On a Freedom Trail

On the occasion of the 70th year of India’s independence, take time out to discover the history of the country, revisit its glorious past and explore its fascinating present.

There are some places in India where even time stands still, where all the elements are testament to the nation’s turmoils and the innumerable struggles and sacrifices made by its people to free themselves from the clutches of colonial power and chart their own story. We tend to go about our daily routine often forgetting the years of struggle etched in the history of this land.

In this issue, Go-getter delves into the past, navigating our way across the country, across the destinations synonymous with the Indian freedom struggle.

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Cellular Jail, Port Blair

The mere thought of pristine waters surrounding the dream-like islands of Andaman instantly conjures an image of paradise, a beach-side haven interspersed with dense forests and exotic flora & fauna. However, the archipelago is also home to a national memorial dedicated to freedom fighters, the Cellular Jail in Port Blair.

Even though the jail was built between 1896-1906, the British had begun to use the islands as a means to penalise all those who went against them, post the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Built especially for solitary confinement, the jail has individual cells with a sturdy iron grill door. The structure of the building is akin to seven prongs or spokes of a wheel with a tower from where the guards would keep watch. These seven wings were three storeys high. Today, only three are intact.

This jail once housed notable freedom fighters and leaders such as Batukeshwar Dutt, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Ganesh Damodar Savarkar, Bhai Parmanand, Indu Bhushan Roy along with revolutionaries tried in the Alipore Bomb Case, Lahore Conspiracy Case, among others. Post independence, the Government of India unveiled the jail as a national memorial where visitors can browse through the Freedom Fighters’ Photo and Exhibition Gallery, Art Gallery and a library on the freedom movement. In memory of those incarcerated here, an eternal flame of freedom has been established on the campus.

Tips: Do not miss the sound and light show that takes place in the evening. Depicting the eventful saga of the history of the Cellular Jail, it makes one realise the true meaning of the term ‘Kala Paani’ it acquired.

GoAir Connect: GoAir operates direct flights to Port Blair from Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai, and easy connections from Delhi, Goa and Ahmedabad.

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Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar

A walk through the narrow passage towards Jallianwala Bagh, flanked by three-storey high salmon-pink walls, leads one onto the expanse of the public garden over 6 acres. The environment has a sombre, melancholic mood.

It was here on April 13, 1919, when over thousands of non-violent protesters had peacefully gathered, to celebrate the festival of Baisakhi, and seek India’s freedom. It was a time of great unrest due to the after effects of the World War 1, and various incidences of violence as a result of the unpopular reforms and policies implemented by the British.

Gen. Dyer, who positioned his soldiers in such a manner as to prevent any escape, had opened fire at the unsuspecting crowd of defenseless men, women and children. With the other entrances permanently locked, there was little the crowd could do to protect themselves. The firing is said to have been incessantly raining on the crowd, till they ran out of ammunition. In a bid to escape the bullets, many even flung themselves into the lone well at the garden, causing them to die from drowning. Now, it is called the ‘Martyrs’ Well’. Over thousands died this day.

Today, a towering memorial stands at the Jallianwala Bagh, built by American architect Benjamin Polk, and was inaugurated in 1961. The bullet-ridden walls preserved at the site, stand testament to the sacrifices made by numerous Indians to achieve independence.

Did you know?
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre has been featured in Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children, Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi, Rang De Basanti and even mentioned in the British period drama Downton Abbey, among others.

GoAir Connect:
Chandigarh is the nearest airport to reach Amritsar, which is 230 km (approx.) away. GoAir operates direct flights to Chandigarh from Mumbai, and easy connections from Chennai, Goa and Port Blair.

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Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad

A picture of serenity and bliss, Sabarmati Ashram offers a welcoming sight, with a playful gentle breeze, rustling leaves and the sunlight scattered across the compound. This is the place where Mahatma Gandhi lived for 12 years with his wife, Kasturba Gandhi. The ashram was initially at his friend’s bungalow, but in 1917, he relocated to the banks of River Sabarmati, across 36 acres.

Sabarmati Ashram was conceived as the embodiment of Gandhi’s ideologies and perspective. Thus, it was also known as Satyagraha Ashram and Harijan Ashram. Satyagraha, and the philosophy of non-violence, was an important movement in the Indian freedom struggle, as it helped to mobilise large numbers of people against the colonial power. At the ashram, Gandhi had carried out activities such as farming, spinning khadi, etc., to promote self-sufficiency. A key point in the freedom struggle was the Salt March, or the Dandi March that took place in 1930. The locals here were accustomed to produce salt from seawater, however, the British imposed a salt taxation, and any sea-salt reclamation activities were deemed illegal. As an act of non-violent civil disobedience, Gandhi embarked on a 24-day march that began at Sabarmati Ashram.

Today, the ashram provides visitors an idea of what life here was pre-independence, view Gandhi’s personal articles, literature, photographs and films showcased at the museum, rooms preserved and maintained, and more. A centrally located bungalow, known as the Hriday Kunj, was Gandhi’s home in the complex, where he lived from 1918 to 1930. Visitors can also browse through the Somnath Chhatralaya, where residents and students of the Ashram lived a community life in these rooms, sharing a kitchen; Gandhi Memorial Museum which was inaugurated in 1963; Maganlal Niwas, that was occupied by Gandhi’s nephew, Maganlal, and more.

Promoting local handicraft of India, visitors can drop by the khadi workshops in the vicinity. Get to know more about this indigenous craft, learn to appreciate the effort and skill that goes into every creation, and pick up unique pieces of apparels and allied products.

Tips: Try to visit the Ashram in the morning, since witnessing the sunrise over the riverfront and complex puts one in a meditative temperament. If you plan a large group tour, get in touch with the Ashram in advance to arrange for a guided tour, free of charge.

GoAir Connect: GoAir operates direct flights to Port Blair from Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai, and easy connections from Delhi, Goa and Ahmedabad.

Written by Mia Gandhi

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