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Gandhiana in an English prison

Illustration: Sreejith R Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith R Kumar  

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When British convicts turned vegetarian and judged Churchill for imprisoning Mahatma.

During my student days in London, I got a call from the Indian High Commission asking for my services as a Hindu priest to counsel a young Indian serving a long sentence in a prison in Wakefield, Yorkshire, which is a roughly two-hour drive from London. It’s a reform centre, a kind of open prison, with educational facilities.

I started visiting my compatriot, mostly over the weekends. I presented Gandhi’s autobiography to the prison library, and I also found time to discuss Gandhiji’s Satyagraha philosophy with the other English prisoners there.

I spoke to them about Gandhi’s civil rights struggle in South Africa and the Quit India Movement launched by him in 1942.

The English prisoners could not believe that Winston Churchill, the war hero of Britain, had ordered the imprisonment of an unarmed, physically weak, old political leader like Gandhiji. One prisoner even proposed to organise an international club of former prisoners of the British Raj.

On October 2, 1956, the prisoners produced a journal on Gandhiji’s life and struggle, with details of his trials and imprisonments.

I wanted to take a copy of the journal, but that was not permitted.

Later, as I bid farewell to my prison friends for good, the Governor of the facility invited me to his residential quarters for tea.

Over our brief session, the Governor complained that many inmates had turned vegetarian under Gandhian influence, creating difficulties for the prison kitchen. But the superintendent treated me with all due courtesy, and as I stood up to leave, his wife gifted me a copy of the journal, nicely wrapped with a big ‘Thank you, sir!’ written on it.

dhiren.sharma32@gmail.com

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 12:40:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/gandhiana-in-an-english-prison/article29667757.ece

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