Shimla Zila Karagar…..a little heaven in the midst of the hills, Shimla….I call it ‘heaven’, not just because of the nature’s glory surrounding the tiny town, but because the place holds sensitivity and acceptance. My interest in writing this piece isn’t to glorify the hill station, but to glorify the initiative put forth by the Himachal Government for the reformation of the jail inmates here. This initiative is called the Open Air Jail Program, which gives a few chosen inmates, a new lease of life.
Jaichand and Yograj are currently serving life imprisonment in Shimla jail, but are allowed to step out to The Book Cafe, to earn means to facilitate the well being of their children. Suggested by Director General of Police, Prison and Correctional Services, Somesh Goyal, to involve the inmates in The Book Cafe. At his behest, in Shimla’s first book cafe, inmates of a sub-jail are trained by a renowned hotel to make cookies and pizzas and serve them to customers. They are allowed to leave the jail premises, every morning, to hold forth their job at the cafe and head back to the jail in the evening.
They attend to customers, who also head to The Book Cafe, well versed with the fact that the place is run by these 2 inmates. The acceptance is endearing! As part of his experiment, Goyal got 10 inmates of the Nahan Central Jail trained in music, as part of the ambience. His breaking away from the social conformities, gave the prisoners a chance at redemption.
The selection of prisoners who would be the few ones to avail of the opportunity, was a process involving interviews with the inmates and training them to align with correct social conduct. In the words of Yograj, “They have given us a very good chance and I do not want to lose this chance because I know how I spent 8 years in jail.”
The prisoners who work under the Open Air Jail Program, earn at least INR 210 a day. In all of Himachal, selected inmates have been selected to avail of this opportunity. DG Somesh Goyal sends out around 150 of the inmates to work under the program, giving them a chance to safe guard their Human Rights. 20% of the earnings through the program finds it’s way to the Prisoners Welfare Fund.
The books at the cafe count to over 450 books, given by the Municipal Corporation of Shimla. Some of the books from the collection are donated by visitors, tourists, authors and locals.
What really catches the mind, is the community built through the initiative…..the acceptance of the prisoners as people, by the customers….the effort put in through training them for service….and most importantly, people like DG Somesh Goyal, who show us that a ray of light, isn’t a far cry! A thumbs up for the man, the Government and the society.
So, I guess, we all will survive!