Andaman & Nicobar Islands An Insight into Its History


One can’t accurately put a finger on the exact time when humans began to inhabit the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. While some claim that humans have lived here since the Middle Paleolithic age, other claim that human inhabitants may have settled around 2,200 years ago. Here’s a little insight on the history of the place;

Earliest Known History:

Even before the Islands were discovered by the Indians, the Malays were known to frequent the islands in search of slaves. In fact, the name Andamans owes its existence to the Malays who used to call it Handuman- the Malay name for Hanuman. As for the Nicobar Islands, it is believed that Nicobar was inhabited by various indigenous tribe thousands of years ago. There are also evidences of Rajendra Cholan wrestling control over these islands so as to consolidate their position as a naval super power. Nicobar Islands were also conquered by the Cholas. A mention of this is made on the Tanjore Temple (Brihadeeshwara Temple).

European Settlers:

Various European settlers have laid claim on these islands. The Danish were the first to do so. In fact, the Danish East India Company claimed the Nicobar and even officially renamed it as New Denmark. Austria too staked its claim here. The English were the last of such settlers. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands remained under their control until it was claimed by the Indian government in 1950.

It was under colonial rule that the English set up the Cellular Jail where hardened criminals (read freedom fighters) were banished. Here they were tormented and most often left to die. The place earned such notoriety that it was called Kaalapaani or Black Water. Some notable freedom fighters to spend their days here include Swantantraveer Savarkar, Pandit Parmanand, etc.

About Cellular Jail:

Modern history of the Islands didn’t quiet begin until the colonial rulers bought the mutineers of the first war of independence here, although they did try to settle down here but abandoned because of an outbreak of epidemics. When it first began, the jail housed only 200 prisoners, but later on the number of inmates doubled to almost 773! Besides Indian prisoners, the English also bought here freedom fighters from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

A visit to the Islands isn’t possible without being horrified at the extreme torture endured by the inmates at the hands of the colonial rulers. The name cellular was given to the jail because of the individual cells meant for solitary confinement. Each cell was measured at just 4.5mm x 2.7m- not more! Some of the inmates who survived the prison life have mentioned about gory details associated with their sentence including daily hangings, suicides, insanity, daily flogging etc. One’s heart only fills with pride thinking about the sacrifices made by our ancestors to ensure that we live a life of freedom.