Cellular Jail – The story of a prison
India’s history is replete with stories of the struggle for independence from the British. Indians had to bring down a rule of over 200 years and countless lives were lost. From the Battle of Plassey to the revolt of 1857 and then India’s independence in 1947, many kings and freedom fighters sacrificed all that they had to get us what was our right. Freedom from the shackles of the British empire.
At the time when Indians were rebelling against the foreign rule, the British had to find a place to deport prisoners. A place where no one could easily reach and those who reach cannot escape.
This deporting was known as being sent to ‘Kaala Pani’. The Hindi name has been derived from the word ‘Kaal’ that means time or time of death. What was Kaal Pani, colloquially came to be known as Kaala Pani. But that is just what it meant to be sent to Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Cellular Jail was constructed in the city of Port Blair as a prison for these Indians.
A punishment to this jail meant death. It meant that those who rebel and raise their voice will be sent to far off islands where they would be no connection to the world and no way to escape. Their voice would never be heard again. For the British, this was a way to scare and suppress the voices that had begun to ask for freedom.
Some facts I learnt about the Cellular Jail:
- The jail got its name from the architecture and the purpose it served. There were 693 cells for solitary confinement and were spread between seven wings.
- There was a central watch tower and connected to that were these wings.
- These connections were wooden planks and isolated the wings from the tower as needed.
- One side of the Cellular Jail faces the Andaman Sea. So an escape was out of the question.
- The way the cells were made was that no two prisoners from adjacent wings could interact. Once wing faced the back of the other and so on.
- The cells had a unique locking system. Even if a prisoner was handed over the key, he would never be able to unlock. The latch was a foot by the side of the grill and cemented.
- Port Blair’s airport has been named after Veer Savarkar who played a key role in India’s struggle for Independence and was a prisoner at the Cellular Jail.
My recommendations as you visit the jail:
- Most of the flights from Indian cities reach Port Blair after the noon. On that day, you cannot step out of Port Blair so go grab a seat at the light and sound show at the jail.
- Pick a Hindi show over the English one if you understand Hindi. The voice, the pain and the story that you hear in Hindi will give you goosebumps.
- When at the show, try to find a seat in the front. People talk at the back and it gets annoying if you cannot listen to a show.
- Hire a guide when you visit the jail. You can read this blog, search on the internet but a guide will point things that no one can share online. To name a few – the place where freedom fighters spent their days and struggled to finish their allocated quota of work, the gallows, and the scary trap door.
- Watch out how the cells were locked once the prisoners were inside. The architecture is incredible.
- Look out for the sea as you walk up the watchtower. It shows how an escape was not possible.
Let’s look into the jail, the architecture and the cells.
The Cellular Jail has been declared a National Memorial. The heroic struggles of the prisoners and the barbaric treatment by the British were all documented, however, when the Japanese seized the islands, we lost a lot of our paperwork. A small work shed right in the middle of the jail provides a glimpse into the life of the prisoner. It is scary but know that it is also the truth.
The beauty of Andamans is in its history. It may be known for its beautiful beaches, white sand and corals but the history it holds in its heart is painful. As an Indian, I feel immensely proud of the sacrifices many leaders made at that time so that the generation of today can live freely.
If you get a chance to visit Port Blair, a walk in the lonely corridors of the Cellular Jail is an unforgettable experience.
There is a lot more to Andamans than what meets the eye. Watch this space for more Andaman Adventures.