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HUMAN RIGHTS DAY: BEHIND GREY BARS

Celebrating Human Rights is a simultaneous duty and privilege – we owe our citizens the fruits of freedom, most of all to those whose dreams of 'rights' have been eclipsed in our country's abhorrent prisons

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY: BEHIND GREY BARS

For 41-year-old Ramesh, residing in one of India's 3,157 recognised prisons, the conceptualisation of Human Rights is elusive. Restricted within concrete walls, his human identity has been reduced to a number; and, the dream for 'rights' only means achieving the normal – waking up without the guard banging at the door, tending to the farm he had spent most of his life toiling in and coming back home to the cheerful faces of his infants, who by now, must already have taken their first steps in the world. While any other parent would rejoice the many 'firsts' their child accomplishes in the journey of becoming an adult – Ramesh is apprehensive. The world hasn't been fair to him. Caught on the wrong side of local goons, Ramesh is an undertrial, patiently waiting for his shot at innocence. What about rights when existence has been subverted on a wrong?

Observed on December 10, each year, Human Rights Day is a celebration of individual independence, reinstating to Nation-States their duty in upholding human virtues – a pleasant detour from the horrific days of the Holocaust, when a human was reduced to a lifeless furniture. For the autonomous individual thriving in today's world of opportunities, this day brings promise, hope and belief in achieving unhindered progress, despite the intermittent vagaries of life. It recognises individual power, assuring a person of their ultimate protection in the eyes of global law. On the flipside, for the imprisoned, whose sense of individuality is snatched with the designation of a number, rights do not matter – they are tamed to believe that their past glories, sense of self-respect and dignity in society have all perished with the court's declaration (often misguided). Prisoners, for an individual living with life's excesses, are insignificant.

Yet, prisoners do matter and they always will – as the conceptual antithesis of individual autonomy and as an essential marker of a country's philosophical progress. It is far easier to hate and shun, rather than to embrace the challenge of creating reformed individuals. Prisons in India have gained global disrepute over time – for abysmal living conditions, a painfully slow process of judicial recovery and the absence of essential reformation mechanisms. Tapping on to this crisis, Dr Vartika Nanda began a unique initiative, the Tinka Tinka foundation, that reaches out to prisons across the country in an attempt to alleviate conditions and uplift the essence of living. "For me, this is a spiritual journey and a social commitment. I was driven to bring palpable change in society, and prisons drew my attention. After I took my first steps into motivating prison reformation, I realised the enormity of the challenge. I also knew that I must dedicate my life to this cause and bring about a positive change in society, one step at a time," says Dr Nanda, a pioneer in her field and indeed a source of motivation to the many privileged members of society who are equipped with the resources to initiate change but lack the drive.

On Human Rights Day, Dr Vartika Nanda is mindful of reminding society of the individuals who have grown and been moulded by its mechanisms but now lay in its fringes. Irrespective of the intensity of a crime committed, every individual deserves a chance at making more of life. Curated for the first time in India, Tinka Tinka Awards address the individuality of inmates, motivating their creative flair and encouraging them to add colour to an otherwise grey life. These awards reach out to the imprisoned, encouraging them to engage in art, literature and research on Human Rights issues.

The awards this year were distributed across three categories – Painting (theme: Dreams inside Prisons), Special Talent and Awards for Jail Administrators. 33-year-old Raja Ram lodged in Bhatinda Central Jail, received the first prize in the Painting category for his piece titled The Dreaming Kids. He has painted two children one rich and one poor, dreaming of a better life. While the poor child dreams of food, the rich is seen holding a laptop, highlighting the limitations experienced by children who have been living an imprisoned life with either of their parents. Indian prisons house over 1,800 children living under such circumstances.

Human Rights Day is an opportune occasion for us to retrospect on the meaning of individuality in a deeply fragmented and often horrific society. It is also a reminder of the lives that are lived in the fringes – prisons being a prime point of departure. "While I am undeterred in my journey, I am also often perturbed by ordinary people's perception of prisoners. Convicts are most often sensationalised and despised for their crimes. Reformation and acceptance still remain low," reflects Dr Nanda, who has actively engaged with the apex court to address inhuman conditions of Indian prisons while simultaneously curating various projects that can add more colour to life inside concrete jails.

As we celebrate Human Rights and individual autonomy – gifts of modern

Radhika Dutt

Radhika Dutt

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