The Ross Island- a look at the colonial past

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Ross Island

Lavish green beauty surrounded with shrouded walls encircled with the wild, Ross Island reflects the history of colonial past in a depressingly beautiful way. Among the 572 tropical islands of Andaman and Nicobar, lies Ross Island- a secluded island free from the everyday lights and noise of the cities. Situated at the Bay of Bengal, this island is home to wild deer, rich coral reefs, and largely undisturbed primary forests.

But before the island was abandoned, it was administrative headquarter of the British Empire in ore Independent India. But what left the island abandoned has its share of history attached to it. Let’s take a look at the dark history of the paradise island.

Ross Island aka Kala Pani

Reacting to an unanticipated Indian Revolt, the lost island was chosen as the penal colony for Indian mutineers. The British military headquarter chose the island because it was a secluded one surrounded by ocean thus making it impossible for the mutineers to flee. When the British first arrived in 1858 they bought along 200 Indian convicts as the punishment of ‘Kala Pani’. The island was covered impenetrable jungle, so the responsibility fell on the convicts for clearing the space.

While the British officers stayed on the ship, the 200 Indian mutineers worked day and night and created the penal colony. Due to the availability of water, Ross Island became the first convict settlement. Though the beauty of the island served as a paradise of British inhabitants, for the Indians it was nothing less than an experience of hell. Political prisoners and freedom fighters were thrown into the same cells as hardcore criminals and were tortured brutally for raising their voices. Some even committed suicide in the cell due to inhuman punishments and torture. This was the reason why such beauty came to be known as ‘Kalapani’ or black water.

As the number of prisoners increased, so did the island expanded. The establishment of Cellular Jail in Port Blair transferred all the prisoners to the capital and the Ross Island thus became administrative headquarters for the British Raj. Several high-ranking officials and their families moved to the Island. Since the island was surrounded by water, the mortality rate for water-borne diseases increased and the Raj left no stone untouched to alter the situation and make the island an enticing place to live. Huge mansions, tennis courts along with Presbyterian Church, infirmary, and a water purification plant were constructed. The island served as the capital of Andaman and Nicobar from 1858 until 1941.

Ross Island

In 1938, in the mid of the Freedom Movement, the British Empire was forced to release prisoners. In 1945, the British also feared the Japanese Invasion and thus the island was barely operational. When the Japanese troops took over the island they converted it to a POW site and the place was left abandoned. Soon after, it was retaken by the British when the war ended and they abolished the penal settlement. The Indian Navy took over the island later in 1979.

Once the British India sentinel, today the island is under its original owner- nature. The broken glass windows, half shattered walls are all covered with massive tree branches and tree roots. The undistributed decay of the island provides a glimpse of its brutal past. The mansions covered in wild still holds the remnants of colonial history. Few buildings labeled as ‘Printing Press’, ‘Barracks’ and ‘Club’ do serve the visitors a path of imagination as to what the island might look like in its youth.

During its youth days, the Ross Island was also popular as the Paris of the east, while today it’s nothing more than a home of wild deer, rabbits, and peafowls. The young saplings serve as a start of a new era, an era of divine nature. The natural song of the bird’s cacophony does remind us of the screams of Kali Pani, however, they also serve as a hope of a great future.

On 30th December 2018, the prime minister of India renamed the Ross Island as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Island. As of now, no civilian settlement is allowed on the island by the authorities.

Ross Island

When to visit?

Just 3km from central Port Blair, you can visit the island almost the whole year but the most favorable time of the year is from February to April. The easiest way to reach the Island is from Port Blair, once you reach there, you can a boat for the island. Phoenix Bay Jetty or Aberdeen Jetty is the most favorable spot to book a ride economically. From here it would take approximately 10-15 minutes to reach the destination. Few tour agencies offer helicopter transportation to islands adjacent to Port Blair.

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