Cellular Jail – Andaman’s Colonial Legacy
The Andaman and Nicobar islands to the south east of mainland India are now one of the most famous tourist places in the country. Cut off from the maddening fury of the mainland, it is nestled in the midst of the most serene natural beauty. It is difficult to imagine that this was one of the most feared parts of the nation in pre-independence times. Port Blair, the capital of this union territory, was home to the Cellular Prison. The prison is now a tourist attraction and monument.
Getting To Andaman
The famous Cellular Jail of Andaman is located in Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman Nicobar Islands archipelago, a Union Territory of India, to the south of the mainland. There are two ways to get to Port Blair – by air and by sea.
By Air – Jet Airways, Jet Lite, Air India, Spice Jet, and Go Air operate regular flights between Port Blair and Chennai and Port Blair and Kolkata. Veer Savarkar International Airport (INX) in Port Blair also operates international flights. Booking in advance is recommended as the flights are expensive during tourist season.
By Sea – Weekly ship services ply between Port Blair and Chennai, Kolkata, and Vishakhapatnam and take up to 4 to 5 days. Most of these are passenger ships and luxuries are limited.
Local buses, taxis, and autos can be hired to get around within Port Blair.
History of Cellular Jail
Deportation to Port Blair started as early as 1857, following the Indian Rebellion (Sepoy Mutiny – First War of Independence). Many of the islands in Andaman were penal colonies to which Indian freedom fighters were banished for imprisonment or execution. The Cellular Jail was constructed between 1896 and 1906. Prisoners were deported here both from the mainland and the nearby Viper Island. During World War II, the Japanese invaded and captured Port Blair and the Cellular Jail. Following India’s independence, it became a famous tourist attraction.
Construction and Layout
The Cellular Jail of Port Blair, Andaman, was constructed as a Panopticon. The panopticon is a circular prison built around a central surveillance station; in this case the prison of Port Blair was built in the form of a seven-spoke wheel. The spokes or prison cells were guarded from three watch towers built within the premises. The three-storied prison had about 696 cells each, separated from the other by brick walls and metal doors. The only outlet was a ventilator about 10 feet above the door. Each spoke and line of cells opened up to the back of the next spoke, disallowing any dialogue or contact between inmates. The bricks for the construction of the Cellular Jail were brought here from Myanmar (formerly Burma) and the construction was undertaken by the prisoners themselves. This jail was one of the strongest constructions of colonial India and was believed to be earthquake resistant.
Kala Pani Ki Saza
Deportation to the Cellular Jail of Andaman, referred to in Hindi as the Kala Pani ki Saza, was one of the most feared sentences in the times of struggle for Indian independence. Before the Cellular Jail was built, the penal colony was a wilderness where British offenders were left to fend for themselves amidst the most venomous reptiles and merciless furies of nature. Once the jail was built, special care was taken to ensure solitary confinement. This is considered one of the murkiest aspects of India’s colonial history. Many of those sentenced to the Kala Pani died during their voyage to the island due to the inhuman conditions of transport. Chained together, kept without food, water and any basic amenities, and tortured, most of them had lost their health, sanity, and even lives by the time they reached the Cellular Jail. The plight of those who landed there was worse. Inmates were subjected to inhuman labour and impossible targets. Those unable to achieve them were subjected to terrible torture and/or executed. Even strict solitary confinement was enforced. At times, there were reports of outbreak of the plague or other epidemics in the Cellular Jail. Treatment and basic human rights were denied. It was referred to as “Hell on Earth”. A trip to the Cellular Jail of Andaman is a great reminder of the pains and struggles which were undertaken by freedom fighters in their endeavour to win back India’s lost freedom.
A sentence to the Cellular Jail of Port Blair, Andaman, was reserved for the political prisoners of colonial India. Many of the Indian freedom fighters deemed incendiary to the masses were sent here. The most famous inmate of the Cellular Jail was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, better known as Veer Savarkar, a revolutionary. Other famous freedom fighters who were inmates of the Cellular Jail include Diwan Singh Kalepani, Batukeshwar Dutt, Maulana Ahmadullah, Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi, Babarao Savarkar (brother of Veer Savarkar), Shadan Chandra Chatterjee, Bhai Parmanand, Vaman Rao Joshi, Sohan Singh, Nand Gopal, and Yogendra Shukla.
Taking a Tour
The Cellular Jail or Port Blair, Andaman is now a well-preserved museum and memorial to the inmates and freedom fighters of India. Four of the seven spokes or lines of prison cells have been destroyed. Former inmates and nationalists protested the destruction and raised a demand to preserve the evidences of the immense struggle and sacrifices of our freedom fighters. Visitors may now visit the three remaining rows of cells, the gallows, and the offices. Many photographs and items from colonial India are preserved there. A trip to the Cellular Jail may be saddening to many but it is on immense value and an educational experience for anyone interested in Indian history.
Cellular Jail Visitor Information
Cellular Jail Address – Cellular Jail, Near G.B. Pant Hospital, Port Blair
Closed on Mondays and Public Holidays
Cellular Timings – 9 am to 12 pm and 1 pm to 4.15 pm
Entry Ticket Rates for Cellular Jail –
- Adult and Children over 5 years age: INR 10 per person
- Children below 5 years: No admission charges
- Still Camera – INR 25
Video Camera – INR 100
Light and sound show timings –
Hindi Shows – All days 6 pm and 7.15 pm (except Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)
English Shows – Monday , Wednesday, and Friday at 7.15 pm