The Yerwada Central Jail, built in 1871 by the British, had housed many freedom fighters, including Mahatma Gandhi who was lodged in the jail thrice. He spent several years in the Yerwada Jail during India’s freedom struggle, notably in 1932-33.
During his imprisonment, which started after his arrest in January 1932, Gandhi went on an indefinite fast to protest against the Communal Award for the depressed classes, which was considered as one of the means to divide and rule India.
Gandhi was against some provisions of the communal award, particularly the separate electorates for the depressed classes. Since he thought it would dissect the Hindu society, he started a fast in jail.
The leader of depressed classes, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, however, was in favour of the separate electorates for the depressed classes.
In his letter to British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald on September 9, 1932 to communicate his decision to go on the fast from September 20, Gandhi stated, “In the establishment of separate electorates at all for the depressed classes, I sense the injection of poison that is calculated to destroy Hinduism and do no good whatever to the depressed classes.”
As public pressure was building on Gandhi to end the fast because of his deteriorating health, a settlement was made between Gandhi and Ambedkar.
Gandhi ended his fast after signing the Poona Pact with Ambedkar and Madan Mohan Malviya on behalf of the Caste Hindus, in the jail on September 24, 1932. One of the provisions of the Pact was to provide reservations for 148 seats in the provincial legislatures to the depressed classes. Gandhi was released from jail in May 1933.
Inmates to recite bhajans in Gandhi Yard
UT Pawar, the jail superintendent, said that a group of inmates from the prison will recite ‘bhajans’ at the Gandhi Yard, where the famous ‘Poona Pact’ was signed, to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on Wednesday.
The agreement was signed under a mango tree. The officials have preserved the tree as well as the room, where Gandhi completed his term, which is called Gandhi Yard.
Prisoners taught Gandhian principles
A programme designed by human rights activist Asim Sarode, the founder of Sahyog Trust to spread the Gandhian principles, was introduced in Yerwada prison in 2002. As part of the programme, the prison inmates are taught the Gandhian principles. They have to appear for an examination following a course on Gandhi’s literature. Admission to the course is optional.
It is good for the mental rehabilitation of the prisoners who committed violence. It was started in 2002. Now it has been replicated in several other prisons, Sarode told Sakal Times.