Kalapani in Sanskrit means the fatal water! In Sanskrit, ‘kal’ means time or death and ‘pani’ means water. The Cellular Jail or Kalapani, as it is popularly known, is a popular tourist destination in Port Blair. This colonial jail was built by the British government in the Andaman Islands. Cellular Jail is a dark side of Indian freedom struggle. The jail was built to exile Indian political prisoners who refused to cooperate with the British.
Photo by Ankur P
They kept these prisoners isolated from the others on the secluded island. The Cellular jail witnessed the most dreadful punishments on prisoners. Freedom fighters like Veer Savarkar and Batukeshwar Dutt were confined in this jail.
Photo by Just Jimish
British rulers started using the Andaman and Nicobar Islands from 1857 (Sepoy Mutiny). But this jail was built around 1906. The Sepoy mutiny is considered the first Indian freedom war against the British. This was suppressed by the British and they sent most of the rebels to this Island jail. In March 1868, 238 prisoners tried to escape from the island and were arrested again by April. The British hung 87 of them to death.
Photo by Saktishree
Many patriots and rebels were sent to this Island from India and Burma which were under British rule. They were either to be hanged or kept in custody and used as slaves. They wanted to keep prisoners in a safe place where they can’t go out or get support from the outside. By the 19th century, the Indian freedom struggle reached its peak and they had many high-profile prisoners to keep in safe custody. They had an idea of the Cellular jail where they can keep prisoners intact. The prisoners were tied with chains and they used them as slaves to work for their constructions. Thus they started working for Cellular jail from 1896 onwards and completed it by 1906. The Japanese conquered this island from the British in 1942, but later, in 1945 the British took it back. Subhash Chandra Bose had visited the Andaman island during the Japanese regime.
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The Cellular Jail has seven long corridors which are connected to a central tower. This will look like a huge wheel. Since each tower is connected to the centre, it resembles a spoke. It was based on Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon concept. Jeremy was a famous philosopher and social theorist from Britain. The bricks coloured in puce were imported from Burma. The middle tower stood tall like a watchtower. They kept a good watch on each wing and if anything went wrong they could raise an alarm by ringing a huge bell.
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Each wing has three storeys and the cells were made in such a way that each cell will face the back side of the other. No prisoner can see or interact with the other under this design. Even the wing cells were parallel to each other such that the prisoners can’t see one another. The cell was so small that it could contain a single prisoner only. Their idea was to mentally torture the prisoners by isolating them. There are nearly 700 cells in it measuring hardly 5 by 3 m2 and a ventilator placed at 3 m height.
Salute to the Martyrs
Freedom fighters like Dawan Singh Kalepani, Batukeshwar Dutt, Savarkar brothers and Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi were confined here. There were cases when brothers never knew about the others’ confinement in the jail because of the jail’s unique structure. The torture and inhuman behaviour by jailors called for riots in the jail. In 1930, the outside world came to know about the prisoners’ plight because of a Sathyagrah they took up. The British government finally decided to send back the freedom fighters by 1938 when Tagore and Gandhiji got involved strongly.
Photo by Ankur P
Since 1969, the Cellular Jail or Kalapani is a National monument that commemorates the Indian Freedom struggle. It is converted into a hospital now with a beautiful garden. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions of the Andaman Islands. The sound and light show in the evenings here attract many tourists.
Featured Photo by AbhijeetRane