Jailhouse rock in Tihar Jail
Taj Mohammad, a 28-year-old inmate of Tihar Jail in New Delhi, is serving life term for murder. His fellow inmates recall the time when he tried to commit suicide by banging his head against the iron bars of his cell. Today, they stare in amazement as he belts out songs on his keyboard as part of one of the 10 bands in the jail - a testimony to the success of reforms at India's largest prison.
"Music brings positive energy. And because it can reform the inmates' lives in a big way, we have recently provided bongo, drums, guitar, keyboards and other instruments to them," Neeraj Kumar, director general (prisons) in Delhi, told IANS.
"Music motivates the inmates and uplifts their spirit. We will do a study on the impact of music on them," he added.
Recently, a music room was also set up in every prison in the premises. There are 10 sub-jails inside Tihar Jail, which houses around 10,500 prisoners.
The authorities have also roped in professional music teachers.
Deputy Inspector General R.N. Sharma said: "Ten music experts come to teach the inmates, one for each sub-jail".
All this has struck a chord with the inmates. Not only have they shown keen interest in learning music but have also formed bands - belting out everything from devotional numbers to Bollywood chartbusters.
Pathi Ram, a prison cook, has formed a band called the Cook Band, where he plays the tabla.
Describing a typical day, Ram said his band members - dressed in their striped jail uniforms - play religious songs set to Bollywood tunes.
"The other day we had 20 spectators who were listening to our music," Ram told IANS.
Taj Mohammad said he had come a long way from his days of despair and depression.
"During our recreational time, when I come down to the music room, the whole environment reminds me of some memories that either make me smile or a bit teary. I always wanted to be a choreographer and musician, but life brought me here instead," he said with a faint smile.
"Music changes our thinking process. It takes away our worries and makes us feel like we are not very far away from home. Every day it instils hope in us that we will get justice," said Amit Saxena, 32, an undertrial who has been in jail for the last seven years on a murder charge. He is the music director of a band called Flying Souls.
The music teachers, on their part, are highly appreciative of their pupils.
"Many inmates don't know the technicalities of music, but they have picked up in a very short time. They play instruments wholeheartedly. It is a great experience for me too," said Dinesh Joshi, a music teacher.
There are around 300 inmates learning various instruments.
"They come in groups of five or six for the classes," Tihar Jail spokesperson Sunil Gupta told IANS.
Bal Kishan, who has been in jail for the last 10 years, said: "They (music teachers) visit us thrice a week to teach different musical instruments. The music room is like a fresh breath of life for us".