Spreading light of learning in prison Thanks to RC Patiala Midtown’s intervention, jail inmates are saying ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you.’

Rotary believes that everybody deserves a second chance ... everybody!
Rotary believes that everybody deserves a second chance … everybody!

Inmates of the Patiala Central Jail, Punjab, are planning their future thanks to RC Patiala Midtown’s (D 3090) correctional education programme that imparts general knowledge, maths, English, Hindi and Punjabi language classes that go hand in hand with the jail authority’s vocational programme. “It will significantly reduce the danger of their return and find them decent employment,” says club President Navdeep Gupta. Scheduled for four to six months, the courses are separately designed for “newcomers.” Inmates undergoing rigorous imprisonment too stand a chance, provided “they show improvement.”

The 15th edition of this educational programme has produced 70 literate prisoners. Reluctant to call them prisoners, the enthusiastic project chairman O P Gupta prefers to call them “reformed citizens.” At 86 he is the oldest and most active member of the club. He visits the prison every fortnight and gives the prisoners a treat of Punjabi samosas and aloo patties to keep them motivated!

It will significantly reduce the danger of their return and find them decent employment.

The project began in 1980 as a Literacy project for girls, and gradually found its way to the prison when a few Rotarians visited the jail. When he saw “the convicts simply whiling away their time,” Gupta approached his club to start a literacy programme inside the central jail. With the help of late Rtn Hans Gupta, member of RC Toronto Humber, D 7070, Canada, the first eye camp was organised within the jail’s premises and 32 cataract operations were performed. “This is now an annual event, all thanks to the committed Rotarians,” O P Gupta added. The women’s prison too has a literacy programme; the club has distributed sewing machines and separate women teachers conduct the correctional education programme.

Dr Jagdish Chander Kumara, a committed teacher, who has been teaching at the jail since 1980 fell ill last year. The programme would have come to a standstill, but he was replaced by a qualified teacher who is serving imprisonment. “Many of them are graduates and post graduates in there,” he quipped. Rotary Club of Patiala Midtown provides them with educational kits and ­blankets. Of late “religious books are also in demand,” said Navdeep Gupta.

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Singh, an inmate here, is the new language teacher and is serving 15 years imprisonment term for a narcotics crime, “I teach them Hindi and Punjabi, ” he said. Out of the 70-odd students he has, 40 can read Hindi and Punjabi newspaper, he says. Whenever there is learning trouble he preaches the “haati (elephant) formula … story of an elephant that cannot break free from the rope it is tied to. Because it believed it couldn’t, it was stuck right there.” Talking about the Rotarians he said, “Zindagi bhar jo nahi seekha, woh Rotary ne do saal mein sikha diya. Unko dhanyawad (What I did not learn all my life Rotary taught me in two years, thanks to them).”

Ramesh who is serving his last four months of imprisonment for a roadside brawl feels that his English is “bahut badhiya,” and all thanks to Rotary he has even learnt to sign. He plans to teach his two-year old daughter, “ABCD,” and he now says, “Sorry and thank you” (in a strong Punjabi accent), whenever he is drawn into an argument.

Rotary believes that everybody deserves a second chance … everybody!

“We have painters, singers and dancers. We give them training in whatever field they are interested in, in the belief they will reform, and they actually do,” says O P Gupta, adding, “Rotary believes that everybody deserves a second chance … everybody!”

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