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The Cellular Jail, also known as Kālā Pānī (Hindi: काला पानी क़ैद ख़ाना, literally 'Black water', a term for the deep sea and hence exile) situated in the Andamanmarker and Nicobar Islands (Indiamarker) was completed in 1906. The prison was known to house many notable Indian activists during the struggle for India's independence.


The Cellular Jail is one of the murkiest chapters in the history of the colonial rule in India. Though the prison was started only in 1896, the history of using the Andaman island as a prison dates back to the Indian rebellion of 1857.
The Ross Island Prison Headquarters, 1872
Shortly after the rebellion was crushed, the British sent thousands to the gallows, hung them up from trees, or tied them to cannons and blew them up. Those who survived were exiled for life to the Andamans to sever their connections with their families and their country. 200 Freedom Fighters were transported to the islands under the custody of Major James Pattison Walker, a military doctor who had been warden of the prison at Agramarker. Another 733 from Karachimarker arrived in April, 1868. More prisoners arrived from India and Burma as the settlement grew. Anyone who belonged to the Mughal royal family, or who had sent a petition to Bahadur Shah Zafar during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 was liable to be deported to the islands.

Port Blair - Viper New Jails under construction
The remote islands were considered to be a suitable place to punish the freedom fighters. Not only were they isolated from the mainland, they could also be used in chain gangs to construct prisons, buildings and harbor facilities. Many died in this enterprise. They served to colonise the island for the British.

By the late 19th century the independence movement had picked up momentum. As a result, the number of prisoners being sent to the Andamans started growing and the need for a high-security prison was felt.


The construction of the prison started in 1896 and was completed in 1906. The original building was a puce-colored brick building. The bricks used to build the building were brought from Burmamarker, known today as Myanmarmarker.

A wing of the Cellular Jail.
Also shown is the central tower with conical roof.
The building had seven wings, at the centre of which a central tower served as the fulcrum and was used by guards to keep watch on the inmates. The wings radiated from the tower in straight lines, much like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. A large bell was kept in the tower to raise the alarm in any eventuality.

Each of the seven wings had three stories upon completion. There were no dormitories and a total of 698 cells. Each cell was 4.5 metres x 2.7 metres in size with a ventilator located at a height of three metres. The name, "cellular jail", derived from the solitary cells which prevented any prisoner from communicating with any other. They were all in solitary confinement.


Solitary confinement was implemented as the British government desired to ensure that political prisoners and revolutionaries be isolated from each other. The Andaman island served as the ideal setting for to achieve this.

Most prisoners of the Cellular Jail were independence activists. Some famous inmates of the Cellular Jail were Dr. Diwan Singh Kalepani, Maulana Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi, Yogendra Shukla, Batukeshwar Dutt, Maulana Ahmadullah, Movli Abdul Rahim Sadiqpuri, Babarao Savarkar, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Bhai Parmanand, V.O.Chidambaram Pillai, Subramaniam Shiva, Sohan Singh, Vaman Rao Joshi and Nand Gopal.

In March 1868, 238 prisoners tried to escape. By April they were all caught. One committed suicide and of the remainder Superintendent Walker ordered 87 to be hanged.

Hunger strikes by the inmates during the early 1930s called attention to the inhumane conditions of their imprisonment. Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore intervened. The government decided to repatriate the political prisoners from the Cellular Jail in 1937-38.

Japanese Occupation

The Empire of Japanmarker invaded the Andaman islands in 1942 and drove the British out. The Cellular Jail now became home to British prisoners. During this period, Subhash Chandra Bose also visited the islands.

Two out of the seven wings of the Jail were demolished during the Japanese regime.

In 1945, the British reoccupied the islands after World War II ended.

Post Independence

Another two wings of the Jail were demolished after India achieved independence. However, this led to protests from several former prisoners and political leaders who saw it as a way of erasing the tangible evidence of their persecution. The remaining three wings and the central tower were therefore converted into a National Memorial in 1969.

The Govind Ballabh Pant Hospital was set up in the premises of the Cellular Jail in 1963. It is now a 500 bed hospital with about 40 doctors serving the local population.

The Centenary of the jail's completion was marked on 10 March, 2006. Many erstwhile prisoners were felicitated on this occasion by the Government of India.

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