BENGALURU: When one thinks of a prison, the first image that comes to mind is an endless row of cells with inmates in uniform serving their sentences out. But at the Bengaluru Central Prison, inmates are determined to erase their horrid pasts and walk to freedom having received a priceless commodity -- education.
As many as 1,460 inmates of the prison in Parappana Agrahara took the Literacy Mission Exams on May 15, and regular classes are a common sight here. Every inmate, or shall we say student, whether he is convicted or being tried for murder or kidnap or rape, sits here with books and pens aiming to at least be able to sign his or her name before leaving the prison.
“These 30 women students of my class, who didn’t even know Kannada alphabets, can now read sentences in Kannada, solve math problems, sign their names and more,” says M Shylaja, a teacher who has been on deputation to the prison for the last seven years.
The schools, one each at male and female barracks, begin at 10 am and go on till 1 pm and then break for lunch. Inmates aged between 18 and 65 and some even older return to the classes at 3 pm for another hour of study before the school ends.
Swapna (name changed), a woman prisoner from Bangladesh, and Hima (name changed) from Uganda can now read and write in Kannada. “Before our release, we not only would have gained knowledge of a new language, but also learnt a bit of money management. I was reluctant at first but my cell mates told me about the importance of education,” says Deepika (name changed), a prisoner from Hassan who is serving a life term for murder.
“Though we have telephones to talk, writing to my family gives me comfort, thanks to this literacy programme. I had already studied till Class 7, but was hesitant and had forgotten how to write. Now that I have learnt to write, I pen letters to my 14-year-old son who waits for them every fortnight,” says Ramappa Naik (name changed).
Though several prisoners have written SSLC and PUC exams through National Institute of Open Schooling and many, while being in jail, have graduated in law, journalism, literature etc, the Karnataka government did a survey in 2021 to check the literacy level of inmates. “We found that of about 15,000 inmates — both convicts and undertrials lodged in 51 prisons in the state — close to 5,000 were found to be completely illiterate or with a capacity to only sign,” explains Chief Superintendent of Prison Ranganath. Later, the state government expanded the literacy programme to enable such prisoners to read and write from November 1, 2021.
“With this, several minds have transformed. I have been in this jail for 12 years and have seen improvement through skill development courses and literacy programmes,” says Chandranna (name changed), a convict. According to DG, Prisons, Alok Mohan, inmates who are already educated are also roped in to teach. “We form batches of 10 inmates who are illiterate, and bring them under the wings of inmates who can read and write,” he explained.
The prison gets seven newspapers, magazines and has nearly 5,000 books in its library. Bringing outsiders into male barracks is risky and using educated prisoners will not just motivate the others, but will also be more successful in convincing those reluctant to come to school. Prisoners chosen to teach illiterate prisoners will be trained through the trainers’ syllabus ‘Balige Belaku’, brought out by the Mass Education Department. “We are planning to provide remuneration to prisoners who teach,” added Mohan.
The Bengaluru Central Prison currently has 211 prisoners taking SSLC exams and 103 of them have written PU II exams. Of the women prisoners, the prison has two CAs, 12 BA/BBM/BCom graduates, two MCom/MSc graduates and two BE graduates. Among men, there are PhD holders, three doctors, 28 BE/BCA holders, 111 BA/MA graduates, 116 ITI/diploma holders, 75 BCom/MCom graduates and about 30 BSc/MSc graduates.