Built Year – 1896 to 1906
Built by – British
Location – Port Blair
Purpose of building it – Solitary Confinement
How to Reach – Almost all flights to major cities of India are connected to Port Blair
Architecture – Pronged, Cellular
Entry Timings – 9 AM to 1 PM and 2 PM to 5 PM for National Memorial (Closed on Mondays)
Entry Fee – Rs. 30 per person, Rs. 200 for Photography, and Rs. 1000 for Videography, Prior permission is required for film shooting which is charged Rs. 10,000 per day.
Also known as Kala Pani, the Cellular Jail is an ancient colonial prison built by the British rulers during the colonial era in Port Blair, the capital city of Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Cellular Jail was built for the purpose to separate political prisoners where they faced a lot of violence by the British. The jail was built in 1896 and the construction was completed in 1906. Many notable freedom fighters were kept as prisoners in this jail, including the likes of Veer Savarkar aka Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Batukeshwar Dutt, and Yogendra Shukla.
There is a blatant aura behind the struggle of freedom fighters and the history of Cellular Jail. You just feel the strong patriotic passion when you visit the jail complex. It is now the National Memorial monument owned by the Government of India which presents the life of freedom fighters during the British rule.
The prison narrates the darkest and horrifying past of India’s fight for independence. In 1857, Britishers started using the islands as jails to keep freedom fighters behind the bars after Sepoy Mutiny. They chose the secluded islands of Andaman and Nicobar because of their distance from mainland India. The British want their prisoners to be left deprived of the country’s situation in the dark and separate them from society. Thousands of Indians were imprisoned here during the independence movement. The inhumane conditions inside the cells left many prisoners to die. Most of them perished and hanged till death. Currently, the Cellular Jail reminds of all the struggles that our freedom fighters faced just to witness the freedom of India. Such important contributions them will be remembered forever.
History and Architecture
Originally, the jail had seven wings stretched out in seven directions from the watchtower at the center. There were guardsmen appointed with an alarm bell to keep a watch over the prisoners. The jail was designed in the concept of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon which makes prisoners feel that they are being watched all the time as all parts of the prison are visible from its center. Later on, the famous French philosopher, Michel Foucault identified it as a part of surveillance. Today, around three of seven wings still survived.
There were a total of 693 cells with a dimension of 4.5×2.7m with a ventilator placed at around 3m high on the black wall. Each wing has a front corridor facing the black wall of its opposing wing so prisoners couldn’t contact with each other in any way. Among hunger, torture, and isolation, the isolation was considered to be the hardest punishment. Prisoners were given only rice which was mostly full of rainwater, dust, and wild grass. The inmates were thrashed if they caught speaking to each other and there were no beds to sleep.
The infamous “Hunger Strike”
All the prisoners went on a hunger strike for 45 days in 1933. Guards forcefully fed the hostages with milk from the 9th day of hunger strike. Manakrishna Nabadas and Mohit Maitra from Bengal and Mahavir Singh from Punjab were starved to death for their struggle. The pots of water were replaced with milk for others. An agitated prisoner asked his fellow prisoner, “What should we do?” Another prisoner replied, “Kick It!” The same reply echoed from one cell to another. A stream of milk flowed off soon from the cubicle-type cell of the prison.
At last, the British ended up accepting the demands of prisoners, including –
- Beds to sleep on
- Edible food
- Soap to clean up
- Communication with one another
- Finally, study as they were political prisoners
A lot of members of the fraternity circle from Ex-Andaman Political Prisoners visited the prison after the independence of India in 1947. With several discussions and debates, the government decided to preserve the jail and declared it a National Memorial without making any charge. The memorial was opened to the public on February 11, 1979, by the Prime Minister.
The entrance block leads you to its exhibition gallery with pictures of freedom fighters. It also has a gallery of Old Photograph and First War of Independence. There is a Netaji Gallery, Art Gallery, and Library on Freedom Movement. Swatantrya Jyot – the Eternal Flame of Freedom – burns constantly as a memorial to all the heroes and martyrs of freedom struggle who sacrificed their lives for this country.
Light & Sound Show
The Cellular Jail hosts a Light and Sound Show as a tribute to the brave freedom fighters and martyrs every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Timings for Hindi shows are from 6 PM to 7.15 PM and the English show is 7.15 PM. The ticket price for the show is Rs. 50 per person. The cellular jail turns a stage where live performance tells the heart-wrenching and dark past of the movement of independence apart from the lives of hostages kept in the British period.
Tips for Visitors
- Follow the guide to get a better insight into the history of the museum
- If you don’t want to capture the interiors of the museum on camera, it is better to leave your camera in your hotel room or vehicle. Or you need to pay Rs. 200 for photography.
The jail is located in Port Blair, the capital of Andaman & Nicobar. There are cab services and public transport vehicles available to get to the complex. It is recommended to book the Andaman Nicobar tour package to visit Cellular Jail and other attractions.