Cellular Jail, the most prolific memory of Andaman for many, is the sole thing that comes to mind when most Indians hear the word ‘Andaman’.
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About Cellular Jail
Cellular Jail, the most prolific memory of Andaman for many, is the sole thing that comes to mind when most Indians hear the word ‘Andaman’. Before the boom of tourism and Andaman island traveling most Indians have heard about only 2 things about Andamans – the torturous Cellular Jail where our freedom fighters were imprisoned and the native tribes who lived in prehistoric conditions.
So, a visit to the cellular jail often happens to be the first and foremost agenda of people on these Islands. The untamed and cruel history of this jail is etched in the memory of everyone who has visited this opulent structure built for 10 years. Ironically, it wasn’t the first prison of Andaman. Convicts were deported to these islands since the British started building their headquarters in Ross Island, a tiny 600 square kilometers of land opposite Port Blair. The convicts of the Ross Island Jail and the Viper Jail went through hard labor to curve out the Cellular Jail at the Atlanta Point Hillock in Port Blair.
The iconic jail whose sole idea was captivity in a single cell prison room and the notion of ‘Kalapani’ which meant one is stripped of their caste and religion if they crossed the sea, was finally built ready for the first set of prisoners in 1906. From 1896 to 1906, many political prisoners were deported to these islands which the British established as a penal settlement based on similar ideas used in Australia
It’s a 3 storey wheel structured building with 7 radiating wings each having a capacity to store 100 prisoners. So, the structure known as the epitome of prison torture could house 600-700 prisoners at one time although it was never that full. Many notable political figures like Veer Savarkar, Ullashkar Dutt, Yogeshwar Shukla, and others served the term here. The prison was specifically known for its cruel Irish jailor David Barry who inflicted inhuman physical labor and torture that lead many to sit on a hunger strike.
Many of these poignant tales can be witnessed first hand when you visit the Cellular Jail and watch the gripping light and sound. It’s as iconic as the National Award Winning Malayalam Film ‘Kalapani’. Andaman’s story has been always marred with cellular jail’s brutal history.
How to Reach Cellular Jail?
The Cellular Jail, about 2 km from the city center is situated in the North-East corner of Port Blair city. It is close to the Aberdeen Jetty (Go to Ross island from here), Marina Park, Water Sports Complex, and the Bazaar.
Auto-rickshaws (Tuktuks) are easily available for hire to/from here. Private chauffeured vehicles or rented two-wheelers are other convenient options of travel, especially if you look to visit many attractions within the city.
- Cost of Admission: Rs 10, Photo Camera: Rs 25, Video Camera: Rs 100
- Timings: 8.45 AM to 12.30 PM and 1.30 PM to 5 PM
- Tickets issued only by 4.15 PM latest
- Closed on Monday and Government holidays
- Address: GB Pant Road, Port Blair, South Andaman
Directions to Cellular Jail
Cellular Jail lies at what used to be called the Atlanta Point in Port Blair. It’s a popular monument in Port Blair which stands at GB Pant Road. It’s easily accessible from the Port Blair airport and major hotels and resorts of the city. You can take a private car, taxis or auto-rickshaw to reach this place. You can get taxis and auto-rickshaws from popular spots like Goalghar, Aberdeen Jetty, the water sports complex, and Aberdeen bazaar. It remains packed with tourists all over the year, especially from January to April when the weather is pleasant on the island.
Things Not To Miss at Cellular Jail
Cellular Jail visit isn’t complete without a thorough immersive reading of its history and architecture. However, if you aren’t a history buff and don’t have that much time in hand, there are certain things you should concentrate on.
- First and foremost is the visit to the cellular jail museum which chronicles the history of the place and inmates story. The museum lies just after entrance which acted as the administrative block of David Barry and the other subsequent Jailors
- Next you should visit the open courtyard where there’s the workshed depicting the oil milling and other strenuous work done by the prisoners.
- Opposite to the workshed and in the right hand side corner of the courtyard lies the gallows where 3 prisoners were hanged at a time
- Visit Veer Savarkar’s cell which is just above the gallows in the 3rd floor corner
- You should also climb up the central watch tower to get a glimpse of the whole structure and also a view of Ross Island which lies opposite to Port Blair. The Britishers lived on that island and they got to know when the prisoners were hanged by a signal from the watchtower.
- There’s an evocative light and sound show narrated by Om Puri in the evening. However, if you are expecting a more poignant tale then don’t miss the Ross Island light and sound show narrated by Gulzar.
What To Experience in Cellular Jail?
A visit to the cellular jail is to experience the hardship and the struggle of political prisoners. Witness the various stories of struggle and how it unfolded as you read through the documents and peruse the iconic cells.
