New Delhi, August 12, 2020.
As India gears up to celebrate its 74th Independence Day celebrations , the Ministry of Tourism’s DekhoApnaDesh Webinar Series presented the webinar titled “Cellular Jail : Letters , Memoirs & Memories on 10th August 2020.
The 46th in the series of DekhoApnaDeshwebinars, the “Cellular Jail :Letters , Memoirs & Memories”was presented by Ms. NidhiBansal, CEO, India City Walks & India with locals, Dr.Soumi Roy, Head of Operations, India with Locals and India Heritage Walks and Ms. SomritaSengupta, City Explorer, India City Walks. DekhoApnaDesh Webinar Series is an effort to showcase India’s rich diversity under Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat and it is continuously spreading spirit of Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat through virtual platform.
The Webinar showcased the journey of India’s independence struggle through the galleries and cells of the Cellular jail. The lives and stories of some of the most famous political prisoners like Veer Savarkar, B.K.Dutt, Fazl-e-HaqKhairabadi, Barindra Kumar Ghose, SushilDasgupta were presented. The important contribution made by NetajiSubhas 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 threat to British supremacy and the mid 19th century shook the English empire. The political atmosphere of 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 ‘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 rendering 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 victim 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.