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How art is reforming inmates of Tihar, Berhampore prisons

How art is reforming inmates of Tihar, Berhampore prisons
Highlights

One often thinks of Indian prisons as dingy, cramped cells with their mean and often dehumanised inmates waiting for redemption So, it comes as a surprise when a group of prisoners takes to stage and gets applauded for performing a play written by Rabindranath Tagore or when paintings made by inmates are appreciated by art connoisseurs and get sold at art exhibitions for thousands of rupees

One often thinks of Indian prisons as dingy, cramped cells with their mean and often dehumanised inmates waiting for redemption. So, it comes as a surprise when a group of prisoners takes to stage and gets applauded for performing a play written by Rabindranath Tagore or when paintings made by inmates are appreciated by art connoisseurs and get sold at art exhibitions for thousands of rupees.

Contrary to popular perception of prisons as violent spaces, two Indian prisons, Delhi's Tihar Jail and West Bengal's Berhampore Central Correction Home, are doing just that by encouraging healthy practices of painting, sketching and performing theatre for inmates who are prepared to lead a new life.

Employing art and theatre as avenues for change, the two prisons are allowing creative freedom to prisoners in confinement. In return, the inmates also see it not just as a meaningful pastime, but a rehabilitative intervention and a possible vocation to take up after their jail term. Suraj Prakash, an art instructor from the College of Art, has been teaching Tihar (Jail 4) inmates every week since June 2017, after several inmates were spotted doing amateur sketching and painting by the jail administration.

Equipped with an in-house art gallery now, the ‘Tihar School of Art' has sold close to 60 artworks since its inception, and even garnered Rs 5-6 lakh. According to Prakash, half the money from each sale is deposited into the respective inmate's account, and the rest goes into funding art activities.

A booth was dedicated to showing works of art by the inmates at the India Art Festival. Among other works, deft illustrations and canvasses of Saraswati, Ganesha and Buddha now line the Tihar gallery walls, which can be accessed with permission. Programmes of yoga, dance and music also mark the prisoner's calendars now.

After staging over 50 shows of three Tagore productions in various locations across India, the troupe does plan on taking up theatre when they are free. “Theatre gives a peace of mind. I am relieved of all tensions when I act. I have found Bhattacharya, who is like my father,” inmate-actor Sapan Mehena said.

By Siddhi Jain

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