In Tihar prison’s 36 factories, prisoners learn skills for a new life
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In Tihar prison’s 36 factories, prisoners learn skills for a new life

Thousands of inmates at Tihar jail work in units making items such as cakes, LED bulbs, furniture. For them, employment in jail means hope of landing a job outside.

delhi Updated: Jun 24, 2018 12:50 IST
Prawesh Lama
Prawesh Lama
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Tihar,Tihar prisoners,Delhi Police
Prisoners stitch clothes in a tailoring unit in Tihar, India’s most crowded prison. (Burhaan Kinu/ HT Photo)

Escorted by police guards as they re-enter the country’s most crowded prison, some cry, a few are visibly upset, while many others try to show no emotions. But for most people who have been here a while, it is normal — Tihar is home.

But for this man in his mid-30s — jailed for allegedly harassing a woman — the first day, was different. It was different for the jail officers too.

On his first day in the jail on a winter afternoon in December last year, the man had a meeting with the jail superintendent. The inmate, who has wished to not be identified, told the officer he used to work in a perfume factory and that he could help teach other prisoners the art of making perfume.

“The idea of starting a perfume factory in the jail was born at that moment. So far we have manufactured over 1.5 lakh bottles,” says Rakesh Kumar, superintendent of Jail 1.

The perfume factory is among the 36 factory units run from the India’s largest and most crowded Tihar jail. With at least 4,000 prisoners working in shifts, the 36 factories in the prison have an annual turnover of about ₹35 crore.

From cakes to biscuits, LED bulbs to pickles, and furniture to blankets and power looms to designer clothes, prisoners spread across 400 acre of the jail compound are engaged different units.

“Our aim is not to make profits... We are here to reform prisoners,” says Ajay Kashyap, director general (prisons). “When prisoners work in the factories here, they earn a living. When they are trained here by the staff or the fellow inmates, it increases their chance of rehabilitation.”

The story of LED bulb factory in the jail started in October last year with a prisoner, a graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. The man had come to the prison in a case of alleged cheating. “He wasn’t here for a long time but he was intelligent and was an IIT graduate. Since then, he has been released on bail. But during his short stint, he visualised setting up the LED factory inside the prison,” said Tariq Salan, superintendent.

The IIT graduate explained to jail officials how using LED bulbs could reduce the electricity bill across the jail. The idea was discussed with the prison’s top officials. Jail officers also took help from professors at Delhi Technological University, who helped prisoners with designing the bulb and its specifications.

Started on December 28 last year, around 25 prisoners have found work in the LED bulb unit. Jail officers have already changed all old bulbs with the in-house LEDs. “We are waiting for an ISO certification for our bulbs. Once we get it, the bulbs will be sold in the market like our other products. We could also give it to the Public Works Department for supplying it to other government institutions,” said Kashyap. “Our prisoners learn different works here. We will be happy if they are reformed and can also find a job outside prison.”

At over 15,000 prisoners, Tihar is the most crowded prison in India. Prison officials say that finding talent in prisoners is never a problem. “This is Tihar. You will find all types of prisoners here. From a graduate from the country’s premier engineering institute to a former minister or a skilled carpenter, there is no dearth of talent here,” a jail officer said.

Prisoners work in a bakery unit in Tihar. Learning skills in the prison means a hope for a better life outside the prison. (Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)

Apart from the elderly, the unwell and those who choose not to work, every prisoner can find employment in the 36 factories. The wages aren’t too bad as well. For a day’s work, a skilled worker makes ₹321. A skilled worker is a prisoner who is an expert at their job. The prisoner could be a baker or a perfume maker, who apart from working can also train fellow prisoners. A semi-skilled worker gets ₹180, while a trainee makes ₹200 a day. The daily wages are collected by the prisoner administration. Twenty-five per cent of the every prisoner’s daily wages is deducted and sent to a fund known as the Victim’s Welfare Fund. The money is given to families or victims of crimes committed by the prisoners.

Jail officers say that one of the earliest factories set up was the paper unit. In the early 1960s when the prison was only a few years old, a paper manufacturing and an oil extraction unit was set up. Prisoners recycle papers and make folders for government offices, the six lower courts, the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court. “Do you know we do not buy oil from outside?” the prison’s deputy superintendent Dheeraj Mathur says prisoners manufacture their own cooking oil.

The kitchens across every jail in the prison complex prepare food for over 15,000 prisoners every day. “We release a tender for mustard seed with a particular specification. Our inmates grind the seeds and we manufacture oil. We do not use ghee or refined oil. Our food is prepared by our own Tihar oil. It is also sold in the market,” Mathur said.

For every product manufactured at the jail’s different factories, there are shops set up at different places across the city that sell it. Most shops have been set up at the court complexes and Delhi Haat — the open air food and crafts market run by the Delhi government.

Over the last one year, the jail officers are in the process of rejuvenating the factories and fine tuning their products to sell it off to a niche market.

An officer said the prison administration has recently tied up with experts to improve the finishing of the furniture manufactured there. Tables, chairs and desks made by the carpentry unit are sent to about 2,000 schools across the city run by the Delhi government and three municipal bodies in the city. “We are improving the finishing of our carpentry unit products so we find more buyers,” an officer said.

Recently, a blanket manufacturing factory was also opened in the prison. “We are already producing cloth in our handloom industry. Now we have tied up with a fashion designing institute. They have trained our inmates to stitch and make designer clothes. From a raw material to a factory product, we want to be self-dependent,” the officer said.

It isn’t just factories. Jail officers say they are trying to find different ways to ensure that prisoners receive training so that they get employment outside. Sample this — last month, women prisoners, who were not working in any factory, were given the choice of learning to read Tarot cards. A woman prisoner also became an expert Tarot reader. Jail officers say the response is good but most prisoners have a common query when the Tarot cards are open. They ask – when will they be released?

First Published: Jun 24, 2018 12:50 IST