The Prisons of the Freedom Struggle

- August 14, 2020

India’s freedom struggle came at the cost of many sacrifices and bloodshed by its people. There are numerous stories of freedom fighters who marched against British rule through various movements. The outcome of many of these movements was jail time for many of our activists for long periods. Here are a few prisons that our leaders spend time in during this tumultuous chapter in Indian history.

Aga Khan Palace
Illustration: Ramesh C and Srishti Tiwari.

In 1892, Sultan Muhammed Shah, Aga Khan III built the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. The story goes that when the neighbouring villages were hit by a severe famine, the Sultan ordered the construction of this palace to provide employment to the villagers.

During the time of the freedom struggle, this palace was converted into a prison, which saw many luminaries jailed here for a bit. During the Quit India Movement, Kasturba and Mahatma Gandhi were detained within these walls, with Kasturba falling seriously ill and breathing her last here. Today, there exists a memorial dedicated to her for her role in the freedom struggle and especially for encouraging women.

In 2003, the Archeological Survey of India declared the Aga Khan Palace a monument of national importance.

Mandalay Prison
Illustration: H.S. Chavan and Sailo Chakravarty


Popular freedom fighters were imprisoned in the Mandalay prison, Myanmar, to keep them away from the mainland as the British were afraid of their influence on the public. Subhas Chandra Bose was also transferred to the Mandalay prison from Calcutta (now Kolkata), where he contracted tuberculosis. The inhuman living conditions of the prison cell only added to the deterioration of his health. When the news of his illness got out, Calcutta rose in one voice demanding his release. Under pressure, the British government decided to grant him a conditional release according to which he would have had to go to Europe. Bose refused to accept such an order and said he would rather stay in prison. Finally, he was granted an unconditional release from the prison.

Viper Chain Gang Jail
Illustration: Srishti Tiwari

The Andaman Islands were known for prison sites where freedom fighters who fought against the British were deported. One such site was Viper Island. The soldiers who were imprisoned by the British after the revolt of 1857 were sent here. In 1867, a jail was built to house more prisoners. They were made to work through day and night, tied up together in chains. This led to the prison being called the ‘Viper Chain Gang Jail’.

Famous prisoners here included the Maharaja of Puri, Brij Kishore Singh Deo, who died during his internment, as well as freedom fighter, Sher Ali Afridi, who had assassinated the then Viceroy of India, Lord Mayo. He was hanged to death here in 1873.

In 1906, the prison was abandoned when the infamous Cellular Jail or Kala Paani was built and all the prisoners were moved there

Sabarmati Central Jail
Illustration: Dilip Kadam and Srishti Tiwari.

The Sabarmati Central Jail has been a working prison for the past 114 years. It was built by the British between 1891 and 1894 in present-day Ahmedabad.

On March 7, 1930, a day before Mahatma Gandhi began his Dandi march, Sardar Patel......

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