Alipore Museum in Kolkata, formerly a prison
The Alipore Museum in Kolkata was earlier a central prison. I was afraid to visit him because prisons have a perception of being terrifying institutions. Moreover, it is known to be very dirty. It turned out to be a memorable visit and I intend to go there again. This museum seems to exude a sense of pride. It is actually a very well maintained museum. People also call it Independence Museum or Alipore Jail Museum. The pictures of this museum on their website are old and give a dismal view. It is located near the famous Kali temple and is easily accessible by road. Alipore Museum highlights its rich history due to its strong connections to India’s long independence struggle against the British. There are cells named after freedom fighters like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and others who inhabited it. It tells the stories of the revolutionaries and places special emphasis on the role of the Bengal Presidency in the Indian independence movement. The biggest thing I learned at the Alipore Museum was the fact that sanyasis and fakirs also fought for an independent India. It is difficult to comprehend the power of those who could have lived a comfortable life but chose a life of torture. They gave their lives in the hope of creating a world without tyranny in their motherland. History of the Alipore Museum This facility came into existence as a British-ruled central prison in 1906. The museum website tells us that it was considered a modern prison at that time. The prison was functioning until February 2019. By the end of the tour, I was curious as to how independent India treats its prisoners in the same facility. I wondered why this museum could not dedicate a single exhibition to its longer post-independence history. What to see at the Alipore Museum in Kolkata Come with me for a virtual tour of the museum: INA Themed Coffee House An INA Themed Coffee House, simply called Coffee House, is located on the first floor of the entrance building. Old vintage photos of this prison adorn its wall and the history of the INA is documented on another wall. Displays in the Coffee House. The café offers a good view of the many red prison buildings with green wooden windows. I imagined working from this coffee shop with good interiors. I have to admit to all the stereotypical stories about abominable prison food that were spinning in my head while I ate a delicious pizza. In retrospect, I find it amazing how many times I was able to dramatically switch context in my head while I was there. It was a prison after all to come face to face with the worst side of humanity. I think this applies to many places in the world or circumstances of life. It hit me hard here Read More – Martyr TJ Monument to Mark Tihar Jail As you start walking inside, you see Martyr Monument to your right. It commemorates the sacrifice of our freedom fighters who were either executed or died inside the building due to torture, suicide or after contracting an illness. The names of the martyrs are inscribed on a plaque. Martyr Monument in the building The cells inhabited by the freedom fighters of the Alibor Museum Just before that, on our left, we entered a secluded area with a few cells and a courtyard. This is where Nehru was imprisoned for a few months in the 1930s. It is now named after him. His daughter Indira used to meet him in this yard every two weeks. The cell where Jawaharlal Nehru was kept in his book “The Discovery of India” Nehru wrote – “A prison is not a pleasant place to live even for a short time, let alone for long years.” I can’t help but juxtapose this idea with the vibe of the place itself today. It’s clean, green and has a good feel to it. Next to Nehru’s cell are the cells that housed freedom fighters like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, BC Roy, CR Das and JM Sengupta. Read more – Aga Khan Palace – Gandhi’s prison in Pune Tantikal or the Textile Room We walked into the seminar hall and came to a large courtyard on the other side. The room at the end of the yard was the prisoners’ weaving room. It is assumed that prisoners were subject to civilized work in this prison unlike other prisons. The weaving room currently contains hand looms and clay models of seated prisoners with their charks. Noteworthy Trivia – The famous traditional Bengali saree is called Tant saree. Read more – History, Heritage and Art of Indian Sarees Prisons We went back and went up to the watchtower but didn’t go up because of the long line. As you walk inside the building, you see a series of mass prisons and separate prisons for Europeans. Prisoners’ privileges seem to vary sharply according to their class. Privileges extended outside the prison even to prisoners. Coin Gallery Themed Moving forward, we came across a coin gallery. It has large sized exhibits of coins issued after independence. Display of post-independence coins featuring images of freedom fighters carved on human-sized coins and the statue of Goddess Durga also in the form of coins. Durga Statue Gallery which is modeled as a coin I later found out that these exhibits are from one of the lineages of Durga Puja built in Kolkata in the year 2022. Durga Puja is the most popular annual festival in Bengal. In Kolkata, it is celebrated with grandeur and grows in scale with each passing year. The amount of resources and creative efforts that go into building these huge, temporary and beautiful structures is enormous. You can get a glimpse of it in the museum if you haven’t been to Kolkata during Durga Puja. The Durga Puja in Kolkata has been included by UNESCO in the list of intangible cultural heritage. The tradition of preserving articles from these temporary guerrillas in a museum like this one is very forward-looking. Read More – Kali Temples at Central Jail Hospital in Kolkata Alipore After crossing the fair, we came to Alipore Jail Hospital. The hospital rooms have been converted into several galleries showing stories of revolutionaries from the Bengal Presidency. These galleries contain a lot of reading material and you can spend up to an hour or more here. View of the hospital lobby with a revolver gallery. There is another coffee shop called Ekante in this building that used to be a prison kitchen. This is different from INA Cafe. It was full on a Sunday evening when we were there. The large garden adjacent to the hospital is surrounded by high prison walls. This park has become a family picnic spot. Ironically, these same walls, perhaps, remind the prisoners of their families on the other side, whom they must have longed to meet. Read More – Goa Reis Magos Jail Hanged As we were heading back towards the entrance, we entered the section with 3 Conviction Rooms reserved for death row prisoners. Here the prisoners were sometimes let into the gita and allowed to eat a meal of their choice in their last hours. The Heritage Gallows at Alipore Prison Conviction chambers open in the gallows section. Many of the prisoners were kept in the building overlooking the gallows so that they could watch their fellow hanging prisoners. This was intended to instill fear in them so that they would reveal some secrets to the British Empire. There is an autopsy room next to the gallows. Campus map Other places of interest A light and sound show is held every evening. There is a dedicated open space near the hospital for a light and sound show. It has a large sitting area. There is a prison press and a souvenir shop. Travel tips You can spend 2-4 hours in this museum. There is enough parking space next to this museum. You can also get to it by public transportation. It was very crowded on Sunday, after 4pm, so plan accordingly. The ticket price is nominal, for the latest details on ticket prices and timings, check their website. This is a guest post by Khusboo Lalani. Khusboo focuses on the long-term consequences of human pursuits and systems to learn from them. I have worked in the software industry for 13 years.