Beaches and mountains, oceans and forests. These are the kind of things that most people usually have on their travelling bucket lists. Some people have other things too, but we’re pretty sure no one has ever had a prison on their bucket list. And that makes sense too. Why would any tourist want to go visit some place where convicted criminals are detained?
However, there are actually some prisons in India, which are worth a visit, even as a tourist. Agreed that most of these no longer serve as prisons, but they used to do so, in the past. Here’s a look at some such prisons.
1. Cellular Jail – Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Cellular Jail is probably the most famous prison in the history of the Indian Independence movement. Synonymous with social exclusion, the British used this jail to exile many people who fought for India, including noted freedom fighters like Batukeshawar Dutt and Veer Savarkar. And then during the World War II, when the islands were invaded by the Japanese, they used to detain British prisoners of war.
The people that visit the jail now can look into its dark past through a light and sound show that tells the story of the Indian Freedom struggle. The jail is open for visitors on all weekdays, except for public holidays. The premises now also house a hospital where 40 doctors serve local population.
2. Tihar Jail – Delhi
Located in West Delhi, Tihar Jail is the largest prison complex in South Asia. It was established by the State of Punjab in 1957, and has housed many famous political prisoners including Lalu Prasad Yadav and the current Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal.
The prison though is notable for the way it is run. More than a detention center, it runs like a correctional facility. It aims to rehabilitate its inmates as ordinary members of the society. The prisoners are trained in music and given vocational education. It also encourages its inmates to appear in placements and go for higher studies. One of them even made it to the Indian Administrative Services. Some parts of the prison, like the canteen are accessible to tourists.
3. Hijli Jail – West Bengal
Hijli Jail was established as a detention center in Midnapore, Bengal in 1930. It was home to a very famous incident in 1931 when two unarmed detainees were shot dead by the police. The incident caused outrage all over the country. Many people including Rabindranath Tagore and Subhash Chandra Bose voiced their strong protests over this incident. Bose even came to Hijli to collect the prisoners’ bodies.
However, today the place stands as one of the greatest institutes imparting education. In 1951, IIT Kharagpur was established at the location of the prison. The detention camp, which is located within the IIT campus has now been converted into a museum called Nehru Museum of Science and Technology. People visiting IIT Kharagpur can have a detailed tour of the museum.
4. Viper Islands – Andaman and Nicobar Islands
The Viper Island is not as famous as the Cellular Jail, but it did serve a similar purpose during the struggle for Indian independence. The jail here was constructed before the cellular jail and anyone who dared to speak against the British rule was sent here and tortured. The place also earned a notorious name ‘Viper chain gang jail’, during that time. Inmates who challenged the British were chained together at nights and were put to hardest labour. Brij Kishore Singh Deo, Maharaja of Puri was treated like an ordinary convict and died here in 1879.
Today, however, the dilapidated walls of the facility form a picturesque backdrop for people who visit the place. The once two-storeyed jail building, now serves as a bittersweet reminder of the time when this place was anything but touristy.
5. Aga Khan Palace – Pune, Maharashtra
When Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan III built this palace, he never intended for it to be used as a prison. But it did serve that very purpose when Mahatma Gandhi was detained here along with his wife Kasturba and his secretary Mahadev Desai from 1942 to 1944. This is also the place where Kasturba and Mahadev Desai died.
In 1969, Aga Khan IV donated the palace to the Indian people, and then it was converted into a museum about the life and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. It serves as the headquarters of the Gandhi National Memorial Society. A prominent tourist spot nowadays, the museum is also where Gandhi’s ashes are kept.
6. Viyyur Central Prison – Thrissur, Kerala
The recent prisons to join the league of jail tourism is the Viyyur Central located in Thrissur. You can enjoy an ‘experience in jail‘ at the prison where you can book yourself a day in the jail and even visit the Prison Museum inside.
Said to accommodate approximately 520 prisoners, the original prison is said to have existed in front of the Sri Vadakkumnathan Temple, around 300 years ago. However, temple authorities urged for the prison to be moved in 1914. During the reign of H.H. Sakthan Thampuran, the Maharaja of Kochi, prisoners would celebrate Thrissur Pooram by conducting a “Kudamattom”.
So, which of these do you plan to visit first?