Suresh Kumar, a former property agent, is eagerly waiting for his virtual New Year gift by the end of December — a certificate declaring him a neo-literate.
Kumar, a convict lodged in Tihar Jail, is due to be released in June and expects to use his newly acquired educational skills to teach his five-year-old son and earn his livelihood through fair means.
Together with 4,607 other Tihar inmates, Kumar is a beneficiary of a literacy project -- ‘Padho Ya Padhao’ (study or teach) -- started eight months ago by the prison authorities. The target: achieving 100% literacy across 10 sub-jails.
A neo-literate is one who has elementary knowledge of English, Hindi, arithmetic, science and computers.
As part of the project, for two hours every morning -- from 8.30am to 10.30am -- Tihar's 10 sub-jails turn into classrooms. The project is run jointly with the help of the National Literacy Mission (NLM).
Till Sunday, the project had transformed around 96% of the 4, 800 illiterate inmates into neo-literates.
Most of them got certificates after successfully completing three-week vocational courses ranging from refrigerator repairing to hairdressing. These courses run parallel with the project.
Prison law officer Sunil Gupta said: “By the end of December, Tihar Jail will achieve 100% literacy with the help of the project that began in April. At the beginning of 2011, around 4,800 inmates were illiterate but now only around four per cent of them are left to be made neo-literates.”
Gupta said the 19th century French poet statesman, Victor Hugo, inspired the project. “As Victor Hugo had said, the more schools a society opens, the lesser number of criminals it produces,” he said.
At the end of the literacy module, a successful participant gets a certificate from the NLM, declaring him or her to be having the educational skills of a standard-III student. Before getting the certificate, an inmate is required to pass a test conducted by the NLM.