Remember that it was an isolated cell, So much isolated that you have no one but yourself. The cells were structured in such a way that the wall of one wing faced the other. So trapped in those dungeons like solitary imprisonment you have no one to communicate with. You can’t even see the sky from your prison cell. One notable example of this is the Savarkar brothers who were both imprisoned here yet they didn’t know that for many years. The younger of the two, Veer Savarkar was given a double sentence which meant serving 50 years of imprisonment.
The prisoners were stripped of basic drinking and urinary facilities. 2 earthen pots were supplied – one for drinking water and the other for urinating. Added to this they had to go through 12 or more hours of oil milling and other hard labor. The jailor David Barry set unachievable targets for prisoners which they couldn’t fulfill and ultimately they were tortured with lashings and kept without food. Many died of this torture and many were hanged. Many tried to escape from the inescapable prison surrounded by high walls and the sea. Those who escaped couldn’t survive long and were captured to be hanged or thrown into the sea at night. As you go through the cell you will see that locks of the cells were buried in deep caveats in the wall, making it impossible to break out. Any act of rebellion like hunger strikes resulted in terrible force-feeding incidents that resulted in some unwanted death amongst the prisoners.
So, the idea of the prison was to kill the spirit of the political prisoners with the processed idea of Kalapani that created mental pressure and then heighten it with torture and hard labor.
That’s what you should be experiencing as you travel through the cells and hear their story. Ideally, 2-3hours is enough to explore this place.
FAQs About Cellular jail
How was the Cellular Jail Built?
- The jail was built with puce coloured bricks shipped from Burma
- 20,000 cubic feet of local stone and 30,00,000 bricks made by prisoners were further used for building it
- The Cellular Jail was based on Panopticon Theory of Architecture where there’s a central axis and 7 radiating compartments.
- Each cell measures 13 1/2 ‘x 7’ and was secured by iron grills making way for solitary prison confinement and giving it the cellular composition.
How the Idea of ‘Penal Settlement’ and ‘Kalapani’ Originate?
- As early as 1856 the British Medical System was authorized to devise a plan to send the enemies of the British empire to exile in a faraway land.
- British Army Doctors came up with the idea of the penal settlement after reading about the ‘Kalapani’ myth in Hindu Sanskrit texts. Sir Robert Napier described it as “transportation beyond the sea is to the Hindoos… a separation forever from every tie and relation and possession which men hold to in life”
- Impressed by the French penal settlement built in 1849 in a rocky islet off Guyana, they thought of a similar settlement in India
- It finally started when Dr. James Pattison Walker landed with 200 rebels (belonging to the Sepoy Mutiny time) in Andaman on March 10, 1858. There was a penal settlement in Australia but transportation of prisoners to Australia was banned at that time and hence the necessity of Andaman
- Many of these prisoners died at sea and Walker ordered a further consignment of prisoners from Burma and the adjoining areas. That’s how the first jail in Ross Island and Viper Island started to carve out an island settlement for the Britishers
What led to its close down?
- The cruel torture inflicted in cellular Jail lead to mass hunger strikes by the inmates between 1932 to 1937
- The last hunger strike in 1937 went on for 45 days.
- During this time many incidents of force-feeding and experiments of force-feeding by the British doctors surfaced. These resulted in some deaths
- The situation was so dense that even stalwarts like Gandhi, Nehru, and Subhas Chandra Bose had to intervene and put pressure on the British government
- After this, the penal settlement was closed down and the inmates were extracted to the mainland in 1938.
What happened when the Japanese captured the islands?
- In 1942 the Japanese captured the island and handed over power to Subhas Chandra Bose’s who visited the cellular jail in 1943 and called it the Indian Bastille
- The Japanese released the prisoners held in the jail, one of whom, Pushkar Bakshi, became their principal collaborator.
- There were brutal killings and massacres of the remaining convicts and locals during the Japanese time.
- 4 days after the Japanese occupation of the islands, a young man Zulfiqar Ali was shot for firing an air gun in front of Browning Club where a memorial stands in his name
- The INA formed a peace committee headed by Dr. Diwan Singh in order to mitigate the risk of these atrocities but it didn’t help much and they themselves were targeted by the Japanese
What happened to Cellular Jail after 1947?
- 4 wings of the jail were damaged in the 1941 earthquake and another one was demolished after independence to make way for a hospital. The survivors of the cellular jail revolted against this and demanded to conserve this piece of history as a memorial.
- The cellular jail now stands as a National Monument with 2 wings and the administrative block. It was declared a National Memorial on 11th February, 1979
- In 1996, the national award winning Malayalam film ‘Kalapani’ depicted the poignant tale of the Cellular Jail set during the cruel reign of David Barry in 1915
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