Why Thane Jail deserves to be restored as heritage fort?

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Bottom Line: Thane Central Jail, once a fort, is yet again in news as efforts are on to convert it back into fort and encourage Jail Tourism. Ravi Sinha traces its journey since 1730 when it was built by the Portuguese.

Would you like to go to jail for a day? Well, the question might offend you in the first place but then the details of the offer might excite you as well. For those who would still be indecisive may not have even heard about Thane Jail and its historical significance.  

Thane Jail is not just a jail; it is a heritage that speaks loud about the glorious history in this part of the world. It has been witness to the unfolding of history for nearly last three decades now.

The superstructure of the pentagon shaped building that looks so beautiful from the top and appears like a flower or tortoise, was actually built as Thane Fort (Quilla) in 1730 by the Portuguese.

In 1738 the Marathas conquered Thane Fort from the Portuguese but lost it to British in 1744 when the British conquered Thane. It was subsequently converted into jail in 1838, to be known as Thane Central Jail. During India’s freedom movement, revolutionaries like Krishnaji Karve and Vinayak Narayan Deshpande were hanged to death in the Thane Central Jail.

This jail has also been witness to many famous Bollywood stars presence, both as a convict as well as during the film shoot. Actor Sanjay Dutt and share market kingpin Harshad Mehta spent their judicial custody here.The Bollywood movie “Undertrial” starring Rajpal Yadav was shot in Thane Central Jail where 1,500 inmates of the jail participated in the shooting. 

The jail is once again in the news since recently the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) sought relocation of the Thane Central Jail, which currently houses around 3,000 inmates, to convert the heritage structure into a tourist spot. The corporation has allocated a budget of INR 1 crore for it and for the jail fort to be restored. 

Earlier, this jail was chosen among the three jails by the administration to launch a pilot project of Jail Tourism. The idea was to invite the tourists to spend a night at the jail, as a guest. In any case, due to the historical significance and heritage value the area in an around the jail is often thronged by the visitors for picnic. 

Thane Jail witness to history  

Thane Jail built as Thane Fort (Quilla) in 1730 by the Portuguese

In 1738 the Marathas conquered Thane Fort from the Portuguese

Marathas lost Thane Fort to British in 1744

British converted Thane Fort into jail in 1838, to be known as Thane Central Jail

During India’s freedom movement, revolutionaries like Krishnaji Karve and Vinayak Narayan Deshpande were hanged to death in the Thane Central Jail

Actor Sanjay Dutt and share market kingpin Harshad Mehta spent their judicial custody here

Bollywood movie “Undertrial” starring Rajpal Yadav was shot in Thane Central Jail where 1,500 inmates of the jail participated in the shooting 

The moot point is whether the shifting of jail and the restoration of structure as a fort would help revive what is definitely an intrinsic part of history in this part of the world. The opinion is divided but the popular sentiment is in its favour.

Sudhakar Apte, an archaeologist in Thane maintains that it is part of Maratha pride and the fort being converted into jail is a colonial baggage. According to him, by converting it into fort and giving it a heritage status, the legacy would get its due respect.

“By retaining it as a jail you can take this building out of heritage status in popular parlance but you cannot take soul of heritage out of this building. It is very much part of our history, freedom struggle and Maratha pride,” says Apte.

However, Gaurav Gupta, a historian has a word of caution here. According to him, the building is in a very poor shape and excessive mining has made this building look like a dilapidated building. He questions whether the fate of Thane Jail would be the same as other heritage buildings.

“Right now, the jail authorities are somehow maintaining the building. My only concern is that once it is declared as fort, it may get neglected like many other forts and heritage buildings. In any case, a budget of INR 1 crore won’t be enough to make this building get a new life and attract the tourists,” says Gupta.   

The debate does not seem to rest anytime soon. However, what could definitely be vouchsafed is the fact that Thane Jail stands as a symbol of history and its legacy is enough to make anyone proud to spend a night inside, whether as part of Jail Tourism or as a heritage building.

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