Andaman Cellular Jail From Dreadful Prison To National Place of Pilgrimage
The Island of Andaman is the silent witness of one of the greatest & the longest running freedom fights in the history of the modern era- ‘The Indian Freedom Fight’! During the freedom fight, the Island of Andaman became infamous for the notorious prison called ‘Cellular Jail’. The prison was constructed by the British with a special purpose to incarcerate the Indian freedom activists away from the Indian mainland in order to weaken the revolt against the British government!
Cellular Jail, which was also infamous as ‘Kala Pani’ (Black Waters) in pre-independent India is located at Port Blair. This mighty prison stands as the symbol of the dark side of the colonial British Empire. The inmates were tortured beyond the level on can imagine & hundreds of activists lost their lives beneath the agonizing heel of ruthless British rule.
Today, however, the prison stands as a ‘Memorial of Freedom Fighters’ who scarified their lives in the attainment of the solitary goal of ‘Total Independence’. The place is flocked by the numerous visitors who come here to pay the homage to the spirits of the brave martyrs!
History in Brief:
The ‘Cellular Jail’ complex was constructed between 1896 & 1906. However, the British were already using this island as a prison since 1857 to incarcerate the rebels in ‘Sepoy Mutiny of 1857’.
The ‘Sepoy Mutiny of 1857’ was India’s first major attempt to seek the independence which was mauled by the British government. However, the same revolt did open up the eyes of the colonial government who, later on decided to isolate the rebels from the mainland of India. The British took ruthless step & executed several hundred rebels & the remaining survivors were decided to be shipped to the remote places in Andaman for lifetime imprisonment.
On 10th March 1858, an initial lot of 200 freedom fighters were sent by ships to the island of Andaman under the custody of Major James Pattison Walker. Another batch of 733 convicts was deported to Andaman from Karachi in April, 1868. All the inmates were employed to clear the dense forest on the island. They were put on to the slavery as they were forced to do over-exhausting work. They were used in chained gangs to construct the prison cells, buildings & other harbor facilities. Many of them tried to flee from there but unfortunately got captured & were hanged immediately. Major Walker had 86 men hanged on a single day for sending a clear message to all the inmates.
The late 19th century saw the remarkable rise in number of revolts against the British government as the freedom fight has picked up its pace. The prisons in the mainland started over-flowing with the patriot Indians, which underlined the need of a huge & an impregnable prison to incarcerate the freedom fighters. The result was the construction of the mighty ‘Cellular jail’ which was described as ‘a place of segregation & isolation within a broader remote penal space’!
Cellular jail was preferred for imprisoning political offenders & freedom fighters. Batukeshwar Dutt, Veer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, his elder brother Babrao Savarkar, Maulana Ahmadullah, Jatish Chandra pal, Mahavir Singh are among the most famous faces who were put behind the bars of Cellular Jail.
The jail has seen two major mass ‘Hunger Strikes’ in order to protest against the inhuman treatment enforced by the jail officials. According to ‘Veer Savarkar’, the food given to the inmates was not only unhygienic but also shredded by worms. Wild grass was boiled along with the vegetables. Drinking water too, was full of insects & worms. The cells were damp & dark & were coated with thick moss. Inmates were forced to go around the oil churns like bulls to take out the oil from the beans. They were brutally flogged by the guards upon failing to complete the stipulated work!
Despite of the harsh & unbearable treatment, it was also observed that, the transportation to the Andaman became hugely popular among many activists as for them, the imprisonment in the Andaman jail was the testimonial of their devotion & the love for their motherland! For them, it was an honor to die in front of the other freedom fighters those were living with only dreams of ‘Free India’.
The prison was constructed between 1896 & 1906. It acquired the name as ‘Cellular’ due to its unique architecture of individual cells for the solitary confinement. The building had seven wings originating from the central watchtower. Each wing has three floors. The prison has 693 cells constructed in such a way that no prisoner can communicate with each other. Each cell was 4.5 m X 2.7 m in size with a single vent located at the height of 3 meters. The building was constructed using a puce-colored bricks brought from Burma.
Over the years, the building had damaged gradually & at present, three out of seven wings are in good shape. The jail, which was the symbol of cruelty & slavery, now stands as India’s ‘National Memorial’.
What To See:
The Cellular jail is the landmark of Port Blair & stands as the Memorial of the martyrs, who demonstrated the highest degree of patriotism & the courage to embrace the death fearlessly in the quest of achieving the freedom. The flogging stands, oil mills, various instruments used for torture, the Gallows, cells & workshops vividly depicts the pain & the sorrows the freedom fighters must have suffered.
Besides this, the jail also has the photo galleries showing the Andaman’s olden days & some of the great freedom fighters who were incarcerated in here. ‘Netaji Gallery’ dedicated to one of the greatest freedom fighter ‘Netaji Subhashchandra Bose’ & the cell where another legendary freedom fighter ‘Veer Savarkar’ who spent 10 years of rigorous imprisonment are among of the major attractions.
The real highlight of the Cellular Jail visit is the ‘Sound & Light Show’ organized for the visitors twice in the jail compound- at 6.00 PM (Hindi) & 7.15 (English). The show revives the dark phase of in the glorious saga of freedom fight. Many Indians fail to stop the rolling tears in the memories of the departed souls as they witness the show & while roaming around the premises.
‘Cellular Jail’ has marked its centenary in 2006. The prison, which once upon a time, was one of the most notorious places in India, is now being worshiped as the place of pilgrimage where the memories of lion-hearted freedom fighters are cherished. As per Former Lt. Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Island- Prof. Ram Kapse, ‘the Cellular Jail has gone through the long journey- from a torture machine to a National Memorial & from a dreaded prison to a place of pilgrimage’!