Haridwar District Jail makes a turnaround

October 19th, 2008 - 2:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Haridwar (Uttarakhand), Oct 19 (IANS) Convicted murderers, drug dealers, burglars along with accused inmates - all clad in white prison uniform - sit row upon row, working on sewing machines. Their hands move efficiently and their feet control the pedals. They are busy stitching orange-coloured medicine handbags for an ayurvedic institution here.In another area, a young boy is weaving a rug on a handloom.

Welcome to the Haridwar District Jail. Once infamous for its isolation and neglect, it now runs diverse rehabilitation projects, earns revenue from them and even helps other state prisons.

“Just by putting a culprit in jail, the duty is not over. He does not get automatically reformed. He must be given an environment to evolve. Environment plays an important role in transforming the psyche of a convict,” says Rakesh Verma, a deputy jailer.

With a big tailoring unit, a handloom project under the Uttarakhand Khadi Evam Gramudyog, a medicinal plant garden and educational courses, the jail with about 950 prisoners - of whom about 400 are life term convicts and about 250 are being held for petty crimes - seems to be on a mission to reform.

Mahendra Singh, the chief jailer, says the aim behind the projects is to improve the human rights standard inside penal institutions like the Haridwar District Jail.

Perhaps much of the credit for the change that has swept through the jail, especially in the past year, goes to District Magistrate (DM) Anand Vardhan and Inspector General (Prisons) Bhaskaranand.

“Before the DM took over its administration, Haridwar Jail was a disturbed jail. No one could go beyond the main gate. With the idea of an open jail in mind, the DM along with his team has led to transformation of the jail,” Verma told IANS.

The jail grows medicinal plants like Ashwagandha. The side space of the barracks is utilised for growing Aloe Vera. The herbal garden grows Stevia, which is 300 times sweeter than the normal sugar, on a large scale. Lemon-scented Eucalyptus Citriodora is another useful plant grown in the premises.

“The hard work of the prisoners has helped the jail authorities earn a revenue of Rs.1.3 million since November 2003 from its plantation project,” says Pawan Kothari, another deputy jailer.

An old convict, Khushal Singh, serving a life term is the supervisor of the garden. His silent deep looks and philosophical utterances show his spiritual bent of mind.

“Antaratma ka prakash hamesha khush rakhta hai, jis haal mein bhi rahna padey (Awakening in your soul always keeps you happy, whatever your situation). It’s my sadguru’s teaching,” says the convict.

The district magistrate has opened a National Institute of Open School (NIOS) centre in the jail under the human resources development ministry. Now prisoners can utilise their time studying high school and intermediate courses.

In the academic session 2008-09, 24 prisoners filled up application forms for high school and two for intermediate levels. On the DM’s appeal, the Rotary Club donated Rs.26,300 as the fee of prisoner students. Classes commenced this month.

A study centre for the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has been established in the jail and 124 inmates have registered. Ten computers have been donated for the project by the Gujarat Ambuja Foundation.

Arun Chorakoti, a life term convict who lives in the isolation cell, was one of the inmates who has enrolled for IGNOU’s six-month computer course. He is a science graduate from Haldwani, a staunch Maoist and was reading an English newspaper sitting on his concrete bed on the floor when this reporter saw him.

When wished all the best for the course, he reciprocated with a warm smile.

Many also find solace in creative work.

The Janmashtami festival has special craze for the inmates as Lord Krishna, whose birthday is celebrated on that day, was born behind bars. On that day, prisoners engage in making decorations depicting Krishna’s birth.

Another sculpture, that of Lord Shiva, greets one in the jail - the beautiful creation has been carved out with the help of a spoon by a prisoner, Pushkar Singh.

They are all symbolic of reform in the jail.

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