Namaste from Havelock Island,
When the flames of freedom light up the hearts and souls of the people, how long can they be stopped?
How long indeed. The abandoned prison in Port Blair on the Andaman Islands is testament to the way suppression can only be temporary. The Andaman Islands are idyllic tropical paradise in the Bay of Bengal, part of greater India even though it is geographically closer to Burma. Port Blair is the largest settlement and the gateway to the picturesque and beautiful other islands.
After the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857, the British wanted somewhere to hide away the dissenters. They had plenty of resistance to their rule, beginning with outright opposition to the reign of the East India Company and continuing with agitation against the British Raj. To house their political prisoners they built a gaol in Port Blair. Today it is a silent reminder of the brutal regime.
“revolutionary freedom fighters”
The gaol is a massive building, containing 663 concrete cells. The interpretation signs pull no punches. They describe the hundreds of inmates as “revolutionary freedom fighters”. They also describe the regime in sobering detail. Irish Superintendent David Barry was gaoler between 1905 and 1919. He is said to have addressed new arrivals with this speech:
Listen, all of you prisoners, we tame lions here. Look at me. In Port Blair, I am God – David Barry
After a number of skirmishes and protests about the prison conditions, the Brits commissioned an investigation. After almost a year of painful deliberation, the commissioner found that the system had “contributed immensely towards reformation of transported prisoners”. The primary sources which are the stories of the inmates themselves don’t concur. Instead they recount a brutal regime in which the politically active intelligentsia were ground into submission.
Away from the Cellular Gaol, the Andaman Islands are idyllic. We stayed on Havelock Island and enjoyed the perfect weather, the beautiful beaches and the scooter rides around the narrow roads. Linda was genuinely reluctant to leave and still dreams of Radhanagar Beach (recently listed by tripadvisor as the 12th best beach on the planet). We both thoroughly recommend the Andaman Islands for intrepid travellers.
A small number of the prisoners actually did settle on the islands, as they were actively encouraged to do. It’s not too hard to see why they would see the idyllic option as preferable to the oppressive British Raj back on the mainland. Today, Havelock Island is quite popular with Indian tourists, enjoying their own country. Linda opined that it appears to be the honeymoon destination of Indian couples. “And why wouldn’t they? It’s so bloody beautiful,” she says.
from Port Blair