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            The history of the British in the Andaman and Nicobar islands began in 1788 when Lord Cornwallis, the then Governor General of India, thought of colonizing the islands and instructed Lt. Archibald Blair and Lt. R. H. Colebrook of the Royal Navy to Survey the islands and submit a report on their suitability for a British Colony. 

According to the recommendation of these two officers the first British settlement was founded in 1789 on Chatham Island, near Port Cornwallis (Now Port Blair). After the Great Revolt in 1857, the British Government thought of establishing a penal settlement here. In March 1858, the first penal settlement was established, with 200 prisoners, mostly rebels from the Indian Army. Initially the convicts were kept in a jail at Viper island, which is about 15 minutes boat ride from Port Blair. 

The island had a jail, gallows, Kutcheri, Doctor's residence, etc. Subsequently, this Jail was abandoned and the Cellular Jail at Port Blair was constructed.  


            During the time of successive Superintendents, E. H. Man, General Steward, and Col. Cadell, the number of convicts increased and they were subjected to inhuman tortures at the hands of the British jailors. The foundation of the famous Cellular Jail was laid in 1896. The building was completed in 1906. Many changes, both in policy and practice, took place during Colonel Ferrar's time, which, inter alia, included concession to the convicts, mainland visit, etc. Cellular Jail, located at Port Blair, is a mute witness to the tortures meted out to the freedom fighters, who were incarcerated in this Jail. The Jail, completed in the year 1906 acquired the name, 'cellular' because it is entirely made up of individual cells for the solitary confinement of the prisoners.

 It originally was a seven pronged, puce colored building with a Central Tower acting as its fulcrum and a massive structure comprising honey-comb like corridors. The building was subsequently damaged and presently three out of seven prongs are intact. The Jail now a place of pilgrimage for all freedom loving people, has been declared a National Memorial.

 

            The penal settlement established here by the British after the First War of Independence-e in 1857 was the beginning of the agonizing story of the massive and awful Jail at Viper Island followed by the Cellular Jail. The patriots who raised their voice against the British Raj were sent to this Jail, where many perished.

Netaji Subash Chandra Bose hoisted the first Tri-Color on 30th December, 1943 at a place near this Jail. During the 50th year of India's Independence, the living freedom fighters and widows of the freedom fighters, who were incarcerated in the Cellular Jail were honored by the President of India on 30th December, 1997. A commemorative coin and a postal stamp on Cellular Jail were also released on this occasion.

The door of the cells were so made that while walking in the prisoners feet rubbed against the walls so that he was always in a state of pain and suffering. 


            The Cellular formation also helped in single guard manning the prisoners. The British officers stayed at the Island across, so that in case of mutiny they are safe. The prisoners were punished brutally and were expected to take out minimum output of work.

Earlier on fierce convicts were sent here but after the struggle of independence the freedom fighters were sentenced here so that they do not interact with the outside world. Mahatma Gandhi was also imprisoned here.

One of the little known freedom fighters Veer Savarkar was imprisoned in solitary confinement for a period of ten years and during which his younger brother was also besides him but he never came to know of it.

There are many many tales of this cellular jail. I have been to the solitary confinement cell which has no cross ventilation and light. Our freedom has not been gained so easily from Britishers. 

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