Bridging education in correctional homes

In a groundbreaking move towards reformation and empowerment, Rotary India Literacy Mission (RILM) has collaborated with the Department of Correctional Administration, Government of West Bengal, to create educational opportunities for the inmates of correctional homes across India.

Following a discussion among Imran Zaki, a social activist from Kolkata, Sanjay Singh, the then ADG – Correctional Service at the Department of Correctional Administration and PRIP Shekhar Mehta, a partnership was proposed to identify non-literate inmates and provide them with an opportunity to transform into literate citizens, thereby fostering a sense of dignity and a chance for a better life.

Inmates at a correctional home learning to read and write.

The collaboration with correctional homes is an extension of the Adult Literacy programme, introducing a new chapter in the lives of those behind bars.

A unique aspect of this initiative is the involvement of literate inmates, who take on the role of ‘Akshar Sathi’ — individuals responsible for teaching groups of non-literate adults within their correctional homes. This peer-to-peer learning approach aims to create a supportive environment for the transformation of non-literate individuals into literate citizens.

Animesh Patra, an inmate (name changed), expressed gratitude for the unexpected opportunity, stating, “We never thought that we would get a chance to learn how to read and write. We may be convicted, but we also have the right to live with dignity. Education is crucial in anyone’s life, and we now understand its importance. Better late than never; we believe this is the best time to unveil the opportunity to live as literate citizens.”

Ajay Kumar Thakur, Special Inspector General at the Department of Correctional Administration, is playing a pivotal role in the expansion of this programme.

The ‘Vidya’ project, a flagship initiative under this programme, has already enrolled over 160 non-literate inmates in Presidency and Midnapore Correctional Homes in West Bengal. Seven literate inmates are actively serving as Akshar Sathis to facilitate the transformation process.

As the initiative gains momentum, plans are underway to expand the Vidya programme for correctional homes in Jalpaiguri, Balurghat, Burdwan, Baruipur, Baharampur and Dumdum. With literacy rate in India still below 80 per cent, according to the 2011 census, this collaboration presents a crucial opportunity for individuals to contribute to the mission of making India totally literate.

As the journey unfolds, Rotary clubs across the country are invited to participate in this transformative endeavour, emphasising the belief that education has the power to break barriers and bring positive change in communities even in the most challenging circumstances.


The writer is a past RI director

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