Thirteen prisoners set themselves 'free' this Republic Day by marching and playing to the tunes of 'Sare Jahan se Accha Hindustan Hamara' in Shimla on Sunday.
The prisoners, from two open jails of Himachal Pradesh, marched for the first time as a 13-member band contingent. "It's a proud moment for all of us to get ourselves associated with the patriotic day," murder convict Ram Kishan, who led the group, told IANS. "One mistake in life can't discard one throughout life. This gives us an opportunity to reform ourselves," he said.
Donning a white dress with a striped band on waist, the band was the main attraction at the parade where governor Urmila Singh took the salute. Chief minister Virbhadra Singh, his ministers and other dignitaries were present. Additional director general of police (prisons) SR Mardi said this was the first time that reformed prisoners took part in a Republic Day parade in the country.
He said their participation was part of a reformation initiative for them. The prisoners were from the model central jail in Kanda near Shimla and the central jail in Nahan.
Mardi said an orchestra band had been set up by the prisons department at Nahan so that prisoners could make some money through performances. "This band can be hired for weddings and social functions, and a part of the earnings is given to every troupe member," said Mardi, the brain behind this initiative. The state has declared one barrack each in six jails as an open-air barracks. The jail in Bilaspur is an open jail. At Bilaspur, prisoners work to earn money, enabling them to support their families. "My initial years in jail were quite perturbing. But when I got a chance to play music, I got an opportunity to live and think in a different way," said another convict Labh Singh said.