For eight hours — from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. — six days a week, the usually fidgety 27-year-old is a picture of concentration. Freshly painted lime walls and blue grille doors enclose his workplace.
Amid the hum of sewing machines, the swish of scissors-at-work and the thumping sound of small hammers, Rakesh Kumar (name changed) gives shape to his “masterpiece”: A pair of black leather shoes meant for kids. Serving a life sentence at Tihar’s Sub-Jail Number 2, he takes pride in the fact that he produces a pair of such shoes in “just” 60 minutes.
Kumar is a murder convict; he and 69 other convicts in Tihar central prison are part of a trained workforce that aims to manufacture 10,000 black leather shoes beginning this month — for a Delhi-based private shoe manufacturing company. “The shoe company, DIEM (India) Private Limited, has outsourced the production of around 10,000 shoes per month to a team of 70 convicts lodged in Tihar jail, according to a public-private agreement it signed with us,” Tihar jail’s Law Officer Sunil Gupta told HT.
“The hours I spend in the factory making shoes, provides me an escape from the ghosts of my past,” Kumar whispered, his eyes glazed. For their efforts at the prison’s workshop (‘factory’) — that is just a 45 by 45 sq.ft. room inside Sub-Jail Number 2 — the 70 convicts get daily wages and a promise of a better future.
The inmates get paid between R40 and 52 --- depending of their skill levels — every day and the assurance of a job with the shoe company on their release. “As per the agreement with the shoe company, a convicted-worker who is in the ‘skilled’ category gets R52 for his work daily, R44 to a ‘semi-skilled’ one and R42 for an ‘unskilled’ convict,” said Gupta.
The company will also give the convicts a job when he is free, he added. The team is currently producing 500 shoes per day, which are supplied to private schools in the city. “If we make more shoes, there are a few incentives,” Kumar said. Three supervisors from the shoe company monitor the prisoners’ work. The shoe company provides the production material, including the requisite machinery, to the jail workshop.