On a quiet summer afternoon, I am standing in a well manicured garden- the silence around pronounces the sound of the water from the white marble fountain. A few meters away, the sound of some geese/swans, disrupt my thoughts. No, I am not at an ashram but at Tihar Jail.
Spread across 400 acres of land Tihar has definitely made an effort to be a ‘model jail’ after paying heed to the reforms suggested by the UN Nelson Mandela Rules- a key standard for the treatment of prisoners globally. It focuses on the fact that prisoners being a continuous part of society, and to value the work of prison staff as a social service of particular importance as well as to have quality and accessibility of medical services. In women’s prisons, all necessary prenatal and postnatal care should be available and that’s why many prisoners have been able to give birth at Tihar.
There are 9 medical facilities across the 400 acres of Tihar Jail. Having spent 27 years in prison Nelson Mandela had made these recommendations and were adopted by some of the jails like Tihar as being in prison has a negative effect of the psyche of prisoners leading to depression and prison suicide. The inmates are counselled as soon as they enter prison and are recommended to keep themselves super busy and away from depression and homesickness. But there is a problem of plenty. With a sleeping capacity in the cells for just 5000 inmates- Tihar Jail houses 16,700 people (16,300 men, women and children-some convicts and most under-trial) I was one of the 60 women from the Delhi Chapter of Young Ficci Ladies Organisation who visited jails 2, 4 and 6 of the Tihar jail.
While I am sure we witnessed a sanitised version of the jail life with most prisoners in their cells(that we were not allowed to visit) and the rest were gainfully employed at the paper factory, power looms or at one of the other 34 factories.
Tihar is fairly self sufficient. They grow their own vegetables and cook in fresh pressed mustard oil which is made at the Jail by the inmates. The inmates create cookies, muffins, oil, potato chips, masalas and snacks that are sold commercially under the brand name of ‘TJ’s’. In another space we saw the creativity of the inmates translates into cool home decor pieces like elephants, horses, a replica of the India Gate in addition to the furniture for government schools.
Tihar is divided into several jails and one of them houses the Tihar school of art and a jute factory. Jail 6 is for women- convicted and under trial- no uniform for under trial. Jail 6 also has a fashion department by Pearl Academy of fashion that teaches women how to design and stitch. The inmates here have made clothes for an upcoming film called Marksheet. There is a sanitary pad factory run by the inmates. For the children there is a Creche till they are 5 and after 5 an NGO re habilitates them.
Tihar is a reform jail which has over 60 courses including computer science, yoga and art to name a few. For all work done, the inmates are paid, they have smart cards and money is put on it. The smart cards enable them to shop at the store in Jail or for the services used at the in house beauty parlour. According to Amba Batra Bakshi, Author of the book, ‘In Custody WOMEN IN TIHAR’, the authorities look beyond that and help the inmates reform.
Tihar also has an open jail- like an apartment shared by 4 inmates and during the day they go out, work and come back at night. Amba spent an entire year 9 am to 4 pm at jail as part of her research. She says that stigma is a big part of prison – while they are placed in different jobs, it is observed that men integrate better at a work place than women. Women are often rejected by their families. So they usually commit a petty crime to come back to jail as they get food, shelter and protection. We end our trip with a delicious meal of Rajma, Gobi and Kathal at the jail.
I stare at the sun and my phone says the temperature is 42 degree Celsius-I see why some choose to come back to Tihar, willingly. Our judicial system is so slow that there are more people under trial than convicts at the jail- making me wonder if it’s the most effective use of the exchequer that’s funded by our hard earned tax money.