(Last Updated on : 22-03-2012)
By all accounts the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
have turned into a sacred place because of the sacrifices made by the freedom fighters. Immediately after Independence, the 'Ex-Andaman Political Prisoners' Fraternity Circle' took up the issue with the Government of India for preserving the Cellular Jail
as a National Memorial. The proposal was accepted, the jail was declared a National Memorial and on 11th February 1979, it was dedicated to the nation by the then Prime Minister, Morarji Desai
, in the presence of a number of who had remained gaoled in this jail, as political prisoners
under the British regime. In his inaugural address, the prime minister had desired that a centre for research should also be started to understand and learn more about the lives of these patriots and on their contribution in the freedom struggle. The Ex-Andaman Political Prisoners' Fraternity Circle also desired that the record of case-history tickets of each freedom fighter imprisoned in the jail be prepared and kept in the jail library for future generations.
A beginning has already been made. On the second floor of the central tower of the Cellular Jail are engraved the names of about 513 freedom fighters and revolutionaries, who were gaoled here. It is a six-door tower and on each side of the door, there is a marble slab. There are twelve marble slabs on the outer side of the walls of the central tower with names inscribed. There are six more marble slabs with the names of the freedom fighters on the internal side of the external walls of the Cellular Jail facing the central tower. Earlier, the names of those patriots who had attained martyrdom were on a wooden board on the first floor of the tower.
The following names were written:
Pandit Ram Rakha
Baba Bhan Singh Sunet
Kehar Singh Marhana
Nand Singh (of village Burj Raika (District Amritsar) of 23rd Cavalry.)
Nand Singh (2nd)
Mohan Kishore Namdev
Barring the first two, all the others are from post-cellular jail period. The patriots of the First War of Independence and thereafter but prior to the Cellular Jail period were deported to these islands in thousands. Only a few privileged could return back to their homes. There were other patriots from the post-Cellular Jail period also who could not return home as they too attained martyrdom here.
Rulia Singh Sarabha
Natha Singh Dhotian
Roda Singh Lande
Seth Budha Singh of Burma case
Some changes have been made in the Cellular Jail since 1990-92. The entry to the Cellular Jail from the main gate in the centre of the building is now not permitted. A nominal entry is charged per person and an extra fee is also charged, if one wishes to take one's camera inside. It is open from 9 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and from 1.30 p.m. to 5.00 p.m. and remains shut on Mondays.
After one enters, one will notice the photo gallery on the right. The Andaman and Nicobar Administration, Port Blair has brought out a pamphlet titled 'A Memorial to the Nation-Cellular Jail', which details the names of the freedom fighters.
After crossing the photo gallery, one enters the high roofed corridor, through which the freedom fighters with chains on their feet and handcuffs used to enter the Cellular Jail from the outer gate of the corridor.
After crossing the corridor, one enters the museum, which is opposite the photo gallery. The museum houses umpteen articles and memorabilia like utensils, a uniform of a petty officer, models of prisoners working on the oil-press, a jail uniform made of gunny bag material. There is also a wooden bed, about one foot high with a blanket. In the adjoining room, there are more models of prisoners in cross bar fetters, bar fetters and chain fetters. The rooms on the first floor above the museum in the Cellular Jail are being used as a library.
On the top of the photo gallery is the Netaji Gallery, which was inaugurated by Ishwari Parshad Gupta, the governor, Andaman and Nicobar Islands on 23rd January 1997. Many photographs relating to Netaji are on display in this gallery. Adjoining the Netaji Gallery is the National Memorial Art Gallery, which was inaugurated by Vakkom Purushotam It. governor, Andaman and Nicobar Islands on 28th May 1993. On the left of the courtyard was the jail hospital. However, in 1985, a national column was raised here "in the sacred memory of the heroes of Indian war of independence of 1857 and all those brave sons of India who were incarcerated in these islands during their ceaseless struggle for freedom of our beloved motherland".
A little before the national column, the Suwitcwtra Jyot (the flame of independence) has been installed which remains lit day and night.
The saga of this heroic struggle is now brought alive in the Cellular Jail, Port Blair in a moving Son et Lumiere (Light and Sound Show) which was inaugurated by Lt. General R.S. Dyal (Retd.) lt. governor Andaman and Nicobar Islands on 20th October 1990 in the presence of a number of freedom fighters (ex-Andaman Political Prisoners). The show begins with a brief historical and mythological reference to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands by the wandering spirit of the Cellular Jail. The spirit takes one on to a journey through the period when freedom fighters like Veer Savarkar, Ullaskar Dutt, Sohan Singh Bhakna, Bhai Parmanand, Mahabir Singh and a host of others faced unimaginable miseries at the hands of David Barrie and other jailors from time to time. Undeterred, they stood firm in their resolve to carry on their fight for freedom, with courage and dignity.
Close by is the flogging stand. Next to it is the workshop, which is approximately 58.6 meters long and 5.6 meters wide. Earlier it was the area where the prisoners used to work but now a part of it has been converted into a museum. The gallery displays photographs of Ross Island
, Chattam, Cellular Jail under construction, Hope Town, Viper Island from the period from 1872 to 1945. There is also a photograph of Sher Ali, who had killed Lord Mayo in Hope Town in 1872. These photographs have been obtained from the British Library. The other part of this gallery has general photographs from the freedom movement like Jawaharlal Nehru
, Mahatma Gandhi
and other patriots.
On the second floor of Wing No.7, was where Veer Savarkar had been confined in cell No. 123 which could be accessed only after opening two gates. From his cell, the gallow room was visible, which may have been done deliberately so that he could see some prisoner or the other being hanged every day. While in jail he had written the poem "Kamla' which now written on a board hangs on the wall, as also an 'Ode to Liberty'.
The airport at Port Blair was, on 4th May 2002 renamed Veer Savarkar Airport as part of due of the recognition of the great patriot.
The Cellular Jail, is a living memory to be cherished, a sanctified place and is a source of great inspiration for the future generations of this country.