Cellular Jail

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The Cellular Jail, also known as Kālā Pānī (Hindi for black waters), was a colonial prison in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India. The prison was used by the British especially to exile political prisoners to the remote archipelago. Many notable independence activists such as Batukeshwar Dutt, Yogendra Shukla among others and the infamous Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, were imprisoned here during the struggle for India's independence. Today, the complex serves as a national memorial monument.

Quotes[edit]

  • The solitary cells were so arranged as to prevent any communication among prisoners. It was named ‘Cellular Jail’ because there were only cells and no barracks.... As he entered this hell, Vinayak’s eyes caught sight of a festoon of manacles and handcuffs of every shape and size adorning the walls. Heavy shackles for the feet, iron bands for the legs, and other instruments of torture were displayed like proud war trophies.
    • Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883–1924 (2019)
  • The first thing that one noticed in the jail was the distinction made between the Hindu and non-Hindu prisoners with regard to their religious traditions. On entry into the cell, the first act that was committed for a Hindu prisoner was that his sacred thread was cut off. However, Muslim prisoners were allowed to sport their beards, as were Sikhs with regard to their hair. It was Barrie’s idea of creating discord between the Hindus and Muslims and hence he placed the Hindu prisoners under the most bigoted of Muslim warders and jamadars. Most of them were fanatical Pathans, Sindhis and Baluchis from Sindh and the North-West Frontier Province. It gave these men a special thrill to brutalize a Hindu kafir.
    • Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883–1924 (2019)
  • There was an apprehension that Hindu guards might sympathize and fraternize with us. Therefore all the masters of our fate, the Petty Officers and warders, were chosen from among the Mahomedans, either Hindusthani, Punjabi or Pathan. A Pathan is what we know ordinarily as a Kabuli fruit-seller. But in Port Blair they form the Myrmidons of king Yama [the God of Death]. Ask them to capture a man, they will bring his head. Lazy and slothful and corrupt themselves, they are violently overzealous in extracting work from other people. 15 . . . ‘Ramlal sits a little crosswise in the file, give him two blows on the neck’, ‘Mustapha did not get up immediately he was told to, so pull off his moustache’, ‘Bakaulla is late in coming from the latrine, apply the baton and unloose the skin of his posterior’—such were the beautiful proceedings by which they maintained discipline in the prison. 16
    • Barin Ghose in his biography, quoted in Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883–1924 (2019)
  • Who can describe the suffering—these agonies of mind and body? I may give you an instance, however to point the moral. Of all the hardships of personal life in the Cellular Jail of the Andamans—gruelling work, scanty food and clothing, occasional thrashing and others—none was so annoying and disgusting as its provision for urinals and lavatories.
    • V. D. Savarkar, quoted in Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883–1924 (2019)
  • As soon as I was locked up inside the room and the door was shut, I would begin to write on the wall with that pencil [made of the thorns] in columns, which I drew upon it. All the walls of the 7th chawl were thus scrawled over and each constituted for me a book by itself. For example, the cell in which I was confined to weave the stranded cord was written with a full outline of Spencer’s ‘First Principles’. My poem ‘Kamala’ was composed and copied in full on the walls of this seventh division. In another cell I wrote all the definitions of political economy as I had learnt from Mill’s Work on the subject. My object was that when I was changed from that room to another, a political prisoner, brought in there, may learn those definitions as he was learning that subject from me. With a little management such a student could succeed being put up in this lock-up. He could then learn them off in a month before his turn came for transference elsewhere. As I was being changed from division to division I saw to it that every division and every cell in that division had its writings on the walls from my improvised pen. And the political prisoners who had turned students took the fullest advantage of these written tablets—their books of study. 47
    • V. D. Savarkar, quoted in Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883–1924 (2019)
  • In jail there are various kinds of work to do, the most difficult being the oil-mill, whether by hand or by foot. The latter means that four men are tied to the mill and have to go round and round a centre post just as bullocks do. They have to press out 30 lb. of oil during the day . . . in the oil-mill work by hand you have to turn a handle round and round during the whole day, and thus press out about 30 lb. of oil . . . chopping cocoanut bark is another species of work . . . Ropemaking is the lightest work one gets in jail . . . the regulation about punishment for short work is handcuffs for seven days for the first offence; for the second offence a week’s handcuffs and four days’ ganji . For the next offence the punishment was fetters for a month or two, then cross-bar for ten days and for further repetition of the offence—fetters for six months or so and solitary confinement . . . the work outside jail is still more dreadful.
