India became an independent country from Colonial rule on 15th August, 1947 after many years of freedom struggle. The freedom movement took many lives and is filled with bloody & dark chapters of brutality, violence and harsh punishment by the colonial rulers. One of the most foremost memorial to the dark chapter of Indian freedom struggle in the Cellular Jail in Port Blair, in the archipelago of Andaman & Nicobar Islands (India). I visited the Cellular Jail, now a National Memorial on my holiday to Andaman Islands and it was a surreal goose bumpy experience for me.
Cellular Jail can be listed as one of the foremost dark tourism destinations in India, along with Jallianwala Bagh. It’s conception laid in the purpose of the British rulers to ‘provide harsh punishment, specifically isolation & exclusion on a penal space’. It was built to house mainly the convicted Indian freedom fighters, isolate them from mainland India and break them down (both mentally and physically).
The Cellular Jail, now called National Memorial, was constructed between 1896 and 1906. It was built in the form of 7 wings which radiated from a central tower (Much like the spokes of a wheel). In each tower, there were single cells in which an individual prisoner was housed. In fact, the name ‘cellular’ Jail came from the single prison cells which formed the prison. The design of the cells was such that no prisoner could communicate with another; each cell was 4.5 metres x 2.7 metres in size with a ventilator (but no light source) located at a height of three metres. In addition, the front of every cell in each wing, looked out to the back of the next (see pic below).
The isolation of each prisoner was so successful that two famous freedom martyrs Veer Savarar and his brother spent 2 full years in Cellular Jail without each knowing the other’s presence.
Walking through the prison corridors and looking at the cell sent goosebumps all over my body. I could imagine a lone person spending his time in this small cell, made to undergo harsh work and punishment in the daytime and spending his nights in total darkness, for years at end!
The memorial has an indoor & outdoor exhibition which lists most of the main freedom struggle prisoners here, the various important places (such as hanging area, penal punishment area, etc) hosts a light & sound show which depicts very expressively, the dark times of Cellular Jail.
The light & sound show is held in the evening and it was a poignant reminder of the many struggles our predecessors went through so that we could live in a free country.
Sitting in Cellular Jail watching the show, I strongly felt that everyone in our country should come and visit this memorial (especially our politicians) and spend some time here; it will definitely make them contemplate about our country & not take our freedom lightly.