Preparing for the real world

Tihar Idol, a singing competition on the lines of the popular TV show Indian idol, is a hit among the inmates

July 28, 2015 12:00 am | Updated 07:05 am IST

When 32-year-old Bhagirath left Tihar Jail in 2013, he carried back a few skills he had acquired during his three-year stint at the prison.

Taking part in music competitions and other functions organised for Tihar prisoners helped him explore his latent talents and by the time he walked out free, he could sing and dance.

Today, Bhagirath runs a music and dance academy in Najafgarh where he also teaches aerobics. Today, he claims, he has over 60 students enrolled for the various courses.

As a mark of gesture, he and some former prisoners went back to Tihar on Monday to thank the jail staff and also share some of the deterrents and positive experiences they have gone through after leaving jail.

To help rehabilitate prisoners after their release and to keep them positively occupied during their stay inside, Tihar authorities regularly conduct art competitions inside the jail. Tihar Idol, a singing competition on the lines of the popular TV show Indian idol, is a hit among the inmates.

Tihar’s Director General Alok Kumar Verma says those who do not take interest in music and art are not left out either. “We try to mould them as per their interest so that they can live a dignified life after their release. They are encouraged to take up vocational trades,” says Mr. Verma.

Apart from being former inmates, the common thread that binds the prisoners are roadblocks they face at every step right after they walk out of jail.

Despite claiming to be very popular among his students, Bhagirath is still selling off his wife’s jewellery to pay for his office rent. “I am hoping for some financial support from Tihar’s rehabilitation package,” he says.

Another ex-inmate Jagdeep had been placed with a logistics company even before he left Tihar. But the MBA graduate left the Rs.30,000 monthly package job after facing hostile behaviour by people he worked with or for.

“Even their mere glance on learning that I have spent time in prison appeared horrible. They treated me badly. I quit the job in three months,” Jagdeep tells The Hindu . Today, he runs a successful event management company in Delhi.

When he left jail after almost six years, he could not recognise certain roads he had walked on for years. “Society just did not accept me even though the charges against me were false. I would constantly feel eyes following me wherever I walked,” he adds.

Released women prisoners are worse off. While it was routine to hear Reena’s voice on Tihar Jail’s FM station, outside the prison walls, she received an opportunity or two to lend her voice to certain radio stations, but no one gave her a job. Unemployed, Reena still claims to be engaged in social work.

The former prisoners express gratitude to prison authorities for helping them identify their talents, but unfortunately, they say, it hasn’t helped them much.

Akram, a talented actor who went on to win a season of Tihar Idol, continues to pull a rickshaw to earn a livelihood. “I thought I would get a decent job based on my talent, but my talent has gone waste. I am physically very weak to pull rickshaws. I am just happy I haven’t taken to crime over the last two years,” says Akram who claims to have been in and out of jail between 1990 and 2013.

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