..know about the Cellular jail …the `kala pani’?

The prison was converted into a national monument in 1969. This jail is now a symbol of freedom fighters' sacrifice and many tourists go there!

May 29, 2017

The Cellular Jail, also known as kala pani (derived from Sanskrit words ‘Kal’ which means Time or Death and ‘Pani‘ which means Water), was a colonial prison in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India. The prison was used by the British especially to exile political prisoners to the remote archipelago.

Although the Andaman Islands were used by the British as a prison soon after the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The foundation of this jail was laid in 1896. The result of what was considered India’s First War of Independence however went in favour of the British who suppressed the revolt executing many rebels and transferring the rest to Andaman for lifetime exile.

The rebels in hundreds were sent to the island where they remained under the custody of jailer David Barry and military doctor Major James Pattison Walker. 238 prisoners who tried to escape the jail in March 1868 were caught in April of whom 87 were hanged.  More and more patriots who raised voice against the colonial rule were convicted and deported here from British-controlled India and Burma.

The prisoners dreaded the waters of Andamans and being isolated from the mainland there were no way out for them to escape. The island became an apt place for the British to punish the freedom fighters. The prisoners were chained and made to work in constructing buildings, prisons and harbour facilities in pursuit of colonising Andaman for the British.

With the upsurge of Indian independence movement in the late 19th century, several prisoners were sent to Andaman that necessitated for a higher security prison. Sir Charles James Lyall, home secretary in the governance of the British Raj and A. S. Lethbridge, a surgeon in the British administration suggested introduction of a “penal stage” in the transportation sentence given to a prisoner so that the prisoner face harsh treatment for a certain period after deportation to the Andamans. This led to construction of the Cellular Jail, work of which commenced in 1896 and finished in 1906.

Notable freedom fighters confined in the jail included Batukeshwar Dutt, Diwan Singh Kalepani, Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi, and the Savarkar brothers – Babarao Savarkar and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar among others. Being in solitary confinement the Savarkar brothers were unaware of each other’s presence in the same jail for two years. Many freedom fighters in the jail went through inhuman and unimaginable tortures, the very thought of which brings chills down the spines.

The jail drew attention when its inmates observed hunger strikes in the early 1930s. Bhagat Singh’s associate in the freedom movement, Mahavir Singh went on a hunger strike in protest of such cruel treatment but died when authorities tried to feed him milk forcibly which went to his lungs. His body was thrown into the sea. In 1937-38 following intervention by Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore the government decided on repatriating the freedom fighters.

This Andaman-Nicobar prison was used to keep political prisoners in British time. Many people also call it `kala pani ki saja’. Today it is a national monument.

Construction of the prison started in 1896 and it was completed in 1906. Bricks for the building were brought from Burma. The jail is divided into seven parts. After Independence, two were demolished.

Prisoners work was like to take oil from coconut and they had to get permission to go to the bathroom.

In 1942, Japan captured the Andaman Islands and dispersed the British. However, after the end of World War II in 1945, it came again in British colonies.

Many corridors dedicated to the halls of Indian freedom struggle can now be seen in the jail.

There were a total of 693 rooms in this prison. The cell was very small and just used to have a skylight near the ceiling.

The prison was converted into a national monument in 1969. This jail is now a symbol of freedom fighters’ sacrifice for Indians and many tourists go there.

When was it built: From 1896 to 1906

Who built it: British

Time taken: 10 years

Where is it located: Port Blair, the capital city of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India

Why was it built: As Solitary Confinement

Architectural Style: Cellular, Pronged

Visit Timing: 9.00 am to 12.30 pm, 1.30 pm to 4.45 pm

How to Reach: Port Blair is well-connected with many cities of mainland India by sea and air.

Visiting the Cellular Jail

Over the years, the building was damaged and only three wings and the tower remains. In 1969 it was converted into a National Memorial. Tourists from India and around the world visit the island which is predominantly famous for the Cellular Jail apart from its scenic beauty. The National Memorial houses several galleries including Freedom Fighters Photo and Exhibition Gallery in the ground floor and an Art gallery and Netaji Gallery on the first floor among others.

Visit Timing & Entrance Fee

It remains open on all days excepting national holidays. Entry fee per person is Rs. 30/-. Other charges include Rs. 200/- for still camera, Rs. 1000/- for video camera and Rs. 10,000/- for film shooting per day with prior permission.

Light & Sound Show

It regularly holds Light & Sound (Son-et-Lumiere) shows on India’s freedom struggle in Hindi and English excepting on every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The price of ticket for the light and sound show is Rs. 50/- per adult.

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