Of late, Tihar has been in the news. A number of high-profile personalities are lodged here, a few more are on their way. Curiously, various sections of the media are only too eager to know details of their daily routine, diet or pastime. Presumably, reports on such inanities attract extensive viewership and readership. It is presumed, albeit erroneously, that they are kept in VIP jails with special facilities.
Much less attention is paid to the living conditions of ordinary inmates, or the special programmes related to their reform and rehabilitation. Various innovative schemes have been introduced in Delhi's jails over the past few months. One of them is 'Padho aur Padhao', a literacy programme for 2,500 illiterates lodged in Tihar, run in collaboration with the National Literacy Mission Authority.
The programme also imparts life skills such as creative thinking, effective communication, self awareness, decision-making and problem-solving.
Another experiment underway is the creation of music rooms in all jails. Equipped with basic musical instruments like the harmonium, tabla and guitar, they provide a peaceful refuge for those interested in music. A number of corporates have been encouraged to interview handpicked inmates, who were groomed and prepared to face job interviews. Yoga, sports, meditation sessions, job opportunities in the prison factory and bakery have also long existed in Tihar. Recently, a cricket team called Tihar XI has been created. Books and special tuitions are provided to five inmates preparing for the forthcoming civil services examination.
In drawing room conversations, one is often asked: "Aren't you molly-coddling criminals by these programmes?" As a career policeman, directly or indirectly responsible for arresting a large number of criminals, I too held the belief that criminals should be dealt with sternly. But as director general (prisons), I realised that only a minuscule percentage of those lodged here are the dangerous, incurable types, who need to be first corrected before they can be brought under the ambit of such schemes.
Providing literacy is in line with our country's commitment before the VI International Conference on Adult Education held at Belem, Brazil, 2009, where nations have committed to "providing adult education in prisons at all appropriate levels".
The Supreme Court, in its landmark judgement in Sunil Batra vs. Delhi administration and others (1978) has observed that a person in prison does not become a non-person and is entitled to all rights within the limitations of imprisonment. These include, interalia, "freedom to read and write, exercise and recreation, meditation and chant."
A lot, however, remains to be done. Overcrowding would be a thing of the past once the Mandoli jail is ready in east Delhi. An 'open-jail' has been planned for a limited category of inmates who have already served a major part of their sentence, have conducted themselves well during their stay and have complied with timely return when on parole or furlough. They can leave the open jail in the morning, work outside during the day and return in the evening.
There are already 29 open jails in India. It is time that Delhi has one. More steps need to be taken to modernise and improve the living conditions and make Tihar an exemplary reformation and rehabilitation centre. VIPs may come and go but Tihar, as an ideal correctional centre, should go on forever.
Neeraj Kumar is director general, Prisons, Government of Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal