iconimg Friday, September 04, 2015

Aseem Bassi, Hindustan Times
Amritsar, May 16, 2012
"Mainu ithey padna bahut changa lagda hai (I enjoy studying in this school)," says eight-year-old Aasima Roomi in fluent Punjabi. Hailing from Bangladesh, she has learnt a foreign language - in prison.
Aasima lives with her mother in the local Central Jail and has been studying in the prison's government elementary school for the past two years. In all, there are seven children from Bangladesh and two from Myanmar whose mothers are facing charges of crossing the border illegally.

These children can comfortably speak as well as write Punjabi. Aasima, a student of Class 3, wants to be a teacher and is all praise for her teacher, Payal Kapoor.

Another Bangladeshi national, Noor Nabi (9), who is in Class 4, says, "I go to school for the lessons as well as the meals." He wants to become a great cricketer like Sachin Tendulkar.

Noor Hasina from Myanmar, a Class-3 student, knows that her mother is in jail for straying into Indian territory, but has no idea when she will return to her country. "This school has taught me a lot," she says.

According to teacher Payal Kapoor, "Initially, it was tough for these kids to understand Punjabi, but with the passage of time, they have picked it up very well and are showing avid interest in studies." Balwinder Kaur, who runs the school, says, "I often meet their mothers to tell them how their kids are doing. Earlier, they were reluctant to make their children study, but now they are happy to send them to school."

There are about 27 children living with their mothers, who are lodged in jail for various offences. A majority of them belongs to India. Interestingly, children of undertrials/convicts study along with wards of the jail staff in the school.

There is also a school for tiny tots on the jail premises, where about 10 kids spend a few hours.

Jail superintendent Surinder Singh says, "Our aim is to educate these kids, who are in jail just because their mothers or fathers are facing trial or undergoing a sentence. The children of foreign nationals are sharp and keen students.