Thursday, 13th January, 2005. The first day of my life I EVER saw a jail from so close a distance…and I was going inside it! Being an ‘Art of Living’ volunteer, I was accompanying my teacher for a ‘Prison Smart’ course. Both I and my teacher, Vandana, didn’t know what to expect inside. She told me just 12 hours before we had to go there, and at night, I told myself that it must be a course meant for the Police guys and NOT the convicts. It somehow made me feel comfortable. Before long I was told that it was indeed for the ‘jailed’ and not the ‘jailers’! I was wrong.
Well, it was the same huge iron-gate they show in movies…the only difference being that there was no arch declaring, ‘Central Jail’ above. We knocked and were greeted by loud thundering sounds of the gate being opened and then shut behind us as we entered. After a quick entry in the register, our cell phones were taken away. I felt MORE nervous. And then I saw a real ‘kaidi’, a convict, in uniform…white striped shirt, white shorts and a white Gandhi-cap. The door from where we just stepped inside held a completely different world inside it. In the morning it almost looked surreal…strange smells, stranger sights…
We were led to the women’s section. The course was for them. Carved in a tall wall was a modest door which we were asked to knock on. As the door swung open, a Policewoman greeted us with a warm smile coupled with a quick frown. We introduced ourselves and were welcomed in. Another door, another world. It was breakfast time. There were around 100 women, in shapes, colours and sizes I had never imagined, in a queue where two male ‘kaidi’s were serving them tea, milk and something which resembled ‘rotis’. Half of the women had infants clinging on their waist. Vandana and I were taking in this entire sight without uttering a single word. In the meantime, the policewomen were hurling umpteen ‘gaalis’(curses) at them asking them to hurry up and come out in the courtyard because we had come.
Soon, we were in the courtyard perched on two chairs confronting some 25 women. Some didn’t have teeth. And then I saw a white-skinned woman in her early-twenties too amidst these Indian women. They all looked nonchalant about our presence. After everyone was seated on the ground before us, Vandana began to speak