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Hon’ble CM to inaugurate Alipore Jail Museum

21 September, 2022 16:02:18
Hon’ble CM to inaugurate Alipore Jail Museum

…Kato biplobi bondhur rokte ranga/ Bondi shalar oi shekol bhanga/ Tara ki phiribe aaj su-probhate/ Jato torun arun gyachhe ostacholay/ Muktiro mondiro sopano tolay/ Kato pran holo bolidan/ Lekha ache ashrujoley… (The shackles in the prison cells are stained and broken with the blood of freedom fighters/ On this glorious morn/ Will they, the ones who have faded with the sunset, ever return/ The annals of those who sacrificed their lives on the altar of freedom/ Are written with tears)

This popular patriotic song was penned by famous lyricist Mohini Chowdhury and sings paeans about the revolutionaries who laid down their lives for their motherland, suffering inhuman torture in prisons in the hands of the British. Some of those prisons no longer exist, a few are on the brink of atrophy, a handful continue to stand tall. Kolkata’s Alipore Jail was one such iconic detention camp that harboured revolutionaries during British regime. 

Built in 1906, the 21-feet paneled rust-colored penitentiary on the banks of Adi Ganga has witnessed a great deal of history in the making and has become an inseparable part of that history. Freedom fighters including Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bidhan Chandra Roy – were all inmates here at some point or the other part of their lives as political workers who opposed British rule and demanded freedom for the country. 

Jails from the British Raj era are crucial witnesses to the struggles and sacrifices that earned us our independence. So, the state government decided to transform this towering penal institution into an Independence Museum, dedicated to the martyrs who were imprisoned and executed there. Alipore Jail was formally shut down on February 20, 2019 and it stopped functioning as a prison house. The prisoners were shifted from Alipore Jail to Baruipur Correctional Facility. Although administrative work was carried on from the Alipore Jail building, all other departments were shifted and relocated and then the state government initiated the restoration and transformation of the prison keeping the heritage site intact.

From the very first decade of the 20th-century, Bengal emerged as a hotbed of revolutionary activities in the country, as well as the epicenter of Bengali Renaissance. Revolutionary nationalism unfolded as a potent political force in the wake of the Swadeshi Movement which was an expression of the outrage triggered by the Partition of the province of Bengal in 1905. Revolutionary units such as Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar were formed heralding the “Agni Yug” (the era of fire). Underground cells sprung up to train youths in weapons and bomb-making. Assassinations of senior British officials who subjected the revolutionaries to brutal punishments, became commonplace. The British police force came down heavily on the insurgents and subjected detainees to inhuman torture and brutal punishments, acute discrimination, hard labour and complete isolation in abysmal inhuman conditions. All these measures were meant to evoke shudders and quell rebellion. But did the British succeed? Definitely not. But we gained Independence only after paying a hefty price. 

Every year when we celebrate Independence Day on August 15, how many of us actually pause to reflect on the unceasing resilience of our freedom fighters who sacrificed everything, even their lives for us to become independent? It all happened so many years ago that most of us are ignorant of what it took for our nation to become independent. 

Hon’ble State Chief Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee, initiated the move to transform Alipore Jail into a museum where people from all walks of life can visit and pay a humble tribute to the great freedom fighters of our country. A number of eminent artists including Shuvaprasanna and Jogen Chowdhury have painted vignettes of India’s freedom struggle on the walls of the former jail. Alipore Area Development Authority has entrusted HIDCO with the project.

The crammed single cells where Chittaranjan Das, Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose were detained, have been given 'heritage site' tag. There is the Nehru Bhavan inside Alipore Jail. A two-storied Netaji Bhavan has also been set up with relics. Next to Netaji Bhavan are the cells once allotted to Chittaranjan Das and Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy. Busts of Netaji, Deshbandhu C.R. Das, Jatindramohan Sengupta have been installed in front of their respective cells with plaques containing detailed information about the inhabitants. Arrested for conspiracy in May 1908, Sri Aurobindo spent one full year in jail while the British Government, in a protracted trial, tried to implicate him in various revolutionary activities. His book, ‘Tales of Prison Life’ gives a vivid account of his experiences as an undertrial prisoner in Alipore Jail.

The scaffold stands silent witness to the barbaric executions of nationalists Anantahari Mitra, Pramodranjan Chowdhury, Dinesh Gupta, Ramakrishna Biswas, Dinesh Majumdar and scores of others carried out by the British. This site has also been given heritage status.  The board of Independence Museum has been installed at the head of the main gate and the inside side panels. Last-minute restoration touch-up work is going on. The entire project has been executed keeping its heritage site intact. The cells will be adorned with decorative lighting inside and a landscape lighting decoration will be displayed behind the watch tower. There will be book shops and cafes inside the jail premises. 

Several other areas have also been included as part of this project and that comprises the Alipore Jail Press — India’s oldest printing press on the opposite side. Although there are several museums in the state, this is the first time that a museum is being built where audience will witness history unfurl before their eyes. A daily 30-minute light-and-sound show with seating gallery will also be incorporated and this is expected to be the pièce de résistance for visitors. 

Image source : twitter @airnews_kolkata 

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