    • Madame Cama’s Bande Mataram, quoted in Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883–1924 (2019)
  • In the dark confines of Port Blair’s Cellular Jail, we see a gradual metamorphosis of Vinayak from a young, brash radical revolutionary to a more sober and strategic planner, whose focus was shifting towards an organization of Hindu society. One of the important causes for this was his experience at jail. Right from his early days here, and much before the creation of the library, Vinayak noticed that the Muslim warders and jamadars forbade Hindu prisoners from reading their scriptures. They would look at the pictures in some of the books, including the Ramayana of Tulsidas, and comment that it was utterly indecent and deemed it their religious duty to disperse the gathering that read such books. After petitioning higher officials, the Hindu prisoners managed to get permission to keep their religious books. Hindus received few or no religious holidays, but the same provision was readily made for Muslim prisoners. But the matter, Vinayak realized, went beyond just this partial treatment. Several Hindu prisoners who were deported to the Andamans were being converted to Islam and began assuming Muslim names. As the ‘chalans’ began to reach the jail, simple and young Hindu prisoners would be segregated and subjected to extreme physical torture and labour by Muslim jamadars. With inducements of sweets and tobacco and less labour, the young lads would not mind switching faiths if that meant a more comfortable prison life. Immediately, they would be taken over to the other side, and made to dine with Muslim prisoners. The jail had distinct kitchens for Hindus and Muslims, and separate cooks as well. They were made to eat separately too. All it took to ‘convert’ someone was to make the prisoner eat with fellow Muslims, where they ‘were served Mahomedan food’ (possibly meaning beef). That would ensure their complete ban from their Hindu brethren who would thereafter refuse to accept them. They would be quickly given Muslim names and that would complete the so-called conversion process. ...But here the thralldom of the Pathan jamadars and the incentive of less torture, if they complied, forced many Hindus towards conversion. ‘Every week or fortnight,’ notes Vinayak, ‘I had seen one Hindu prisoner at dinner sitting in the rank of his Mahomedan fellows. It was impossible for me to witness the scene. But I was only a prisoner here; what could I do to save them? I tried hard to infuriate the Hindu prisoners against this act of sacrilege. But one and all of them I found so callous. Each one of them used to say, “What is it to me?” and “What do I care?”’
    • Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883–1924 (2019)
  • Hundreds of prisoners in the jail showered their gratitude upon me. All of them knew one thing very well, and it was that during ten years of my association with them, I had carried on incessant agitation in the Cellular Jail and outside for giving them an organized existence. I had carried on agitation in the press, through petitions, through civil resistance, through questions asked in the Imperial Legislature at Delhi, through protests, correspondence and personal letters, to draw the pointed attention of India and its Central Government to their condition in the Andamans. And it was my persistence at it that had made the matter a live issue before the Jail Commission. To those who would felicitate me I said, ‘At last the Andamans as a prison-colony is no more, the Cellular Jail is dismantled. This change is not the result of any single-handed endeavour. It is the reward of ten years of continuous and all-sided agitation, to the success of which all of you, and especially the political convicts, have made a tremendous contribution by your trials and tribulations throughout this period. And if it has succeeded even partially, the credit is yours.’ I told them so and offered my sincerest felicitations to them in return. I added how fine it would have been for Mr Barrie to be alive that day. Mr Barrie used to taunt me that all my efforts were to go for naught and add that I was dashing my head against a stone-wall, that [sic] was not the wall that would break, but that my head would break. I could have told him that day as follows: ‘Mr Barrie, my head had received many bruises by my dashing it continuously against your prison-walls. No doubt about it. But behold! The wall of your prison has now been cracked and will soon crumble down. And I am here alive with all the bruises I have received in the fight.’
    • V. D. Savarkar, quoted in Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883–1924 (2019)

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