Children's Day may be an occasion for millions of kids to celebrate their childhood and be pampered, but there are many who have been forced by circumstances to spend their 'golden days' behind the bars – a number of them don't even know how a life outside jail feels like.
As many as 23 children, aged between six months and nine years, are currently living with their mothers in the women prisoners’ cell of Bhopal central jail, prison officials say, adding that at least six of them were born in the jail itself.
Rupesh, 8, and his brother Sohan, 6, have been staying in the jail with their mother, accused in the murder of her brother-in-law, for about 14 months. As some jail official enters their cell, they hope for the news of their release.
Luckily, they have seen the life outside. The duo grew up playing in the farms with their friends in Rajgarh’s Jirapur village. But now their life has been confined to four walls of the central jail, "giving company" to their mother.
The two kids, like others, have "all the facilities" available to a normal child, except freedom. They miss racing with their classmates, sleeping with their father in the open, visiting markets, eating food of their choice, listening fairy tales from their grandfather and most importantly freedom of living with both mother and father.
It is easy for children to spend the day, but in the evening it becomes hard for them to live in a locked hall.
They dress up for the school being run in the jail premises, but they never rejoice returning from the school. Rupesh said, "I have forgotten the joy which I used to get while returning from my school in Jirapur."
When HT talked to another child, Anshu, 4, who came into the jail three months ago, she said, "Mein kabhi nahin ladungi kyunki meri mummy ladi to police wale papa or mere do Bandar ko le gaye (I will never fight with anybody as my mother fought, and police took my father and two monkeys with them).
"I have come here leaving my friends in Chhatarpur. In jail, there is only one house where everybody lives. But at my place there are several houses, so we easily play hide and seek."
Unlike Rupesh and Anshu, there are several children who have no memories of the outside world, as they were either born in the jail or they came here just after their birth.
Krishna, 5, had come in the jail when he was 2-year-old. For Krishna, jail is not at all any punishment. Krishna visited Van Vihar and lake during an occasional picnic organised by the jail staff, but he is otherwise scared of going out.
Central jail women officer on duty Somesh Pal said, "Jail officers, social workers and NGOs put efforts to bring smile on their faces by distributing things that a child likes and through education. We also try to develop their minds, but living within the four walls of jail is really a difficult thing for children." (The children's names have been changed to protect their identities)