How Lives were transformed in the Jails
For most prisoners serving long sentences, the thought of post-prison life is numbing. Questions like reintegration into society, finding a dignified means of livelihood, etc., give them sleepless nights. Thanks to the Himachal Prison Department’s initiative, Har Haath Ko Kaam, prisoners lodged in Himachal Pradesh’s jails don’t have to deal with such depressing thoughts. Under this programme, every inmate is offered some sort of vocational training and gainful employment. Hence, when they walk free after serving their sentence, they will not struggle to find a legitimate means of livelihood. Financial security will go a long way in their rehabilitation and reintegration into mainstream society.
The prisoners are involved in manufacturing high-quality designer clothing, bakery products, handloom and furniture. Besides, a significant number (150) of inmates work in hotels and industries. They go out for work in the morning and return to the jail in the evening. “Around 40 per cent of the total 2450 inmates, lodged in 14 jails of the state, are sole breadwinners of their families. So, the initiative is a blessing for them,” says Somesh Goyal, Director General, Prisons and Correctional Services. For the record, the average annual income of the prisoners lodged in the jails across the state is Rs 46,200, the highest in the country. And the turnover of the prisons in 2018-19 was Rs 3.6 crore, and wages to the tune of Rs 1.2 crore were paid to the prisoners.
The success of the scheme has encouraged the department to set up jails in industrial areas with a view to creating more employment opportunities for the inmates. The first such jail is coming up at Nalagarh, the industrial hub of the state.
We encourage prisoners to improve their qualification and learning levels through open schools and universities so that they can get better jobs after completing the sentence. Prisons are reformatories and transformation centres and our endeavour is to ensure their rehabilitation after release. — Somesh Goyal, Director General, Prisons and Correctional Services
My life had hit a dead end, all hopes were shattered and I was depressed. It seemed all over until a ray of hope came in the form of an offer to design the e-commerce portal for Kaara Bazaar, selling products manufactured by the prisoners. Currently, I am teaching at a private coaching centre and am happy about it. — Gaurav, a prisoner
Besides welding, carpentry and masonry, the prisoners are engaged in handicrafts as well. Exhibitions of the products made by the inmates, such as modular furniture, tables, chairs, products made from pine needles, wall hangings, etc., are a huge hit. Eight to 10 such exhibitions are held annually at different places, including at the Gaiety Theatre in Shimla, Kullu Dasehra, and the Delhi Haat. The inmates have also been running mobile canteens, housed in vans, offering rajma chawal and kadhi chawal. About 12 himkaara stores selling products made by the inmates have been opened across the state. “My life had hit a dead end, all hopes were shattered and I was depressed. It seemed all over until a ray of hope came in the form of an offer to design the e-commerce portal for Kaara Bazaar, selling products manufactured by the prisoners,” says Gaurav, an inmate undergoing life imprisonment. He was a sixth semester student at IIT Roorkee when he was arrested for a crime in 2014. Currently, he’s teaching at a private coaching centre, thanks to the open-jail concept. “I cannot change what has happened but teaching makes me happy. I will consider myself fortunate if I could help youngsters build a good career for themselves,” he says.
Gaurav also developed the online recruitment software for the state’s Prison Department. “I used to pay Rs 6 to 7 lakh to the electronic corporation, but the same was done at a much lower cost by our inmate. The department had to pay only Rs 2 lakh for his services,” said Goyal.
Another inmate, who has been provided tools and equipment to make furniture, is the only earning member of his family. His imprisonment had put his family in deep financial trouble, but the wages he earns working inside the prison is keeping the family afloat. “When I went back home on parole after three years, I had Rs 1.5 lakh. It helped marry off my sister,” he said.
Jailbreak mastermind, now a painter
Life has changed for many other inmates, too, who are working in hotels and beauty parlours or are engaged in stitching, manufacturing bakery products, furniture and clothing in jails. Colourful paintings adorning the walls of Model Jail, Kanda, near Shimla, are testimony to the transformation of the Kanda jailbreak mastermind, Krishna Khetri, into a fine painter. Khetri, an undertrial booked under the NDPS Act, had sketched the map of the Kanda jail to help the inmates escape on the intervening night of December 6 and 7 in 2017. A Class V dropout, with no training in painting, Khetri has a photogenic memory and a remarkable talent to paint what he sees. Two years back, he put his skill to help prisoners escape from the jail. Now, he expresses his talent through a paint brush, mostly on the walls of the prison.
Khetri, a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva, has made eight paintings till date, including that of Lord Rama, Hanuman and Rani Laxmi Bai. He has also painted the replica of the Army statue outside the ARTRAC building.
Interestingly, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sympathiser Abid Khan, convicted and sentenced to five-year imprisonment after he turned approver, is the man behind designers handloom produced by inmates in Kanda Model jail. Khan, who was a fashion designer, designs clothing produced at Kanda jail, with a touch of Arabic designs. Besides, he also imparts training to the fellow inmates in cutting, stitching and designing.
The book café at Takka Bench, too, is run by the prisoners. Working at the book café, Jai Chand, who is serving life imprisonment and has been in the prison for eight years now, feels the initiative has given him a fresh lease of life. “We connect with people, live a normal life, customers give us positive feedback, some even empathise with us. My family and I are really happy,” he says, his face lighting up with an ear to ear smile.
- 2,450 Number of inmates lodged in 14 jails in Himachal Pradesh. As many as 87 of them are women.
- 46,200 Average annual income of the prisoners, the highest in the country
- 80 Per cent of the inmates are from rural areas
- 80 Per cent inmates have passed Class XII
- 60 Per cent of the inmates are undertrials, while 40 per cent are convicts
- 12 Number of Himkaara stores, selling products manufactured in prisons, have been opened across the state
- 1,371 Number of prisoners who have been rehabilitated and given financial assistance