IIT-Kharagpur remembers its Hijli Jail days

Kharagpur, March 31 | Updated: Apr 1 2007, 05:30am hrs
Gunshots and cries of defenceless detainees will be heard again. Freedom fighters Santosh Mitra and Tarakeswar Sengupta will be shot again. Men of the US 20th Air Forces 58th Bombardment Wing could drop in briefly. And IIT, Kharagpur, will be born again. Of course, all this will be a light and sound show, as IIT-Kharagpur seeks to re-create its birth in what was one of British Indias detention camps.

Hijli jail, now the Nehru Museum of Science & Technology, is actually quite a grand building. On the walls of one of the rooms is the roll of honour marking that day in September 1931, when a yet- unexplained commotion prompted guards to open fire on peaceful detainees. Mitra and Sengupta died, as they peered out of the building to see what the commotion was all about.

A few years after the only incident of police firing inside a jail/detention camp, the British abandoned the facility in 1934-35, then again in 1939-40, before it was turned into a a US Air Force base during WWII. Today, the buzz at IIT, Kharagpur, is that an electronics professor with a love of history has set out to write the first definitive tome about the little-remembered events of September 16, 1931.

Dr Ajoy Kumar Ray, head of the School of Medical Science & Technology and professor at the department of electronics and electrical communication engineering, is now steering the attempt to delve into the issue as he looks after the museum in an unofficial capacity.

My wish is to focus on the Hijli events, but the directors want the light-and-sound show to portray the IIT also, he says. Dr Ray adds that the IIT board has cleared a proposal for the show, which the National Council of Science Museums (NSCM) has proposed to execute.

The book, on which Dr Ray is working with retired IIT professor, FTH Abidi, is likely to be published by Orient Longman. It will focus on the history of the institute, with Hijli as the backdrop. (The story goes that when the then PM Jawaharlal Nehru had his vision about an IIT, West Bengal chief minister BC Roy promptly offered the Hijli building as a ready campus.)

As for the history, Arnab Kumar Hazra, who mans the museum as its lone official, says unexpected hurdles have cropped up. When we went to Writers Buildings to get more records from their archives, we were told to get permission from the Intelligence Bureau, says Hazra.

It is very difficult to commute from Kharagpur to Kolkata to negotiate the bureaucratic maze of clearances. The building is in good condition, maintained by the IIT. As it housed the IIT in its initial years, with the first convocation in 1956 also held here, some changes were made. So the rooms dont exactly look like prison cells any more.

If it becomes a heritage building under the central government, it may then go out of our hands, says Hazra.

Dr Ray says the building would be declared an IIT heritage building so that control would remain with the IIT.

He promises an interesting tome on the history of Hijli, which was part of one of the three subdivisions in Midnapore that came together to declare a national government during the Quit India movement. This lasted for nearly a year. Nandigram and Tamluk were the other two subdivisions that formed the Tamralipta Jatiya Sarkar, or Tamralipta National Government, with people evicting the British from the area.

The Tamralipta National Government even formed a womens army, the first such in India. The general of this army is still alive, Dr Ray says, and we meet every year.

The National Government resisted the British for months, but it met its end at the hands of Mahatma Gandhi, who disowned the violent methods favoured by the movement.