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Alipore Jail Museum - Captivating Calcutta
161    Dibyendu Banerjee    27/02/2024

The Presidency Correctional Home or Alipore Central Jail, formerly known as the Old Alipore Jail and reckoned as the first Central Prison in Bengal in the year 1864, served as a place of confinement for the political prisoners who during the British rule, played pivotal roles in India's struggle for freedom, along with the convicts awaiting transportation or lifelong deportation sentences to the Andaman Islands by ship. Consisting of three interconnected rectangular structures forming a U-shaped complex and divided into twelve substantial wards and enclosed by an outer wall, it was once one of the largest penal institutions in the country. In the 1870s, further enhancements were made, classifying the convicts according to their age, health, dangerousness and habitual behaviour.

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However, following the construction of the new building of the Alipore Jail on Judges Court Road in 1906, named Alipore Central Correctional Home, the Old Alipore Jail was shut down on 20 February 2019, when few old structures in the jail complex had already been reduced to ruins.

alipore jail museum

The huge complex of the Alipore Central Correctional Home, spreading over an area of 15.2 acres, containing the central watchtower, the recently demolished building of the Jail Press, along with the existing building of the Jail Hospital in the old jail and several other buildings serving as the prison cells and wards, served as a correctional home till 2019, when the inmates were shifted to Baruipur, on the outskirts of the city of Calcutta. After that, the historical complex of the jail, a silent witness to the brutalities inflicted by the British rulers on the freedom fighters of the country and also a national historic landmark, has been transformed into a museum to honour the sacrifice of those who fought for the independence of India.

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The museum, depicting the inspiring stories of the Indian freedom fighters, was inaugurated by Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, on 21 September 2022 and was opened to the public on 23 September in the same year.

alipore jail museum
The Watchtower
alipore jail museum
Replica of a bomb

Apart from a watch tower, a hexagonal red-brick building with Gothic-style green windows, from which the jail guards used to monitor the entire area and a larger-than-life copper prototype of the bomb used in the Manicktala bombing case, the complex contains the special cells, where the famous people were interned, the general cells, a library, a seminar hall, along with the Gallows, where many of the freedom fighters were hanged.

alipore jail museum
The Gallows

The gallows, built on a concrete platform, stand on a scaffold, erected over a trapdoor covering the pit, with the beam resting on brackets on top, complete with nooses, made of the Manila or hessian ropes.

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While the detention cells, where the sentenced prisoners were kept before hanging and the autopsy room, where bodies of dead freedom fighters were medical checked after their execution, is located beside gallows, the martyrs’ wall, indicating the names of the 10 martyrs executed in the early 20th century and the brief accounts of their brave activities for the freedom of the country and the periods of incarceration, is situated at the back of the gallows.

alipore jail museum
Building of the Special Cells

The Special Cells in the complex include the cells of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, Deshapriya Jatindra Mohan Sengupta and Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy. Statues of Netaji, Nehru, Chittaranjan Das and Bidhan Chandra Roy can be found in and around their respective cells.

alipore jail museum
The Statue of Indira Gandhi

Interestingly, when Jawaharlal Nehru was incarcerated in his cell by the British Government for 80 days, from 17 February to 7 May 1934, his daughter, Indira visited him every fortnight and they used to talk and spend the allotted time of twenty minutes sitting under a tree in the courtyard, outside his cell. A statue of Indira Gandhi can also be found, sitting under a big tree in the front cell of her father.

alipore jail museum

Apart from that, the complex area contains several other decorative sculptures, which include the installation containing the larger-than-life replicas of the commemorative coins, featuring the brave sons and significant mass movements in India, the Martyrs' Monument and a fantastic piece of iron art installation with miniature busts of five martyrs, held together by shackles.

alipore jail museum

The former Hospital Building of the Alipore Jail has been converted into the main exhibition building, which houses a souvenir room and the INA theme cafe, where the waiters in INA uniform serve the INA Special Platter, Sipahi Bidroh Platter, Santhal Bidroh Platter and BBD Platter, besides other dishes and also displays several exhibits relating to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on the ground floor. The exhibits relating Rishi Aurobindo, Dinesh Gupta, Women Martyrs of Bengal and the history of the 18th & 19th Century, starting from the Battle of Plassey in Bengal in 1757 till the freedom movement of 1947, are displayed on the 1st floor of the building. In the evening, the ground adjacent to the former jail hospital building becomes alive with a light-and-sound show, depicting the lives and struggle of various freedom fighters.

alipore jail museum

Above all, a visit to the red-brick-buildings of the Alipore Central Jail, once a prohibited place for the commoners, is a walk down the memory lane of India’s struggle for freedom and the history of sacrifice of the selfless freedom fighters. Recently, as of February 2023, the Police Museum , originally located in a building on Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy Road, has also shifted within the premises of the Alipore Jail Museum.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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