Books bring hope to women prisoners, kids at Greater Noida’s Luksar jail
Women prisoners have turned teachers for the 13 children who stay with their mothers inside Greater Noida’s jail barrack.noida Updated: Apr 02, 2018 13:43 IST
A 14-month-old was brought to the Luksar district jail in Gautam Budh Nagar along with his mother, who had been arrested for a murder case (the trial of which is on) in 2015. He will turn four years old in April, and can already recite the alphabet and several numbers, says his mother, who is grateful to his ‘teachers’ in the jail.
The same way, a five-year-old was brought to the women’s barracks in 2014, along with her mother, when the maximum security prison, an extension of Dasna jail, had just been constructed in Greater Noida. She is the oldest child in this prison, and she too, is learning quickly thanks to her ‘teachers’.
Other toddlers, who stay with their mothers in the vast women’s barracks of the maximum security facility, are all learning quickly as well .
However, Luksar district jail has zero women teachers, assistant teachers or child caretakers, despite all three vacancies being available since 2014.
In fact, it is the women prisoners who have turned teachers for the 13 children who stay with their mothers inside these barracks.
In accordance with Supreme Court guidelines, any child under the age of six is allowed to stay with his or her mother in jail, with regular access to the outside world if the child has a guardian.
One of these ‘teachers’ is a 35-year-old native of Tulsiyana village, Noida,on trial at the Allahabad high court for abetment of suicide. She has been in Luksar for one-and-a-half years.
“I was an ‘acharya’ (teacher) for 10 years at a school in Greater Noida. I was about to become an assistant teacher when I was arrested. Now I pass my time by teaching children in the jail because I love teaching. I hope to continue teaching once I am released,” she says.
Another ‘teacher’ at the women’s barracks is facing a trial for allegedly shooting her ex-boyfriend dead.
She says that it is difficult to teach children in prison because they are smart enough to realise that the real world is very different from jail — where every person is either under trial or a convicted prisoner.
“You cannot shout at the children or reprimand them as they would then stop cooperating with you. They do not respect you the way they would have respected a teacher in the outside world. They find biographies and novels uninteresting. You have to keep them hooked with motivational fables, comic books and poems,” she says.
To help women prisoners and their children cope better in jail, the Ranganathan Society for Social Welfare and Development from BIMTECH college of Greater Noida contributed a mini library to the jail that comprises more than 300 books. The college intends to open such mini libraries in all jails of Uttar Pradesh.
“We began with opening libraries in different jails of UP such as Dasna Jail and Lucknow Central Jail. However, we realised that female prisoners were not benefitting from these libraries at all, because they were not allowed to interact with the male prisoners. Most women are traumatised when they are jailed and we hope that these books help them,” says Dr Rishi Tiwari, CEO, BIMTECH foundation.
The mini library at Luksar Jail has an assortment of books, ranging from Loony Toon comics, Akbar Birbal tales and Panchatantra to biographies of legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and Goa governor Kiran Bedi.
“We want the children to join regular schools once they reach the age of five or six. It is difficult in the beginning but thanks to the colourful books, they are slowly showing an interest in reading. Our priority is to help these children transition seamlessly into the outside world, despite their parents’ troubled pasts,” says Satya Prakash, the jailer.
For the children, the battle of coping with the pace of regular school children will be long and hard.
“The children have been able to learn alphabets and numbers because they have been painted over the walls of the library. We’ve noticed that the children tend to forget all that they have learnt once they leave the jail,” says one of the women prisoners who has been teaching the children as well.
There are 55 women prisoners, 13 children and 1,961 male prisoners in Luksar Jail. The prisoners are housed in separate barracks with zero interaction. Built in 2014 on a 90-acre area, the maximum security prison can hold as many as 5,000 prisoners.
According to the jail administration, the world inside a prison is completely different from the one portrayed in Bollywood movies. Warning signs prohibiting visitors from bringing any cellular devices, digital equipment, cameras, home-made or outside food, fruits and even ‘sauce’ have been put up at the maximum security facility’s entrance.
Once you enter the huge iron gate, you are frisked.
You then receive a stamp on your right hand stating the ‘meeting date’ and ‘visitor room’, after which you are allowed to visit the prisoner for a stipulated time.
“Yes, we have prisoners under trial for violent crimes in our jail, but we also need to have a sympathetic attitude towards them because there is always a story behind the crimes,” says the jailer.
“A few women prisoners have even been victims of abuse . Prison offers them solitude and an opportunity to heal themselves,” the jailer says.
Killing time, say women prisoners, is the toughest part of jail. A 36-year-old woman, on trail for alleged data theft, says that her life changed overnight after a case was lodged against her company and she was named as one of the accused.
“I have an MBA degree; my life has been like that of any corporate worker. I was busy all the time. However, in the past 15 days that I have been in prison, I have had so much time that I don’t know what to do with it. There is no daily routine apart from meals and a few other activities. I find that only books help me calm down and deal with the situation,” she says.
Loneliness among the prisoners has reduced — the women help each other with books, sympathy and solidarity.
“Many women here don’t know how to read as they have never been to school. It is difficult for us to make them concentrate, but we try to recite poetry and age-old fables to them with the hope that it brings a smile to their faces,” says one of the ‘teachers’.
All prisoners concur that books have made their jail terms easier to bear.
“I started reading Ramayana, the Garuda Purana and the Geeta as soon as I came to this prison with my daughter. Books calmed and helped me realise that not all is lost,” says a woman under trail for a dowry-related murder case.
Meanwhile, the toddlers keep themselves occupied with their colouring books and crayons, untroubled by thoughts of their release.