Kharagpur, Sept. 10: The Indian Institute of Technology here has decided to renovate and restore Hijli Jail’s historic zenana fatak (female ward) that was used by the British to lodge freedom fighters and was the institute’s first office block.
The move follows an uproar in the Assembly against the IIT’s lack of efforts in preserving the former prison. The ward that the tech school has decided to restore had virtually run to seed.
In the last session of the Assembly, the issue was raised by Pingla MLA Rampada Samanta. The government asked the West Midnapore district magistrate to inquire and submit a report on the condition of the jail and, particularly, the female ward.
Kharagpur sub-divisional information and cultural officer Karunamoyee Bhowmick inspected the jail building and submitted a report to the district magistrate.
In her report, Bhowmick said the IIT continues to use most rooms of the jail as its office and runs a private canteen for employees, disregarding its historical significance.
The female ward serves as a store to keep scrap iron bars. Bhowmick reportedly opposed the IIT’s idea of renovating only two rooms of the ward and keeping them for public view. The institute proposed to keep the rest of the building as its central storehouse.
Deputy director of IIT, Kharagpur, S.K. Lahiri said initially two rooms of the female ward would be renovated and thrown open to the public.
“It will take some time to clean up and repair the entire female ward as the dilapidated building and its surroundings have been overrun with dense vegetation and rubbish,” he said.
Hijli Jail was built in 1920 and during Mahatma Gandhi’s non-co-operation movement, about 800 political prisoners were lodged there. Of them, 100 were female “satyagrahis” kept in a separate block — zenana fatak.
The building, surrounded by high and thick redbrick walls, mostly contains large dormitory rooms.
Among the famous detainees here were Chattagram armoury raid leader Ananta Singh’s elder sister Indumati Singh, Lila Nag, Bimal Prativa Devi, Kalyani Das, Banalata Dasgupta, Kamala Dasgupta, Prativa Bhadra and Saroj Abha Nag.
Two freedom fighters, Tarakeswar Sengupta and Santosh Kumar Mitra, were killed when prison guards opened fire on agitating detainees on September 16, 1931. The British abandoned the jail in 1942 apprehending a Japanese attack.
Jwaharlal Nehru inaugurated the IIT in the jail complex in 1952. After the new IIT campus came up, the authorities set up a museum-cum-research centre in a portion of the male ward.
But the portion of the building used for female prisoners continued to remain obscure and inaccessible to the public.