Updated: January 28, 2021 7:27:05 am
On Republic Day, the Prison Department of Maharashtra launched its jail tourism initiative starting with more than 150-year-old Yerawada Central Prison in Pune. A look at the historic importance of the prison, especially in the freedom struggle, what does jail tourism entail and how have security concerns been addressed?
What is the historical significance of Yerawada Prison and other jails in Maharashtra
Constructed in 1866, Yerawada Central Prison is the largest jail in Maharashtra and one of the largest maximum security prisons in the country. Many leaders of the Indian independence movement were incarcerated in this prison, which now has an inmate population of close to 5,000. Spread over 500 acres, the prison complex also has a minimum security open jail and a women’s jail on its premises. In Maharashtra, there are 16 functioning prisons that were built in the 19th century, the oldest being Byculla District Prison in Mumbai which started in 1840. The number of prisons built in the pre-independence era is 26, which includes Swatantrapur Open Jail Colony set up in 1939, where some scenes of V Shantaram classic Do Aankhen Bara Haath (1957) were filmed.
Many of these prisons in Maharashtra housed leaders of the independence struggle and countless freedom fighters. Notable among those — along with the Yerawada Prison — are the Thane, Nashik, Dhule and Ratnagiri jails — which will be added to jail tourism initiative in subsequent phases, according to officials.
Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned at Yerawada jail three times — from March 1922 to February 1924, from January 1932 to May 1933, and for three days in August 1933, according to prison records. Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak was jailed here between January 1898 and February 1899, Pandit Motilal Nehru between August 1930 and December 1930, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru between August 1930 and October 1930, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel twice, between August 1930 and November 1930, and January 1932 and August 1933, Sarojini Naidu for 12 days in December 1940 and Subhas Chandra Bose between April and May 1936. The barracks where these leaders were housed during their terms have now been preserved. The cell where Mahatma Gandhi was lodged is called the Gandhi Yard, which is also the place where the historic Poona Pact between Gandhi and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was signed. The mango tree under which the two leaders held talks, stands in the Gandhi Yard even today.
What will the jail tourism entail?
Yerawada Jail has two historic yards, which are groups of cells, named after Gandhi and Tilak, which will be part of the tour for the visitors. These yards do not house inmates.
The visitors will also get to see the faasi yard, the area where the death sentence is executed. This is the place where Chapekar brothers were executed in 1899 for assassination of British Plague Commissioner of Pune WC Rand. The last execution that the faasi yard witnessed was in November 2012 of Ajmal Kasab, a convict of 26/11 attacks, who was buried inside the prison premises.
Considering the security and COVID-related safety concerns, initially only 50 persons will be allowed to visit the prison everyday. Currently, only groups from school, colleges or registered organisations will be allowed following an application made to Yerawada Prison superintendent, one week in advance. The prison administration has prohibited researchers working on prison or related issues to visit the premises under the scheme.
People will be allowed to visit these areas following all the stringent formalities of identity verification. They will not be allowed to carry any electronic equipment or eatables. A standard operating procedure (SOP) has been put in place for these visits, which has been published on the official website of Maharashtra prison department along with the required contact details. The visits will be held between 12 noon and 3 pm, following all COVID norms. Currently, there is no entry fee but a nominal fee will be charged subsequently, an official said.
The visitors will not be allowed in any other part of the jail or interact with any inmate. An official will guide the tour which will be accompanied by three to four jail guards. Photography and videography of the tour will be done by the prison staff and images from select spots will be provided to the visitors.
How have the security concerns been addressed?
Yerawada Prison, which is a maximum security facility, currently houses several high-profile prisoners — both undertrials and convicts — from sensitive cases include those of organised crime, terrorism, extremely violent crimes and also those on the death row.
The Gandhi Yard, Tilak Yard and faasi yard are located close to the entry gate of the prison and cells, barracks and high-security areas are located at a distance. Officials said that the routine deployment of guards can ensure there are no security concerns during the visit of 50 persons from outside.
As per the SOP, the prison superintendent reserves the right to deny entry to any person deemed unsuitable for the visit. Till the time the routine is streamlined, only visitors from school, colleges and registered organisations will be allowed entry.
At the inaugural ceremony of the initiative on Republic Day on Tuesday, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said, “The initiative will face criticism from some people. There will be concerns too. I am sure that the prison authorities will make sure that they are resolved.”
Students from a local school in Pune became the first lot to visit the prison as part of the initiative. Along with Pawar who also visited the historic sites, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Home Minister Anil Deshmukh addressed the gathering via video conference. On this occasion, Pawar read out a letter written by Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray to his wife Meenatai when he was jailed at Yerwada Prison. Uddhav Thackeray also spoke about the book — Gaja-aadche diwas (the days behind bars) written by Thackerary about his days at Yerwada.
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