History in a barrack

It was the spring of 1927. Nineteen young freedom fighters sat together in Barrack number 11 of Lucknow Central Jail. One of them asked the other, "Panditji, why don't we script a song for basant?" And Panditji and his friends did come up a song that went on to become one of the most iconic songs of the pre-Independence era.

The song was Mera rang de basanti chola, scripted by Pandit Ram Prasad 'Bismil' along with his friends, Ashfaqullah Khan, Thakur Roshan Singh, Sachindra Nath Bakshi, Ram Krishna Khatri and 14 others. They were arrested for the Kakori train dacoity of August 9, 1925, when Bismil and his associates looted the Shahjahanpur-Lucknow train. Two months later, they were sent to Barrack number 11 in the Lucknow Central Jail, now called Lucknow District Jail.

As the Lucknow District Jail makes way for an ecological park—last week the Supreme Court cleared the demolition of the jail—a significant chapter of India's freedom struggle will come down with it.

Created by the British in 1867, the jail has been home to several freedom fighters. Spread across 195 acres on Jail Road on the outskirts of the city, the jail is one of the biggest examples of how prison reforms, as suggested by former Congress leader Dr Sampoornanda, can be implemented.

One of the few jails in the country where prisoners are allowed to move about freely, the jail premises has a number of small scale industries like dairy farming, furniture making and stationery making units. The jail can house 2,000 inmates.

According to documents at the Uttar Pradesh State Archives, the Lucknow District Jail had Motilal Nehru and Chandra Bhanu Gupta among its inmates.

Among the archival documents is a special edition, Kakori Shaheed ki smriti, which is a memoir of Ram Krishna Khatri, one of the accused in the Kakori incident and who was sentenced to five years in jail.

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