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A day at Tihar prison
India is probably the only country where children below the age of five are allowed to live with their mothers, when the mother is serving a sentence in the jail. To find out more about their lives, read on...
TIHAR PRISON is the largest complex of prisons in South Asia. Inside the prison, women inmates can be accompanied with their children, if and only if, they are under the age of five. An organisation called India Vision Foundation, headed by Dr Kiran Bedi, India's first and highest ranking woman Police officer, has established a day care centre within the prisons where children are taught and nurtured, away from the prison atmosphere.
 
The question is, aren't these children aware of their upbringing within the prison? Is there absolutely no influence on them of the atmosphere they are living in? I went to find out more. I was escorted by Monica Dhawan, the project manager from the Foundation. We entered the jail through a gate which was huge, maybe not as huge as the gates of Buckingham Palace but these looked rough and scary. As the car kept moving towards its destination, my eyes were on the really tall boundary walls and a police control point at the top of every building.
 
The car stopped in front of central jail no 6, which is purely for female inmates. I was asked to leave all my belongings inside the car. The only things I carried with me was a pen, a writing pad and my ID card. The woman Inmates cell had huge iron doors. A police official allowed us to enter the gates and then locked it after we stepped in. Upon entering, we underwent a normal security check procedure. I didn't know that carrying money inside the jail is not allowed at all because they fear that it might be given to the inmates who may then use it for wrong means.
 
We walked towards the day care centres. I couldn't help noticing the lush green gardens inside. I could see many women, who supposedly were inmates, walking around in the garden. I was told that many of them were under trial. She then took me to a room where a lot of women were busy weaving. This was the part of the rehabilitation training, which is being given to women inside the prisons. Known as 'Women Behind Bars', this scheme aims to bring back the confidence and self pride within women who are imprisoned. I stood there for a long time just admiring the work done by them. They all had a smile on their face and some of them even wished me saying 'Namaste Didi'. After spending a few minutes in this room, I was escorted into the day care centre.
 
If any of you have visited pre-schools you can imagine what exactly I am talking about. A step into this building made me feel like living my childhood again. The room was beautifully decorated with posters of cartoon characters on the wall, stuff toys kept all around in the room at different places. There were benches and a white board where Maths, Hindi and English classes are held for children. The children were all dressed in uniforms, a white and pink check shirt and white shorts for boys or pink shorts for girls.
 
They were absolutely delighted to see us, especially Dhawan who seemed to be very friendly with the kids. She knew everyone by name. I took a step to introduce myself to each of them. I shook hands as I asked their names. For them I became Priya Didi. I spent a few hours mingling with these children, painting, drawing, playing, listening to their poems and stories and also teaching them. I noticed how small little things made them happy. Just by the mention of the word 'films', I could see a smile on so many faces. One of them immediately said, “Hum aapke liye gaana ga ke sunaaye?” (Should we sing a song for you?). And it took one nod from me to get them started.
 
They sang, they danced and they pulled me to join them too. Their supervisor, an inmate from Zambia is under trial right now. She is referred to as 'Stella Mamma' by the children and spends almost the whole day with them till 5, after which these children go back to their mothers and are locked inside the cells. I asked many children if they knew why they were kept there. One of them said, “Hum yahan chutti pe aaye hai.” (We are here on holidays). But I was absolutely shocked to hear one child who said, “Mere mummy aur chacha ne milkar papa ko chakku bhonka.” (My mom along with my uncle stabbed my father). He isn't more than four years old and to hear such things from a four year are very shocking. Will this thought ever leave him?
 
A mix of happiness and some disappointments, my visit was quite successful. At about 4:30, the project manager came to take me back. I was playing musical chairs with the children. I told them that I had to leave and they all gathered around me. Some held on to my kurta, some held my hands while some literally hugged me. Their small little fingers telling me not to go, the innocence in their eyes and the warmth in their hearts, who could not fall in love with them?
 
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