Creative Writing – 163
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A very significant event in the history of the Andaman Islands, the one that changed them, their demography, their environment and their history forever, happened just after the Revolution of 1857, when the British-Indian government hurriedly decided to set up a penal colony in these remote, isolated islands, miles and miles away from the mainland, to imprison the most notorious of criminals and rebels of 1857.
Before 1857, apart from a few short-lived and aborted attempts by the British East India Company in the last decade of the 18th century, the islands were never properly “settled” by the British or even earlier by people from mainland India and had remained inhabited only by the ancient, indigenous tribes who had been living there for millennia.
Contrary to popular belief, for several decades before the Cellular Jail was even conceptualised, Andaman was already a penal colony and the prisoners were kept in even more brutal conditionsin those initial years, often in the open, exposed to nature, far away and totally isolated from their homes and from all vestiges of familiar civilisation, surrounded by inhospitable and often violent tribes and miles and miles of kala pani.
In those initial years, they were kept in the nearby and much lesser-known Viper Island. Very few tourists today venture out to this island and not much of those days of the penal settlement is told. Therefore, the Cellular Jail has become synonymous with the Andamans as a penal colony.
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