“I am as happy outside the jail as you are in it,” thus concluded Pandit Motilal Nehru in his letter, dated September 28, 1923, on seeing his son go through a harrowing time in the Nabha jail and yet be reluctant to seek help.
Even as Jawaharlal Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary was celebrated on Friday, the Punjab government has failed to preserve the heritage which bears testimony to his relationship with Punjab. Both the Jaitu police station and the erstwhile Nabha jail where Nehru was kept for a while are in a shambles.
According to the plaque at the jail site, Nehru was arrested along with K Santanam and AT Gidwani on September 22, 1923, for defying an order banning entry into the princely state of Nabha.
Prof Chaman Lal, renowned chronicler of India’s freedom struggle and former professor at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), who visited the Jaitu police station in Faridkot district and the cell of then Nabha jail in Patiala district recently, said both places were in bad shape.
“Nehru was detained for a few hours in the Jaitu police cell, while he was kept for around two weeks in the Nabha jail,” he added.
Prof Lal stated that compared to other jails where Nehru was kept, including Naini and Gorakhpur, he received ill-treatment at the hands of the police and jail authorities in Nabha.
“Nehru was released from the Nabha jail only after he signed a bond that he would never enter the princely state again!” he said.
The Nabha jail is now located at a different place. Near the site of the old jail, then Punjab chief minister Beant Singh had got built a children’s park in 1992. However, successive governments have failed to preserve the cell where Nehru was imprisoned.
K Santanam, a freedom fighter who was imprisoned with Nehru, in his famous memoir ‘Handcuffed with Jawaharlal’ had recalled, “I was handcuffed with Jawaharlal and Gidwani was handcuffed with a policeman and we were put in a miserable branch line train and taken to Nabha, where we were lodged in a separate and secluded part of the jail which had mud walls. The room was 20 ft by 12 ft. The roof as well as the flooring was also of mud.”
Santanam, who died in 1980, had further written, “Even the sentries were not allowed to speak to us. No arrangements were made for our bath. Our clothing was also not given to us. Mud was falling from the roof all the time.”
He also wrote, “Jawaharlal was highly irritated at this treatment and he found vent to his irritation by sweeping the floor every half hour and trying to keep the room clean. Gidwani and myself were more amused than angry.”
“Our imprisonment in the Nabha jail was not known to the outside world. Pandit Motilal Nehru got worried and tried to ascertain our whereabouts from various officials and non-officials in Punjab. Failing to get any reply, he approached the Viceroy himself who got the information from Nabha.
This took two to three days. The authorities of the Nabha jail suddenly changed their attitude and arrangements were made for our bathing. Our clothes were given to us and friends from outside were allowed to send fruits and other eatables,” Santanam had recalled.