Most of us have heard of the Black Hole of Calcutta (a small dungeon in the old Fort William, where troops of the Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah held British prisoners in crammed conditions after the capture of the fort in 1756). Few, however, may be aware that a similar event took place in Indore, albeit some two centuries later and with a different denouement.
Mandleshwar sub-jail in Khargone. (HT Photo)
Shortly after the Quit India Movement was launched in 1942, nearly 300 inmates, including around 100 political prisoners, packed into sub-jail at Mandleshwar broke open the prison gate and streamed out into the streets.
"The jail authorities did not open prison gates on Gandhi Jayanti despite repeated entreaties by satyagrahis. Angered, the political prisoners broke open the wooden gates in the evening and rushed out," revealed Sriram Agar (95), among the oldest surviving freedom fighters in the city. Two brothers, Chaturbhuj and Ramprasad Azad, both now dead, played an important part then.
"My father and uncle continued to elude the police even after the others were barricaded. When they were finally caught the guards rained down lathis on them. This infuriated their comrades who first demolished the barricades and then tore the prison gate off its hinges," said Chandrashekhar, son of Ramprasad Azad who runs a packaging business in the central business district. After the breakout the escapees first did a circumambulation of the Mandleshwar temple and then attended a meeting under the leadership of stalwart Praja Mandal leader Vaidyanath Mahodaya.
Most of the prisoners were from Indore. "Officials of the Holkar state felt that allowing them to stay on in Indore would be detrimental to their interests and so they were sent to Mandleshwar jail," Agar told HT at his Sudama Nagar residence. Mahodaya offered criminal offenders a chance to join them but warned that if caught they could face punishments much more severe than the sentences they were serving.
"In Indore jail each prisoner was made to grind 14 ser (1 ser = 933.10 gram) of wheat per day. Those who didn’t meet the target had additional time added to their sentence," recalled Agar.
The quota was doubled to 28 ser per day after the arrival of a jailor named Young. "If we failed to grind the required amount our feet were manacled," he revealed.