Kapoor Chand and his son Anuj return from their day’s work at 6 pm sharp, discussing the sales in their shops. One can tell they live a decent life selling readymade goods on the congested Bilaspur lane.
They sound like any other father and son duo. But there is a great difference between these two and other families. Kapoor and Anuj were convicted of murder and are serving a life sentence in Bilaspur open jail.
Set up in 1960, the jail is located five kms from Bilaspur town, Himachal Pradesh. A portion of the jail has been kept open. The barracks housing the prisoners are more like a boarding school dormitory. Here 54 inmates, serving life sentences, live like a joint family.
The barracks are not heavily guarded and remain unlocked at night. These convicts have to earn a living and are allowed to work within 8-10 kilometres. They are free to cook their food, prepare tea, watch television, listen to the radio and carry books to the barracks.
Kapoor Chand, 66, was a teacher at a government school before he was convicted along with his 37-year-old son, Anuj, of murdering a village youth.
“I was happy in the village school but that fateful day changed my life forever,” says Kapoor.
Today he is glad that his good conduct has brought him and his son to this open jail, where he earns about R3,000 each month working at a garment shop. Anuj, meanwhile, is a salesman in a shoe store.
The Himachal Pradesh government drew inspiration from the open jail in Sitaragarh, Uttar Pradesh. Unlike the Sitaragarh jail, where prisoners are allotted huts to live with their family members, here in Bilaspur the convicts live together in two different halls. Prisoners are selected on the basis of behaviour and good moral conduct.
Those convicted of terrorism and rape are not eligible. Based on the recommendation of the jail superintendent, a committee headed by the director general of prisons decides which convict can be transferred to the open jail.
A day in the open jail starts early. By 8 am, only a few sentries roam here and there. To earn their livelihood all the inmates work in the local town.
A convict can leave the premises only after 6 am and has to be back by 7 pm. If a convict fails to abide by this curfew, he is shifted to a regular prison.
Another inmate, Dinesh Kumar, works as an electrician. Life imprisonment has not diminished his zeal to educate himself as is evident from an English-speaking course book on his pillow.
Prisoners showing reform at this jail have encouraged the government to set up one more open-air jail in the state with a higher prisoner capacity.
The prisoners who earn daily wages outside the jail have to deposit Rs 1,000 monthly with the jailer. While Rs 500 is deposited in their bank accounts, Rs 500 goes as contribution to the prison welfare fund.