Freedom from taboo: Artists help remove stigmas around prisons
When the terms prison and punishment are spoken, dreadful images of crime come to mind. But anyone who has interacted with inmates only has tales of hopes to tell. Life behind bars teaches inmates many lessons, leaving most of them with a will to turn around their lives for the better. This Independence Day, a group of artists is helping these inmates get freedom from the taboos surrounding them.
Yogesh Saini, who founded Delhi Street Art (DSA) to make the city’s public spaces more breathable, has teamed up with various incarceration facilities to help engage inmates. He and his team of artists have been cleaning up spaces, adding relevant murals to the city’s walls.
Recently, they undertook painting murals of the lesser-seen facets of Mahatma Gandhi’s life at an incarceration facility on the outskirts of Delhi. “We started in December last year and finished the first phase by January. We have painted over 40 murals, and a few final touches remain,” says Saini. Masks are mandatory and social distancing protocols are followed. “We are being extra careful and restricting our movement,” he adds. The team has spent about five years working in different jails, and Saini believes that art reinforces positivity. “These are indelible memories for the people of the city, and it is a positive change for the inmates as well. They are in our contact even when they are out on parole, or upon completion of their sentence,” shares Saini.
Sudhakar Singh, previously an employee with the Central Government, was sentenced to seven years in Tihar jail. He is a self-taught artist from Delhi and found his footing with the group, but life after sentence has not been kind to him, as he found himself out of work. “Ek baar aap jail chale jaao toh uske baad kuch nahi bachta. Main ek professional driver bhi hoon, lekin ab corona ke chalte koi kaam nahi hai,” he says. His son is a graduate and the sole earning member of the family. “Jab main gaya tha tab voh school mein tha. Usne graduation kari aur ab job karta hai,” he says.
Phrases like “art has the power to reform lives” are not just tall proclamations. For life behind bars, art often emerges as a ray of hope. Vinod Lahori was fortunate he found a mentor in a fellow inmate who helped him hone his skills. “I used to sketch on applications and letters, but guruji motivated me to take it up seriously,” says Vinod who is currently out on parole due to his good behaviour and the covid crisis. Talking about his love for art, he says, “Dil ko bahut sukoon milta hai yeh kaam kar ke. Jail mein reh kar maine independent hona seekh liya hai. Vahaan aap insaan ko parakhna samajh jaate hain.”
Artists who have worked with inmates realise and acknowledge the sea of difference in life in prison and the outside world. “Everyone deserves a second chance at life, and whatever they did in the past, they have paid for it. Unhe pachtava hai,” says Deepak Saini, a graduate of College of Art. Sharing his experience of working with the inmates, he says, “A lot of them came to know us, and before corona, we would often have lunch together. Art is a way to integrate them back into the society.”
Self-taught artist Virendar has worked at several incarceration facilities and says that often a person succumbs to their circumstances. “Koi kaise criminal banaa yeh aap nahi keh sakte, zaroori yeh hai ki sabko ek izzatdaar zindagi jeene ka adhikaar hai. Baahar aa ke unhe kaam nahi milta, log unhe alag nazar se dekhte hain. Art ke zariye unhe ek behatar zindagi mil sakti hai,” he says.
Interacti with Etti Bali @TheBalinian
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