TIHAR: LIFE BEYOND BARS
With just a few days left for Holi, Bipin (name changed) who has mastered the art of gulal making, knows he has to meet demands. He is even working extra hours to finalise which markets or exhibitions he would be putting up his gulal kiosk at. Not long before, he was in Tihar Jail serving a sentence for seven years. He had serious charges of attempt to murder and robbery against him. However, life has changed since then.
"It was a dark dream. I thank God I am out of it. I learnt the art of gulal making while serving my sentence in Tihar. It is helping me out now to earn my livelihood and live a decent life. Crime is history for me now," says Bipin.
Bipin is not the only one to have benefitted from the rehabilitation programmes undertaken by Tihar Jail to reform the prisoners. One would be really surprised to know about 48-year-old Rajender Verma (name changed) who could surpass any professional and skilled incense stick (agarbatti) maker. His hands roll like machines and his reflexes are so trained that he could even talk to you attentively while making the beautiful incense sticks with his fingers and surprisingly, Rajender is blind. He was charged with rape, and it was during his sentence in Tihar that he learnt the art of incense stick making.
"All I learnt in Tihar is helping me now. It was quite useful, as it kept me engaged and equipped with a skill that will help me throughout your life. It's not just a prison, it is definitely a reform home for me," says Rajender. Both Bipin and Rajender are working with Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan's Antarkranti (inner revolution) situated at Bawana Industrial Area in Delhi which works for prisoners' reforms.
Tihar, South Asia's largest prison, is completely changing the perspective of the word 'prison'. When Millennium Post visited Tihar, Director General (Prisons) Sudhir Yadav was busy discussing about the inmates' reform policies with a group of social workers in his office. Sitting comfortably, they were drowned in an intense discussion on how things could be improved when suddenly one of the social workers noticed some beautifully-designed stone paperweights and asked about its makers. Yadav was quick to appreciate the admiration with a smile and give the credit where it was due."The inmates made these designer paperweights. They are good at it," he replied bending to pick one up.
When Millennium Post expressed willingness to see the rehabilitation and reform centres in the Tihar premises, the request was duly entertained with an officer assigned for the same. The journey from the DG Tihar's office to jail number 2 is a treat for the eye with lush green scenarios on both sides. The place sometimes makes you forget that you are inside a jail which houses some of India's most dreaded criminals and terrorists.
Soon, we were at jail number 2 which houses the convicts. We were subjected to intense multiple-level security checks. Guests or policemen or even jail staff are thoroughly scanned without an exception by the Tamil Nadu special police personnel. Limited expressions on their face and the language barrier makes them the perfect force to guard the prison. We were asked to remove our shoes which we readily complied to. As our shoes went through the scanner, a couple of trained hands frisked us from head to toe. After we were cleared, we stepped inside the jail.
The first thing that caught our attention was the greenery inside. The soothing breeze swaying the leaves on the trees shifted our gaze on the wall passage where some beautiful quotes were written. "Give us love, we will give you a better society," read one on the wall. The second one written in Hindi said, "Ek sudhrega, jag sudhrega" (If one reforms, the world reforms).
As we walked, tunes of Majrooh Sultanpuri's Ek din bik jayega maati ke mol reached our ears. Looking at the direction of the sound, one has to raise the head to see a speaker tied on the top of a tree playing Bollywood tunes on prisoners' demand. We were told that it is the Tihar radio called FM TJ playing tunes.
As we walked further and the tunes faded away, we saw the 24-hour health dispensary inside the premises, which every jail has but the best part was the cleanliness which was beyond description. Normal health issues of the inmates are addressed here by trained medical practitioners.
The Yoga training centre inside is one of the favourite spots of the inmates and a couple of men were seen busy with their Yoga classes, eyes closed.
A few steps ahead was the e-library. On entering, we saw some inmates carefully having a look at the vast collection of books and novels placed neatly on the shelves. An inmate slowly moved his hand and picked up Saadat Hasan Manto's 'Toba Tek Singh'. Another one picked up 'Chanakya Sutra' from the collection.
An inmate in his 40's was seen scrolling pages of a newspaper put up on the stand in the middle of the library while another played some mind games in a tablet. The man in-charge of the library dressed in white and a tilak on his forehead greeted us with a smile as he issued the two books for the inmates. We were told later, that he too, is a convict undergoing his sentence.
Adjacent to the library is the computer centre. With pin drop silence, three middle-aged men and a young man in his late 20's were seen sitting on the computers. "It's of great use. We get acquainted with the latest developments of the computer world. This certainly will benefit us once we get out," said an inmate.
Then we were greeted by a partially bald man outside the music room. Peeping inside, we saw a congo, a drum set, a casio synthesiser and a harmonium. An inmate was also seen adjusting the strings of a guitar.
Some inmates were seen carrying some papers inside a room that read Free Legal Aid cell that runs with the help of Delhi Legal Services Authority (DLSA). The DLSA gentleman said that they receive approximately 25 applications on a daily basis from inmates who want to know their bail status, paroles and furloughs.
A few steps ahead of a stylish saloon, 'Hair Art Academy', inmates trained by Habib's were seen hairdressing as two other inmates waited in line in a well lit room. It is often said that a person is made up of several layers which make up ones inner self and this room was resonating the same fact, literally. Infinity was created inside the room with face-to-face mirrors on all sides, as if portraying the multiple layers of the inner self. A man on a chair slowly raised his head to look at the strangers inside but the scissor and comb's rhythmic work on his head forced him to close his eyes as he lowered his head with a smile.
As we moved out, we heard some motivational speech from one of the rooms as an old man sat on a white bed sheet on a mattress. A television kept on an elevation was telecasting spiritual programmes. The walls had posters of Sai Baba and Osho side-by-side.
The wall, adjacent to the spiritual room, has 19 courses mentioned on a board of IGNOU study centre which are offered free of cost to inmates. A scheme 'Padho aur Padhao' enables inmates to teach other inmates.
Moving ahead, we saw two inmates curiously waiting outside a room, while two others were talking on the fixed phone that read 'Inmate Phone Call Facility'. "They are waiting for their turn. They can talk to their family members but only for five minutes that too only on one phone number that automatically gets displayed with their fingerprint," informed an officer.
Ahead of that, was a colourful yellow door with the painting of a microphone. One could easily guess it be the Tihar FM station. Tihar has its own radio jockeys and even often contest in Tihar idols.
Heading forward, a familiar aroma filled the air which came right from the bakery in the factory. A group of young inmates showed us how the big ovens work and how the TJ's biscuits are made. The inmates insisted we taste some and the flavour could easily match with that of the best cookies around the globe.
The petha unit nearby caught our attention as hundreds of pethas lay on a table. "Please taste one. You won't forget the taste," suggested an inmate who was meticulously packing the pethas into half kilogram boxes along with others.
One would never imagine that Tihar has some beautiful breeds of pigeons too and often, the inmates take time to feed them.
The jail number 3 of Tihar, mostly for under-trials, has an IGNOU study ward where mostly IGNOU exams are conducted. Puppet making, painting and drama sections are some of the vital parts of Tihar which houses more than 14,000 inmates.
"Tihar is not a prison rather it's a reformation centre. The inmates, the NGOs, social workers, the staff and our society are all a part of this reformation process. Once they are free, I expect society to accept them and give them a chance. Society always has a bigger role to play," said Sudhir Yadav, DG (Prisons). As it was time for us to call it a day, the tunes of Ruk jana nahi tu kahin haar ke played by the Tihar FM dissolved in the air as we walked out of the premises.