BY: JESSICA BEUKER
Ross Island, one of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, was once full of people who resided among the beautiful architecture juxtaposed against a tropical island setting. Only after World War II did the inhabitants flee, abandoning the island and leaving it to be overtaken by nature. Today, Ross Island looks more like the setting of The Jungle Book.
According to Messy Nessy Chic, however, Ross Island has a history darker than any children’s book.
The British first stepped foot on the island in the 1790s, but it wasn’t until 1858 that the government decided to establish a penal settlement. “Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the British Raj, Ross Island became a convict settlement for political prisoners, members of the revolution and the Islamic reform movement,” according to Messy Nessy Chic.
The colony became known as Kalapani, meaning “black water,” for the brutalities inflicted by British authorities upon over 15,000 prisoners from India. But back in Britain, it was known as the “Paris of the East” in high society.
The settlement had everything a person could need – bazaar, bakery, stores, ballroom, church, secretariat, hospital, cemetery, water treatment plant, printing press, tennis court and a swimming pool. But the prisoners were the ones forced to do the dirty work.
The first group of prisoners were put to work right away, building the colony from scratch. They laid bricks and roads, creating the colony while chained and forced to wear identification collars. They lived in makeshift huts, and, when prisoner numbers rose to 8,000, nearly half of them died due to illness.
If prisoners tried to escape and were caught, they would be sentenced to death right away. Inmates often chose suicide over a life on the island.
In 1941, an earthquake hit, shattering the infrastructure and causing most of the inhabitants to flee, according to Messy Nessy Chic. A year later, during World War II, the island was invaded by the Japanese, which forced the remaining people to evacuate.
Today, there remain only a few remnants of the past: a few buildings, which have been swallowed by branches, a church tower sprouting a tree, dilapidated old businesses and crumbles of once occupied homes. After the war, the island was completely abandoned and would never be occupied by human life again – and that’s when nature stepped in.