Around a decade ago I got an opportunity to visit the beautiful place –Andaman and Nicobar Island.
Though I did not get chance to visit many other beautiful islands, due to ferry and bus timings mismatch, I was equally happy to only stay at Port Blair and explore the nearby areas.
I visited the North Bay, Chidiya Tapu, Wandoor Beach, Cobyn Cove beach and stayed at Bay resort where I met the famous singer Hariharan too, a topic for another day.
But today I am going to talk about two important places – Ross Island and Cellular jail, as they both left an impact on me. Both of these places are so much in contradiction to each other- one was for luxury and comfort and the other one was a place for oppression and torture.
When I landed at the Veer Savarkar airport, I was mesmerized by the beauty around as that was my first experience of landing at an airport surrounded by so much greenery and water.
I was there for around 5 days and had to visit so many places, from museum to various islands and the most important cellular jail.
Andaman was always close to my heart as my uncle and aunt stayed there for more than three decades and used to tell me beautiful stories about the place, food, local tribes and the amazing scenery.
So let us come back to our main issue-
Ross Island was the headquarters of the British colony and today it houses its ruins of the buildings that were built during the British time.
We can reach this island by a short ferry ride from the Aberdeen jetty. Named after Captain Daniel Ross, the Ross Island is now renamed as the “Netaji Shubash Chandra Bose Dweep” by PM Narendra Modi in 2018.
It is no doubt a very beautiful island and one can feel that why British people chose this place for their luxurious stay. The Commissioner’s bungalow is definitely an attraction as it is situated at the highest point of this island. It has 12 big rooms, with tennis court and a big corridor and at that time Italian tiles were used inside this bungalow….commissioner was damn a lucky man… 😉
The Island had everything and even today we can see the remains of a market, bakery, stores, water treatment plant, church, tennis court, printing press (I absolutely loved it), secretariat, hospital, and even a cemetery.
It has a beautiful beach too at the rear side of the island. Uniquely interwoven man-caves were build all around Ross to help the important British officers escape during an attack.
But what is painful to see at this island is that all these structures were made by our freedom fighters. The freedom fighters that were sent here during the uprising against the British, built the structures that we can see today.
For years, the inmates were forced to clear the island’s impenetrable, humid forests to make way for this colonial complex. Over the years, convicts were sent to this island in hordes. Packed close in makeshift barracks with leaking roofs, inmates were overworked and disease-ridden.
All operations, including the construction of Cellular Jail was overseen from this island. The ruins of these old buildings made by Indian prisoners are textured by thick roots of peepal tree and also act as a showcase of skills, effort and hardships faced by Indian workers to make them.
Other key attractions of this island include the breath-taking Ferrar Beach, lot of deer , a museum, and Japanese bunkers built during the Japanese occupation of this island during the Second World War.
Ross Island was invaded by Japanese military forces during World War II. The Japanese managed to dislodge the British powers and exercised control over this island for a small period. The Japanese used Ross Island as a war settlement, meting out harsh treatment to the Indians that lived on the island as well as the prisoners.
Ross Island was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1941 and in my personal opinion , this island could not sustain or didn’t stand the test of time because here behind everything there was only and only injustice. You may beg to differ but that’s what I feel.
I was horrified when I had first seen the movie Saza-e Kalapani in Chankya theatre, New Delhi. (the only good thing about that movie outing was we-me and my brother – were interviewed by the City channel as to what we thought of the movie.)
The jail narrates the horrifying and darkest period in the history of India. The secluded islands were chosen due to their distant location from the main parts of the country where the prisoners would be kept in the dark depriving them of the situation in the country and excluding them from the society. During the independence movement of India, thousands of Indians were imprisoned in the cellular jail, many of them died due to inhumane conditions and many were hanged till death.
A sentence to ‘Kaala Paani’ implied throwing the freedom fighters in living hell to face unheard trials and brutalities of the British and to lead a life worse than death.
The prison is divided into seven wings which radiate from the main tower into seven different directions. Each cell only consists of a very small window and they are made in such a way that prisoners could not see each other. All the cells in one tower are located side by side and each tower faces the back wall of the other tower, so that by no means any prisoner can know what is happening to other inmates.
And this was the reason that the Savarkar brothers, Babarao and Vinayak, did not know that they were in different cells in the same jail for two years.
When I visited the tower and passed through the cells, I felt as if people were crying and requesting me to help them with their hands trying to pull me towards them. It haunted me and I immediately ran to the watch tower. I have experienced this only twice in my life- one at Auschwitz and another in Cellular jail.
What bothers me the most is- what was the fault of these prisoners?. They just wanted to stand for their rights in their own mother land, and for this they were given such inhuman treatment by British people.
Cellular jail is a big reminder of all the struggles our freedom fighters went through.
I sometime hear few Indians talking not so good about our own country and I feel so upset. I want them all to be mindful of the fact that many young people like you too had a dream and for that they wanted freedom and for that they had to give up their life- and that’s why we are free now to even speak bad about own motherland.
I want all parents to take their children once to Cellular jail or at least tell them about its history so that they know that here lived people who died for a better future for us. Who revolted, who fought, who went through hell so we could live a life of freedom and dignity.
Please look at your life differently and let us be grateful for whatever we have as we can never repay to those fighters for what they have given us. At least to honour their sacrifice, we should learn to live happily and make the best use of our freedom but responsibly.
(PS: i could not put any pics from my travel here as from 2006-2010, i lost all my pics and all my work due to some crash in my system and i cried for 2 days and it still hurts)
Thanks for reading.
Image by Bishnu Sarangi from Pixabay