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When a jail become reformatory

When a jail become reformatory

 Jul 21, 2017

It is difficult for me to decide who is the hero of this episode.  Can I credit Somesh Goyal, director general of prisons in the hilly state of Himachal to be the inventor? Or should credit go to the four inmates of the Kanda Jail in the state serving life sentence for taking another life? But it is a story that tells us never to lose faith in human beings. They can be relied upon to start afresh to atone for their mistakes.

The higher class students of the Bhagat Singh Memorial School in Shimla love their new teacher Gaurav Verma. Visitors to the Book Café at Taka Bench a scenic spot on the Shimla ridge gobble up baked items made by Jai Chand. Eatables served in the mobile canteen of Bhupinder have attracted hundreds a month and Rajkumar is known to be the best biscuit seller in the capital of this hilly state. Very few of those who come in contact with them suspect that they are prisoners in Kanda Jail serving life sentence. Students in the school knew about their new Science and Math teacher for their principal Ranjana Jaret had told them about Gaurav’s background. She had even sought their approval before taking Gaurav on board on recommendation of Somesh Goyal.

Goyal took over his new charge in 2015 and had interactions with inmates of Kanda jail to understand their backgrounds, their mentalities and their attitude to life. He found Gaurav in a highly emotional state for having bashed the head of his girlfriend of years, Pragati, in a drunken rage over a small tiff. Gaurav and Pragati had come to Shimla to celebrate the birthday of Gaurav in 2010. Gaurav was still a student of Indian Institute of Technologies (IIT). He was sentenced to life imprisonment only because he had fled from the hotel room in panic.

Gaurav admits that he was too drunk to know what he was doing. But he spent days in jail crying during the day for his ghastly mistake when Somesh proposed that he could teach higher class students of a high class school at Kufri Dhar, 14 kms away from Shimla. Somesh and the Principal had jointly decided to undertake a new venture and the students were ready for it. They had met Gaurav a year earlier in the Kanda Jail where they had performed a cultural show for convicts. In a few months, in 2017, all students love their new teacher for he makes them understand easily the subjects they had earlier found to be difficult to master.

Somesh Goyal had introduced a new scheme of utilizing the creativity of every inmate. He decided to trust a few of them after watching the behaviour. They are allowed to attend to their new jobs outside the jail from the morning but they have to return in the evening and spend the night inside the jail. Goyal also encouraged inmates to set up their own shop for products they make. Nearly two thousand inmates have benefitted from the open jail policy and they gained a creditable income of Rs. 80 lakh from sales of their products last year.

Gaurav has also undertaken to train students of Vidhya Mandir a private school in Shimla to prepare its students for competitive examinations that are needed for admissions to higher technical education. He earns from two schools sufficiently to bring his parents to settle down in Shimla in a rented apartment. Gaurav is also working during his night leisure on developing an application that would simplify the complex concepts of physics and mathematics so young students can easily master the two difficult subjects. He intends to name his application as Pragati, name of his girl friend who got killed in his drunken rage. But his parents hope to get him married after his release.  When asked, Gaurav looks skywards with a shrug of his shoulders as if he were inquiring with Pragati whether he should.

Fifty year old Jai Chand was a simple farmer and was accused of strangling his wife though he claims that she committed suicide and he was arrested when he was taking her to hospital. The Supreme Court confirmed his life imprisonment in 2013. After three years in jail, he learnt to make pizzas, cakes and pastries. Yomesh Goyal allowed him to take up a job as chief cook with the café on the famous Shimla ridge that attracts every visitor to the hill station. The five star chefs have trained him in the art of cooking.

His assistant Yograj is also a life convict. He went to jail for punching a man who died on the spot. Raj Kumar and Bhupinder are also life convicts from the same jail who are pursuing independent jobs during the day but return to their cells inside the jail for the night. Raj Kumar set a new record of selling biscuits worth Rs. seventeen lakh in a month. In this way two thousand inmates have found that they also have abilities that the prison is not allowing to go waste. They are piling up enough from their wages to be able to settle down comfortably once they are released from their sentence. Kanda Jail is not a hell for them because the director general of prisons decided on the concept to change it into a new experiment in their lives.

Gaurav Verma and Jai Chand are certainly repenting for they are unable to live with their loss. Yomesh Goyal has, with his out of box thinking and daring, started a new venture, utilizing the opportunity provided to them to serve society, but differently. As free citizens they would not have done their jobs with the same dedication and attitude of being useful to others as they are now doing. In freedom, their approach would have been service to society which was accidental to the main task of earning money. Today service to society is the main purpose and money flowing from it is an accidental side benefit. They are part and parcel of the new experiment. It is not do ankhe aur baara hath (Two eyes and twelve hands) episode. But it is ‘ek dimag or hazar mohare (One brain and thousand servers) kind of adventure. My hands are automatically raised to salute them, prisoners and their boss.

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