Indira was 25 when she first experienced imprisonment. Both Indira and Feroze, who she later married, were jailed the same day in 1942. This was right after the Quit India Movement.
She was imprisoned for 8 months from September 1942 to 13 May, 1943 for 243 days.
Snippet: (Her fearlessness and determination) Indira exposed herself to arrest at a flag hoisting ceremony in Allahabad. During this ceremony a young man who was holding the Congress flag was struck with a lathi and as he fell, he handed the flag to Indira. She held on to the flag firmly even though she was being beaten. She made sure that the flag did not fall to the ground and also that the police did not snatch it. She talked of the incident with considerable pride. “I tried to hold it (flag) up. I was quite badly beaten but I did not let it fall.” But this incident did not lead to her arrest. However, she did not have to wait for long.
Snippet: A few days after the flag hoisting ceremony, Indira arranged a meeting of party workers. When Indira had addressed the gathering for no more than a few minutes, a British soldier ordered her to stop speaking. When that did not produce the desired response from her, he raised his gun and moved menacingly towards her. Feroze, who was in the audience sprang up and placed himself between the soldier and his wife. Both of them were dragged out and Indira was forcibly taken to Anand Bhawan to pack her bag quickly for a term in jail. She was taken to Naini Prison.
As Jawaharlal’s daughter, Indira should have been an A Class prisoner but due to some fault of the judge she was treated as an ordinary convict. It was only later that the mistake was rectified and till then Indira could neither write nor receive letters, nor talk to visitors.
Indira had gone to Naini prison determined not to get bored. She saw the dangers of being drawn into the pointless pastime of gossip. So she made a rule where until 5:00PM every day, none of the other inmates could speak to her unless absolutely necessary. She was unaffected by their resentment towards her for making such a rule.
Indira mainly spent her time in jail, gardening and reading. She had brought with her “a suitcase full of books - serious, less serious, and frivolous” from Anand Bhawan.
Books she read in jail - Upton Sinclair’s Dragon Teeth, Plato’s Republic, George Bernard Shaw’s plays, Lin Yutang’s A Leaf in the Storm and Escape from Freedom.
Apart from reading and gardening, Indira also taught some inmates how to read. For some reason she was particularly drawn to a young prisoner who had brought a new-born to jail. She taught the mother how to read and write and also practised her academic expertise on the baby. She became so fond of the baby that after her release she wished to legally adopt the child!
Snippet (the only incident in prison that caused Indira to lose her temper) - As is expected, life in jail was difficult. Rice and dal were full of stones, the sugar of dust, and the milk of water from the handpump outside the yard wall. But Indira could live with this. It was when she had been upgraded to A Class, her father, Jawaharlal sent her a box full of Alphonsos (knowing her love for mangoes). Instead of permitting Indira to receive them, the jailor consumed the entire consignment himself and also came back to Indira to thank her for the wonderful mangoes.
Indira’s claim about what she gained from Naini Prison was quite modest. It enabled her to better understand her father. She said, “perhaps it strengthened my character- strengthened me as a person."