Painting workshops at the Jaipur Central Jail have given prisoners a sense of purpose

The confines of prison are often synonymous with gloom and despair. There is very little that the inmates can look forward to, except waiting and praying for an end to the bonds of captivity. Until a few months ago, the scenario at the Jaipur Central Jail was no different. Then strokes of beautiful colours and canvas dispelled the pall of gloom.

Weaving carpets and durries, making furniture or learning bit of mechanical repairs have been the normal activities for the jail inmates. The introduction of a painting workshop this year has brought in a fresh whiff of change. The interaction with paint and brush has not only given the prisoners a chance to give their imagination wings, it has also broken the monotonous ambience of the campus. What is best, the inmates who have really excelled at the canvas are looking forward to having an artistic career at the completion of their incarceration period.

Man Bahadur Thapa, who is lodged in the Jaipur Central Jail for the last 10 years, awaits the High Court’s verdict in a murder case. He is the most versatile of the artists and is a great inspiration force for other inmates. He feels lucky that the jail administration thought of such a creative outlet for them, which has given them a sense of purpose.

He says with a sense of gratitude, “Durbhagya saubhagya mein badal gaya (our misfortune has turned into good fortune). Our mindset has also changed and we can hope to add to our earning with the art we have learnt here.”

The painting workshop was started with 21 inmates in June last year, says Jail Superintendent Kailash Sharma. The hands that once committed heinous crimes like murder or dacoity had never before picked up a painting brush but they really amazed everyone with their beautiful creations, he adds.

Director General of Police Omendra Bhardwaj and Superintendent of Police Ota Ram Rohin have been the major motivating force behind this creative initiative. Started under the direction of Navneet Pareek, founder of Surya Arts, the inmates learnt the traditional art of picchwai paintings from Yashwant Shrivastava of Royal School of Traditional Art and his associate Gauri Shankar Sharma.

Many convicts as well as undertrials discovered their talent and interest in painting at the workshop organised in the jail campus, Mr. Rohin says, hoping that the move would help in the inmates’ rehabilitation later.

To further inspire them, an exhibition Bandhan me Srajan (creation in captivity) was organised by the jail administration on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. Over 40 paintings of 19 prisoners, majority of them serving life term, were displayed. Some of the paintings fetched prices as high as Rs. 45,000.  Fifty per cent of the proceeds from the exhibition went to the Prisoners’ Welfare Association and the rest to the individual painter.

The themes ranged from mythology to nature — from doting Radha Krishna to the lovely hues at dusk or the herd of cows returning home to the various images of Lord Shrinathji and the holy Mecca-Madina Sharif. The paintings displayed beautiful colour composition and perfection, showing no trace of the despondency in the life of their creators.

Currently, the inmates are being trained in Kota style of painting, which dwells more on the royal or hunting themes. Along with Thapa, Bhagwan Sahay Jangid, Chetan, Rajendra and some new inmates, who have a creative urge, are busy perfecting their art at the workshop.

The exhibition, a first of its kind in the State, proved that the “correctional” approach does have its positive impact and imagination and creativity can bloom even in captivity. The beautiful melodies of jaga naya savera sathi, ugte sooraj ne kan kan par, kanchan naya bikhera sathi coming out of the music room in the jail seem to symbolically signal a new hope for the inmates.  With the help of the brush and the palette, they can take a colourful flight in a positive direction after their release.