Life isn’t easy for inmates but once they decide they want to start afresh, life does offer another chance.
Sucheta Das Mohapatra
Sunny (name changed) was 20 when he worked as a photographer with a local news channel. Though trained in photography, he did not have the necessary qualification to get a job in a good news channel. He wanted to take his Class XII exam, which he had to forgo when his father lost his job. More bad luck followed He was arrested and convicted in a kidnap and murder case, which he says he had no clue about. Fifteen days before the arrest, his friends had asked him to lend them his phone for five minutes and he had done it without giving it any second thought. He had no idea then that it was being used for a heinous act.
People pelted stones at his house and made his parents’ and siblings’ life so miserable that they were forced to sell their flat and flee to another city. Sunny lived with the hope that one day he will be acquitted and out of jail. But when a year went by, he understood he will have to serve time. Every time he met the same friends inside the prison, he fumed and even had a brawl.
After two years, the prisoner reformation programme started in the jail, which gave Sunny and many other prisoners, convicted and undertrials, the opportunity to spend time away from the barracks and learn new skills. Sunny learned to paint, which today gives him his livelihood.
“I did not look back after I came out of prison in 2018. On getting a job as a delivery boy, I first brought my family back. Then I tried doing other things but when it did not work out, I went to the art teacher who taught us in the prison. I learned more at her studio in Noida and honed my skills. Today, I am self-employed and get contractual works as an artist. My father passed away while I was in jail and I could not see him, but I am happy that my mother is at peace now on seeing me settled,” says Sunny.
While Sunny learned art in the prison, Jamal (name changed) who came from a family of barbers taught young prisoners how to cut and style hair. Many undertrials trained by him have their own salons now after being released from prison. Jamal works as a Deed Writer. A village Nambardar, he too , he claims, became a victim for trusting someone blindly. The Patwari had asked him to be a witness in a sale deed. Later, it was found that the land was owned by the Indian Railways, and he was jailed in a forgery case. “Everyone in my village knew it was not my fault. There was nothing to hide,” says Jamal.
But this was not the case with everyone. Ajit (name changed), another undertrial in an assault case, says the one year that he had to spend in jail was tough.It was only because of the prisoners reformation programme, which kept the inmates busy from 10 am to 4 pm that he could stay mentally sound as well as learn new skills. “My brother’s sister-in-law wanted to marry me and when I and my parents refused, she filed a complaint against me under Section 363 and 366 of Indian Penal Code (IPC). I had just come from my village in Odisha after matriculation to be with my father who worked in the NCR then,” says Ajit who works as an electrician now. He is now married and lives happily with his family.
Mohini Bharadwaj works in the reformation programme for prison inmates executed by India Vision Foundation, a non-governmental organisation. They provide counselling support to female prisoners in Gurgaon, Faridabad, Tihar, Dasna and Kasna jails. “It is not an easy job at all”, says Mohini. “I used to be completely exhausted by the end of the day and did not even look at my phone after reaching home. Only after two hours of nap, would I be in a position to check my phone,” she says. There were both undertrials and convicts and the counselling process was different for both, she adds. “Undertrials mostly cried. They struggled and some even tried to commit suicide. They needed proper counselling. We used to tell them it is a phase that will be over soon. We used to tell them to utilise the time in learning a new skill or honing their skills further.”
While convicts became aggressive at times some of them learned how to calm down gradually. Mohini says there were many young girls too as inmates.Now they have a new life, earning from the skills they acquired in the prison. But what pained her most was the innocent children of convicts who never got to see the outside world till they turned six and were shifted to hostels. “I once took them to a mall with permission from the jail authorities. One child was scared of Ronald, the McDonald clown mascot. He had never seen an animal, not even a dog or a cat, and the only males he knew were those working in the jail and his father whom they met at times.”
Mohini and her former colleague Faizan Khan are no longer working with the prison inmates but they are still connected with the inmates who are now leading a peaceful life outside the jail. “Starting a new life may be tough but is not impossible. There is always an unseen hand to hold us which we all must bear in mind,” says Faizan.