The Cellular Jail or Kalapani

The Cellular Jail, also known as Kalapani (Black Water), was a colonial prison situated on South Andaman Island, one of 572 islands forming Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India.

The Celluar Jail or Kalapani

Origin and Discovery of the Andamans:

Owing to their central position along the trade routes of India, Burma and far east many mentions of the islands are found in ancient history. Their excellent harbours served both as a refugee in the monsoons as well as a place to replenish water supply. The earliest mention of the islands and the inhabitants has been seen by some in the Ramayana of  Hindu Mythology which is regarded as indicating the inhabitants  of the Andamans by its references  to the “Hanuman” or “monkey peoples”, the aboriginal antagonists of the Aryan immigrants in India. According the Temple (census report, 1901) the Malays refer to them as ‘Handuman’, a corrupt form of Hanuman which has been carried down to them in story and tradition. Malays for many centuries used the islands for piratical purposes and for a trade in Andamanese slaves.  (p 5, M.C.C Bonington)

The first settlement in the island was established on Chatham Island at Port Cornwallis, now Port Blair in 1789.

The idea of establishing a permanent penal settlement in these islands was germinated in the minds of the British Rulers in 1857 to curb India’s First War of Independence. A Committee of experts visited the islands for a survey in December 1857 and submitted a report to the Government in January1858. As per its decision the first batch of 200 convicts arrived on the island on 10th March 1858 under the overall charge of  Dr. J. P. Walker.

The construction of cellular jail started in October 1896 and was completed in 1906. There are 698 cells and each individual cell measures 13.5 ft x 7 ft with an iron grill door. The name, “cellular jail” is derived from the solitary individual cells which prevented any prisoner from communicating with any other. The prisoners were in solitary confinement.

This massive puce coloured building had seven wings. A central tower at the intersection was used by guards to keep watch on the inmates. A large bell was kept in the tower to raise the alarm in any eventuality. The Cellular Jail currently has only three wings intact, with execution room, fetters, crossbar fetters, neck ring shackle and leg iron chains bears the testimony to the ways of extreme solitary confinement and physical hardships that were resorted to suppress the Indian freedom movement by British colonial rulers. The jail became infamous for the inhuman treatment meted out to the inmates by the jail officials which was reinforced through the architecture based on the Separate System .

Some of the most distinguished freedom fighters incarcerated here are Motilal Verma, Babu Ram Hari, Pandit Permanand, Ladha Ram, Ullaskar Dutt, Barin Kumar Ghosh, Bhai Parmanand, Prithvi Singh Azad, Pulin Das, Gurumukh Singh, to name a few. Groups of revolutionaries charged with Alipore bomb case, Nasik conspiracy case, Lahore conspiracy case, Chittagong armory raid case, Gaya conspiracy case etc were also brought to the jail.

In 1942 , after the empire of Japan invaded the Andaman islands and drove the British out, the Jail then became home to British prisoners. During the Japanese invasion two out of the seven wings of the Jail were demolished. But soon after the end of World War II in 1945, the British resumed control over the place.

After India got free from the British rule ,on 11th February, 1979, as a mark of respect to the freedom fighters, the Cellular Jail was dedicated to the nation by the then Prime Minister, Shri Morarji Desai. The Jail now stands as a National Memorial of great historical importance.

At the main entrance of the jail stands the double -storeyed administration block. There’s another two storeyed building on the left side near the entrance of the jail which served as a jail hospital. On the plinth of this building now stands the martyrs column. Near the compound wall to the right of the main entrance were the gallows, capable of hanging three persons, simultaneously with a separate  door in the outer compound wall for removing the corpses. Adjacent to the gallows were kitchens with Hindu and Muslim sections. a well was dug in the yard between two sections  for the supply of sweet water.

The entrance block of the National Memorial houses freedom fighters photo exhibition gallery in the ground floor. The first floor of the building has an art gallery, Netaji gallery and a library on freedom movement. Gallery on first war of independence and old photographs gallery have also been setup in the premises of the National Memorial.

An eternal flame of Freedom-Swatantraya Jyoti has been  erected in the vicinity of the cellular jail in memory of all the freedom fighters and martyrs.

An added attraction in the National memorial is the programme of sound and light . This spell binding show, centered around the wandering spirit of the cellular jail , draws your memories back to those years of freedom struggle .


Reference and source :

  • Bonington, M.C.C ; Census of India , 1931, The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Volume II
  • KALA PANI 1958 ,