When he handed over an eight-page news weekly Khola Hawa to the superintendent of Midnapore Central Correctional Home, 55-year old Subal Gharai, a lifer of the jail, could not control his emotions. His eyes became moist and his hands trembled. Gharai’s other fellow inmates in the room, too, could not conceal their emotions.
In the super’s chamber of the jail about 150 kms to the west of Kolkata, history of sorts was created on the Bengali New Year Day on April 15 as the inmates brought out the first magazine ever to be published from behind the bars.
Named Khola Hawa (Free Air), it is written, edited and published by inmates of the jail.
To push their achievement forward, the jail authorities are even planning to turn it into a daily. “If everything progresses well, it may even become a daily newspaper in about six months time,” said super Debasish Chakraborty.
The first issue contains news of events and activities in the jail such as sports and farming activities. There is a write up on the celebration of Ram Nabami in the correctional home as well as renovation of an Idgaha. Drinking water crisis and the leprosy ward not being cleaned regularly were also covered in the magazine.
There is also a cartoon on an inmate urinating on the wall and the jail super chasing him.
Inmates are not only writing for and editing the magazine, but also are they manning the editorial board. The board has ‘recruited’ five journalists from the inmates. A few more will be recruited. They will also be paid an honourarium.
Gharai was a school teacher before he was arrested 15 years ago.
“We are circulating it to all corners of the correctional home so that every inmate can read it, “ said Chakraborty. “In the first issue the inmates have raised some problems of the jail and we will rectify those, “ he added.
Bengal jails have undergone quite a few reformatory steps in the past two decades including introduction of creative pursuits such as the theatre performances and painting. But Khola Hawa is the first one in the country involving the printed word.
The first edition has been taken out as a computer printouts and has been placed in 12 spots inside the correctional home that is spread on a 33 acre plot. Two more copies are kept in the jail library apart from one each in the office of the superintendent and welfare officer.
Though the authorities are planning to turn it into a daily within six months, the inmates are so motivated that they want to achieve it within a month, jail officials told HT.