Behind the walls of Tihar’s women’s ward, inmates connect with their creative and artistic selves

Mein to is me Haryana ke hi rang bhar devun hoon (I try to fill the colours of Haryana, which is where I come from),” said an inmate of the women’s ward in Tihar while weaving a tapestry.

This was almost two decades back. Most of the designs woven into wall hangings by the women showed birds flying in the sky, perhaps giving expression to their yearning to breathe free one day.

Today, in a world where commercial considerations are more important than feelings, the demand driven colours and designs selected by the inmates of the women’s jail in Tihar, have become popular and sell under the brand name TJ’s.

There are 32 outlets in the Capital selling a wide range of products made by the inmates that will soon include TJ’s designer clothes for women.

Some of these designer outfits were showcased by Director General of Prisons Vimla Mehra and some staff members of the Tihar jail who walked the ramp at a fashion show last month.

Women across in cities, small towns and villages are increasingly becoming fashion-conscious; so women inmates in Tihar have been initiated into this fashion business with the introduction of a fashion designing course.

What makes the women’s jail different from that of men is the home-like atmosphere the inmates create — sharing the joys and sorrows and bittersweet incidents of their lives with each other even as they sit together making the dough for namkeen or mixing spices for pickle or doing embroidery work.

“Yes, there are quarrels and fights here like in any family,” they say, “but then we try to resolve them,” says an inmate.

“This place,” says one inmate, “is a great equaliser, where the background or status of inmates is immaterial for the rules are the same and so also their suffering.”

One of the jail staff members feels women are more emotionally attached to their families back home and keep on thinking and worrying about their loved ones, so there is a greater need to keep them occupied in one activity or another.

“In fact, we are so busy doing something or the other the whole day that I remember my relatives only on the day of the mulaquat,” quips one of the inmates — a young woman perhaps in her early twenties.

“There is so much one can learn here,” she says, explaining further: “I never knew that I had the talent to paint.” Her paintings on vases and pottery display an acute aesthetic sense.

There are a host of activities that women can choose from: academics, vocational training, yoga, meditation, learning creative and performing arts, even horticulture and artificial flower making. These activities help them earn money while in jail and equip them to be on their own once they are freed.

For those willing to pursue their studies, various educational courses have been made available through IGNOU and National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). An educational programme called Padho or Padhao is also underway.

Recently, a few Tihar women inmates were offered jobs; one as a marketing executive, three as data entry operators and two as stenographers.

Music has a great therapeutic value, so instrumental music and Rabindra Sangeet are being taught in the music room. In fact, a musical album from Tihar includes a woman inmate’s songs. The CD is available at TJ’s outlets.

Training apart, there is a small in-house beauty salon for the women inmates themselves, where they can get facials, have their eye brows done or even dye their hair to add some colour to their lives, restricted as they are within the walls of a prison.

“Besides all the activities organised to help them cope with their situation, it is necessary to have a humane and positive approach while dealing with the inmates — men or women,” says Deputy Superintendent of the women’s jail, V.D. Pushkarna. The most important thing of all, he says, is listening patiently to them as they pour their hearts out to you.

“All said and done, one cannot forget that there is a difference between someone bolting a door from inside and being locked from outside,” says Mr. Pushkarna.