As India gears up to celebrate its 74th Independence Day celebrations, the journey of India’s freedom struggle was showcased through the galleries and cells of the Cellular jail in the Dekho Apna Desh webinar.
Titled “Cellular Jail: Letters, Memoirs & Memories, Tourism Ministry’s webinar series was presented by Nidhi Bansal, CEO, India City Walks & India with locals, Soumi Roy, Head of Operations, India with Locals and India Heritage Walks and Somrita Sengupta, City Explorer, India City Walks.
The online event highlighted the lives and stories of some of the most famous political prisoners like Veer Savarkar, BK Dutt, Fazl-e-HaqKhairabadi, Barindra Kumar Ghose and Sushil Dasgupta. The important contribution made by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in Andaman towards India’s independence also had a mention in the presentation.
The Cellular Jail in Port Blair, Andaman & Nicobar Islands is a prison where Indians fighting for freedom from the British were exiled and incarcerated under very inhuman conditions. Today, a national memorial, it is called cellular because it was constructed to host only individual cells for the purpose of solitary confinement.
Originally, the building had seven wings, at the centre of which was a tower with a large bell, manned by guards. Each wing had three storeys and each solitary cell was about 15 ft by about 9 ft, with a single window at a height of 9 ft.
The wings were built like the spokes of a bicycle and the front of one wing overlooked the back of the other so there was no way a prisoner could communicate with another.
The presenters recalled how the year of 1857 turned out to be a threat to British supremacy and the mid 19th century shook the English empire. The political atmosphere of the 20th Century saw the stages of freedom struggle like Gandhi’s policy of non violence and Civil disobedience and several other campaigns.
The construction of the prison started in 1896 and was completed in 1910. The original building was a puce-coloured brick building.The building had seven wings, at the centre of which a tower served as the intersection and was used by guards to keep watch on the inmates.
Prior to Cellular jail, it was the jail at Viper Island that was used by the British to inflict the worst form of torture and hardship on those who strove to free the country from the British rule.
Solitary cells, lock-ups, stocks and whipping stands characterized the Viper Jail. Women were also held.The conditions at the jail were such that the place got the notorious name, “Viper Chain Gang Jail.”
Those who had challenged the might of the British authority were chained together and confined at night by a chain running through coupling of irons around their legs. It was at this jail that members of the Chain Gang were put to hard labour.
The architecture of Cellular Jail was conceptualized on the basis of the ‘Pennsylvania System or Separate System’ theory in which separate confinement is necessary for each inmate for complete isolation from other inmates. No communication of any kind was possible between prisoners in the same or different wings.
Each and Every brick of the Cellular Jail has got a heart rending stories of resistance, sufferings and sacrifices. Cellular Jail stands as a mute spectator to the inhuman sufferings of the patriots, freedom fighters who were imprisoned in these cells. They even had to sacrifice their precious lives as victims of tyranny.
Often punishment were inhuman, it ranged from extra hours on the grinding mill to standing handcuffed for a week, gardening, drying copra, rope making, coir pounding, carpet making, weaving towels, to bar-fetters for six months, to confinement in solitary cells, to four days of starvation diet and to cross bars for ten days, a punishment which compelled the victim to keep his legs apart.
The presenters highlighted the sacrifices of freedom fighters who had to go through the inhuman sufferings at the Cellular Jail.
Mass hunger strikes were resorted to especially between 1932 and 1937. The last strike began in July 1937 and it continued for 45 days. The government finally decided to close down the penal settlement and all the political prisoners of Cellular Jail were repatriated to their respective states on mainland India by January 1938.
On December 29, 1943, political control of the islands was passed to the Azad Hind government of Subhas Chandra Bose. Bose visited Port Blair to raise the tricolour flag of the Indian National Army. During this, his only visit to the Andamans, he was kept carefully screened from the local population by the Japanese authorities.
Various attempts were made to inform him of the sufferings of the people of the Andamans, and the fact that many local Indian nationalists were at that time being tortured in the Cellular Jail.
The presenters also showcased the beautiful island beyond Cellular jail. The Andaman Islands are an Indian archipelago in the Bay of Bengal. These roughly 300 islands are known for their palm-lined, white-sand beaches, mangroves and tropical rainforests. Coral reefs supporting marine life such as sharks and rays make for popular diving and snorkeling sites. Indigenous Andaman Islanders inhabit the more remote islands, many of which are off limits to visitors.
Port Blair on South Andaman Island is the capital city of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Its seafront Cellular Jail hints at its past as a British penal colony and is now a memorial to Indian independence activists.
Inland, the Samudrika Marine Museum showcases local marine life. The Anthropological Museum focuses on the islands’ indigenous tribes. Cellular Jail Museum, a prominent and the most attractive sightseeing spot at Andaman and Nicobar Island for tourists across the globe comprises National Memorial houses, Freedom Fighters Photo and Exhibition Gallery, Art Gallery, and a Library on Freedom Movement. The place is sure to draw our memories back to the Indian Freedom Struggle.
Ross island or NC Bose Dweep has the ruins of an opulent British past in the form of a bakery, old office buildings, churches etc. Neil Island or Shaheed Dweep with white shores, coral reefs is often visited for snorkeling. Havelock island also named Swaraj island is home to Radhanagar beach. Travelers can enjoy scuba diving, fishing, snorkeling etc at Elephant island.
Rajesh Kumar Sahu, Director, Ministry of Tourism in his concluding remarks spoke about the launching of the Submarine Optical Fiber-Cable (OFC) connecting Andaman & Nicobar Islands to the mainland through video conferencing by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The connectivity would now enable endless opportunities in the islands. The Prime Minister said the Submarine Cable will help A&N in getting cheaper & better connectivity and all the benefits of Digital India, especially in improving online education, tele-medicine, banking system, online trading and in boosting tourism.
Dekho Apna Desh series is an effort to showcase India’s rich diversity under Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat and it is continuously spreading the spirit of Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat through virtual platforms.