At Byculla jail, a radio show hosted by ‘one of their own’ RJ warms hearts | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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At Byculla jail, a radio show hosted by ‘one of their own’ RJ warms hearts

ByVinay Dalvi
Jan 29, 2024 07:36 AM IST

The radio service was inaugurated on December 22, 2023, following the state prison department’s decision to expand radio services to all jails housing undertrials

MUMBAI: Authorities at Byculla jail, one of the largest women’s prisons in the country, took several steps to build positive communication with the inmates after the murder of undertrial Manjula Shetye in 2017. But nothing quite worked like the inhouse radio service that was inaugurated on December 22, 2023, following the state prison department’s decision to expand radio services to all jails housing undertrials.

At Byculla jail, a radio show hosted by ‘one of their own’ RJ warms hearts
At Byculla jail, a radio show hosted by ‘one of their own’ RJ warms hearts

“We get to hear so many encouraging stories on the radio, which keep our mind fresh and fill us with positive thoughts,” Neelam Dhavale, one of the inmates, wrote in a letter to jail authorities. “But what we like most is that the radio plays songs, and that too of our choice.”

“Songs boost my mood. I forget everything – all my worries and problems while in jail – and live that moment,” another inmate, Michale Konak, averred in a letter written to the jail authorities.

First mover

Radio services were earlier limited to central jails like the Yerawada Central Jail in Pune, the Nagpur Central Jail, the Amravati Central Jail and the Kalamb Central Jail near Kolhapur. The prison department’s decision to expand the services to all major jails housing undertrials was inspired by actor Sanjay Dutt’s stint as a Radio Jockey (RJ) during his jail term at the Yerwada central prison in Pune in connection with the 1993 Mumbai bombings case.

Byculla jail was the first to start a radio service of its own. The jail has a strict routine, like most others. Inmates are let out of their cells at 7am, after which they are served breakfast. Lunch is served at 10.30am. By 12 noon, inmates are sent back to the barracks. At 3pm, they are let out again for tea, followed by dinner at 4.30pm. At 6pm, they are sent back to the barracks for the night.

“Afternoon is the time when inmates sit quietly in their cells. We thought that was the apt time for radio services,” said the additional director general of police, prisons, Amitabh Gupta.

“Our public address system is generally busy from 8am to 12 noon and 3pm to 5pm, announcing court dates and mulakats – i.e., meeting with family members. The slot between 12 noon and 3pm was free, so we decided to utilise the system for the radio services,” noted Vikas Rajanalwar, superintendent of the Byculla women’s prison.

The prison’s approximately 780 inmates are housed in 12 barracks – women undertrials are housed in eight barracks and men are housed in four barracks.

“Every barrack has speakers and television sets. So, the additional director general of police, Maharashtra Prisons, Amitabh Gupta and the deputy inspector general of police Yogesh Desai decided that the free slot could be utilised for some informative as well as entertainment purpose,” said Rajanalwar.

Inmate as RJ

Byculla jail authorities conducted three rounds of audition to identify an RJ. “Around 25 jail inmates participated in the audition, and Shraddha Chougule was chosen for job, making her the first woman radio jockey in the state,” said the jail superintendent.

Chougule works with a junior to write the script for the show and collect song requests or legal queries from inmates. She hosts the show during 12 noon to 3pm, and regulars on the show include devotional songs like bhajans, spiritual songs, motivational songs, interviews, counselling, mimicry and information relating to law.

“We entertain requests from inmates for specific songs of their choice, under the program ‘Aapki Ki Farmaish’,” said Desai, adding that inmates pay more attention to informative bulletins when they find one of their own as the RJ.

“We usually play widely available Hindi, Marathi and English songs, considering that there are more than 54 foreign women prisoners,” said Desai. He noted that music was a very effective way to reduce stress.

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