By Rhea Mathur
“The nexus between these gangsters and jail staff has made the lives of other inmates a hell inside the jail,” wrote Manish Bhardwaj, in his complaint filed against the gangsters in Bhondsi jail. With allegations of extortion rackets being manipulated from behind bars and prisoners threatening and thrashing each other for money, the life inside the Gurugram jail is filled with fear and violence. Being surrounded every day by the monochromatic walls in dark and dingy jail cells only stimulates the development of rage and hate inside prisoners. Thus, at the end of their term, when they return to their lives—malice still holds control over their minds. Instead of finding a path to a peaceful way of life, they are overcome by the violent atmosphere that surrounded them in jail. Such prisons promote the creation of hard-core criminals rather than aiding their rehabilitation process.
Harsh reality of a prison cell
Tihar Jail in New Delhi is said to be one of India’s deadliest jails. Inside Tihar, officers have been held responsible for beating unarmed prisoners indiscriminately and then claiming that the prisoners were “reluctant to cooperate in… proceedings”. In Puzhal Central Prison, Chennai, inmates are provided with a scarce amount of water. Prisoners wash their toilet with mud and are forced to an inhumane life. In Moradabad Central Jail, Uttar Pradesh, there is hardly any space for prisoners themselves. Expected to sleep in shifts, the jail is over-crowded with its two thousand two hundred prisoners stuffed in an area meant for only six hundred and fifty of them.
The number of unnatural deaths in Indian prisons increased from one hundred and fifteen to one hundred and ninety-five between 2013 and 2014. These unnatural deaths include suicides, execution, and negligence shown by jail personnel. The rise of this number indicates the deterioration of facilities in jails over the years. Some factors that lead to this increase include the overcrowding in prisons, lack of medical facilities, lack of availability of doctors and psychologists, as well as the lack of trained staff and emphasis on prison administration.
Combating this harshness with creativity
“Many times, prisoners feel depressed and worried about their families. Some also tend to get suicidal, and purpose of this program is to bring positivity during their incarceration,” said Jail Superintendent of the Taloja jail situated in Mumbai.
Hence, to change the abominable state of prisons and turn them into the rehabilitation centres they are expected to be, creativity is being infused in a prisoner’s daily life.
Balasore District jail in Odisha is hoping to use its five acres of land for organic farming. They wish to teach prisoners the art of cultivation and farming that can help them in their lives after prison. This project would also help increase the jail’s profit and the standard of living for the inmates in the prison.
During Dr Kiran Bedi’s tenure, Tihar jail was filled with a “stench” due to the “clogged sewers” and it has now changed with her constant efforts. The jail now has art studios, computer labs, and libraries. Pradeep Sharma, the officer that manages the factory in the jail said that the “main aim is rehabilitation”. The factory itself makes baked goods, herbal products, and hand-woven rugs. From being a nightmare, the jail has turned to providing a better way of life for its inmates.
Talent hunt in Bhondsi
Such methods are being adopted in jails all over India. In the Bhondsi Jail, a talent hunt was organised to find the jail’s top singers who can take part in professional training. Sony Pictures Network India’s Corporate Social Responsibility program, called the “Dhun Project”, was recently launched in association with the Indian Vision Foundation, founded by Dr Kiran Bedi. The project has initiated a passion for music in the twenty inmates who were selected out of two thousand after several rounds of auditions. Sony launched its first professional training room for prisoners to facilitate a calm environment where they can practice music. One of the inmates, Suraj, stated that “I did not know I could sing so well as to be selected for the training. I enjoyed the auditions and eagerly waiting for the project to start soon”. He is a nineteen-year-old to whom the jail has now provided a new focus.
The training room has been set up with various instruments including a table, dholak, and a harmonium that can help in the learning process. The project was initiated by SNP and Bedi’s NGO in order to help inmates overcome the trauma of their past lives. Vocal and instrumental trainers will also visit the centre daily. Dinesh, a forty-year-old man, charged due to his connection with a murder case, stated that the “Guitar is an instrument I love. If I can master it then it will be a pleasure to teach playing the guitar to others. I will also look to make a living out of it”. This proves the positive impact such programmes can have on inmates. Thus, the program will soon be started in prisons in Sonepat and Rohtak too.
Organisations that assert treatment of prisoners as humans
“If people get sick, we take them to the hospital and give them the right medicine to get better. If people’s behaviour is sick, we bring them to the prison, but we forget the medicines.”
– Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder of The Art of Living
The Prison SMART programme, started by The Art of Living, aims to help prisoners deal with stress, trauma, and negative emotions. The programme has helped more than fifty thousand inmates across forty-five countries. It helps prisoners by reducing their feelings of guilt or need for revenge; hence, also reducing the rate of crime in the society.
Founded by the first lady officer, the Indian Vision Foundation has launched a new project called Vertical Interactive Learning. In this, the non-profit organisation works on the sustenance of its various programmes in prison to ensure the inmates can attain financial independence with their teachings.
The organisation also provides care for young children under the age of six who generally live in the prison with their parent(s). In order to ensure that they do not become the “next victim” due to their environment, a day-care facility is provided. Through this, the staff provides the children with emotional support, nutritious food and health care, all required for their healthy growth and learning. This is known as the Children of Vulnerable Families program and has helped children develop a path for their future. It ensures that their home and community do not negatively influence them.
Dragging stereotypes and sexism behind bars
Even behind bars, forms of sexism have instilled themselves in a prisoner’s daily life. The notion that women eat lesser is followed in prisons where men are given comparatively larger quantities of food. Women are also provided insufficient menstrual pads—only six—every month, which adds to the nightmare they must endure. In Byculla, Mumbai, women have also noticed restrictions on their movements. While male prisoners face hardly any restrictions, females often rely on officers for news from the judicial departments that they are not allowed to enter.
While some NGOs also add to this segregation by providing men with leadership training and women with stitching classes, all do not follow suit. In Kannur, the inmates opened a beauty parlour for men called “Phoenix Freedom of Expression”. They had undergone intensive training and hence, used valuable skills they can further develop at the end of their terms.
Prisons are meant to be rehabilitation centres. Promoting violence and terror is a complete contrast to the requirement of a prison. The increasing suicide rates inside cells come as a warning to the Government that it is time for a change. With the growing number of NGOs ready to support the cause, change is now inevitable and hopefully will initiate a decrease in the crime rate in India.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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