was ordered to be transferred to Adampur Police lockup. It was a kind policeman who on the way to Adampur allowed me to be brought to our house for a little time before locking me up. At Adampur, I had a comparatively more relaxed atmosphere thanks to the Station House Officer. It was winter and he allowed us to come out for an hour or so and enjoy sugarcanes. One thing I have never been able to forget was the really good ‘daal’ that was given to us with the meals. After spending seven days in the Police lockup, I was called by the Superintendent of police at Jalandhar and was subjected to a thorough interrogation once again. He, of course, could not get anything out of me and I was ordered to be released. After all, I was yet a beginner!

I was back at home on the fifty-first day.”

– Dr Stya Paul

Source: ”Chang Calling’ – a unique newsletter initiative of Dr Stya Paul related to his extended family and clan.