The recreation hall at Taloja jail was filled with laughter and joy on Thursday, with 11 convicts sharing goodies with their children in a gala bhet (embrace) programme.
The State Prison Department started the initiative in 2016. This was the fourth gala bhet organised by the Taloja jail authorities. “Many a times, prisoners feel depressed and worried about their families. Some also tend to get suicidal, and this programme is to bring positivity during their incarceration,” Jail Superintendent Sadanand Gaikwad said.
Mr. Gaikwad said that usually, when prisoners meet family members, there is a wall or glass separating them. But here, they get to hug their family members. Children under the age of 16 can visit their parents, and only those who are very young can be accompanied by a relative.
For the prisoners, the half an hour spent with their loved ones becomes a memory to cherish. On Thursday morning, the inmates were waiting, with chocolates and biscuits they had bought from the jail canteen. There were also some snacks on offer from the prison, which the parents fed to their children.
Santosh Kattimani Gaud from Wadala, who was convicted of sexual harassment a year ago and has been in Taloja jail for a month, held back tears as he saw his five-month-old adopted child. Dyaneshwar Babaji Gudekar from Chiplun was convicted two years ago for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, and has spent five months in Taloja jail. On Thursday, he could be seen happily listening to his daughter’s stories of school and friends.
Taloja jail has around 300 convicts serving sentences of not more than five years. Undertrials who get more than five years’ imprisonment are shifted to other jails.
To arrange the gala bhet , government-appointed social workers Amar Sawant and Sandeep Dighe met and took the consent of prisoners who wished to meet their children. “We then contacted around 13 families by phone. Children from 11 of them turned up,” Mr. Sawant said. They travelled all the way from Chiplun in Ratnagiri, and Murud and Mahad in Raigad, he said.
Mr. Gaikwad said, “When a man is convicted, the bond between father and child goes for a toss. It is important to maintain the relationship. This way, we give them a chance to stay connected.”