Among other works, deft illustrations and canvasses of Saraswati, Ganesha and Buddha now line the Tihar gallery walls, which can be accessed with permission. Programmes of yoga, dance and music also mark the prisoner's calendars now.
One often thinks of Indian prisons as dingy, cramped cells with their mean and often dehumanised inmates waiting for redemption. So it comes as a surprise when a group of prisoners takes to stage and gets applauded for performing a play written by Rabindranath Tagore or when paintings made by inmates are appreciated by art connoisseurs and get sold at art exhibitions for thousands of rupees.
But isn’t that what prisons are supposed to be about? To reform those who committed mistakes in their lives and give them a second chance. Contrary to popular perception of prisons as violent spaces, two Indian prisons, Delhi’s Tihar Jail and West Bengal’s Berhampore Central Correction Home, are doing just that by encouraging healthy practices of painting, sketching and performing theatre for inmates who are prepared to lead a new life.
Employing art and theatre as avenues for change, the two prisons are allowing creative freedom to prisoners in confinement. In return, the inmates also see it not just as a meaningful pastime, but a rehabilitative intervention and a possible vocation to take up after their jail term.
Suraj Prakash, an art instructor from the College of Art, has been teaching Tihar (Jail 4) inmates every week since June 2017, after several inmates were spotted doing amateur sketching and painting by the jail administration.
“To encourage them, Superintendent Rajesh Chauhan contacted instructors to teach them. The group has now snowballed from a handful to around 200, and over 20 have mastered it in less than two years,” Prakash told IANS.
Equipped with an in-house art gallery now, the ‘Tihar School of Art’ has sold close to 60 artworks since its inception, and even garnered Rs 5-6 lakh. According to Prakash, half the money from each sale is deposited into the respective inmate’s account, and the rest goes into funding art activities.
A booth was dedicated to showing works of art by the inmates at the India Art Festival.
Among other works, deft illustrations and canvasses of Saraswati, Ganesha and Buddha now line the Tihar gallery walls, which can be accessed with permission. Programmes of yoga, dance and music also mark the prisoner’s calendars now.
The second initiative, tagged as theatre therapy, started when theatre director Pradip Bhattacharya ventured into the Berhampore prison for a jail performance in 2006 where he saw gender-segregated cells with low levels of literacy among inmates.
On a proposal by the prison’s Inspector General B.D. Sharma, Bhattacharya started working with the prisoners, many of whom were sentenced for life. What cemented their tie as director and actors was a meal he shared with them, which “changed their body language completely”.
“Theatre is my weapon. It has transformed the lives of these people. They may have committed crimes, but the rehabilitation has been immensely successful,” he told IANS.
While some prisoners were involved in land disputes, some were convicted for murder in a fit of anger. Bhattacharya said that they were not born criminals, but accidental ones, which is why their reform was easier.
A troupe of 26 actors from the Berhampore Repertory Theatre staged a play written by Rabindranath Tagore, “Jakshapuri (Raktakarabi)” on Thursday here, as part of a National School of Drama theatre fest. For Bhattacharya, who said Tagore was immediately relatable to the prisoners, understanding the cultural figure is not a matter of education.
“He is not a high-mounted photograph for them. He is their guru, Gurudev.”
After staging over 50 shows of three Tagore productions in various locations across India, the troupe does plan on taking up theatre when they are free. “Theatre gives a peace of mind. I am relieved of all tensions when I act. I have found Bhattacharya, who is like my father,” inmate-actor Sapan Mehena told IANS.
Bhattacharya, who also proudly pointed to two prisoners who fell in love during the rehearsals, also said that many are also taking to education. Mehena, for instance, has completed class 10 in jail.
Buddhadev Meta, one of the main characters of the play, said: “When I was sentenced to life, there was a depressing darkness all around, and I thought to myself that my life is over, but when the director encouraged us to do theatre, it was a new platform for living life altogether. I don’t want to lose it now.”
Meta, who also found his partner in a co-prisoner who played the protagonist Nandini, said that he has found his “sansar” (world), and for earning livelihood, Bhattacharya has given him a new avenue. He proudly added that he wants to continue with theatre even after he is free.
Meta also said that he is learning a few words of English, and his Bengali is now “completely clear”, owing to theatre rehearsals. (IANS)
Guards at a prison camp in North Korea have recently enlarged a convenience store attached to the facility, pressuring inmates’ relatives to spend money there to purchase food and medicine formerly brought in for free, sources in the country say.
The new store at the Kaecheon Correctional Labor Camp in South Pyongan province was opened at the end of last year following a surge in the prison’s incarceration rate, a source in South Pyongan told RFA’s Korean Service.
“The store is now crowded with visitors each day, and is being used as a way to exploit family members of the inmates and suck the money out of them,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They are not allowed to bring in food or other necessities, so they are forced to make those purchases from the convenience store,” the source said.
Employees at the store are family members of the prison’s officials, the source said, adding, “And they abuse their authority by selling things like alcohol and cigarettes at much higher prices than they could get by selling them at street markets” outside the facility.
“Visitors are afraid that their loved ones inside the prison could suffer badly if they complain about the ridiculous prices, so they reluctantly make their purchases at the convenience store,” he said.
Prison officials also pressure inmates to ask family members visiting the store to buy expensive items such as solar batteries, razors, office paper and other supplies, “falsely claiming that these things are needed for common use in the facility,” the source said.
Inmates who fail to deliver the demanded goods are often beaten or receive other kinds of punishment during bed-checks at night, he said.
Also speaking to RFA, a source in Ryanggang province said he had gone to Kaecheon after hearing that his brother, an inmate at the prison, was suffering from malnutrition there.
“When I arrived, I was told that visits were allowed only once per quarter, and they refused to allow me into the visitors’ room,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.
“I got frustrated, and argued with them when I was told that I should just buy food at the convenience store and send that in,” he said.
“I couldn’t bear their attitude which cares only about their business dealings at the store, while they reject visitors’ requests to see their family members inside the prison, so they can hide the severe conditions at the facility and stop the spreading of rumors about it.”
Prison authorities are failing to address the growing numbers of prisoners suffering from illness and malnutrition at Kaecheon, the source said.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav will hold a joint press conference here on Saturday when the alliance between them for the coming Lok Sabha polls is likely to be announced.
An invitation, jointly signed by SP General Secretary Rajendra Chowdhary and BSP General Secretary Satish Chandra Mishra, has been circulated to the media for the press conference at a five-star hotel here.
Informed sources said that the two former Chief Ministers might formally announce the formation of the alliance for the Lok Sabha polls and also share the seat-sharing formula.
A tactical alliance between SP and BSP – once sworn enemies – helped them defeat the BJP in Lok Sabha by-elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur last year. The two parties also backed the candidate of RLD-led by Ajit Singh to win the Kairana Lok Sabha constituency.
Four-time Chief Minister Mayawati flew into Lucknow late on Thursday and is likely to deliberate with her party leaders on Friday before sealing the deal with SP.
A senior party leader said that while the SP and BSP will share 37 seats each, they will leave two for Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).
The alliance might also leave two seats, Amethi and Rae Bareli, for the Congress to enable Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi to contest from there.