In an interesting endeavour by a police officer, creativity broke free from the cocoon of prison bars and found its way into the printed word.
Thanks to the efforts of Sunil Joshi, Superintendent of Police, Valsad, Gujarat, the Sabarmati Central Prison in Ahmedabad, launched a periodical called ‘Saad’ The voice of prisoners, that carries their literary contributions. The magazine was launched earlier this year and is in Gujarati.
Joshi hit upon the idea when he was posted as the jail superintendent in Ahmedabad. He says, “In the course of my informal conversations with prison inmates, I learnt that several of them had various talents which could be tapped. The idea was to give meaning to their life in prison. So, I motivated some of them to write and was pleasantly surprised with what I read. I also found that some inmates were good with graphics. This made me realise that their talents should be tapped and allowed to flow into something of substance.”
Sunil invited students of the prestigious NID (National Institute of Design) in Ahmedabad to train the prison inmates in graphic design.
The Saad quarterly magazine was launched, and it was then proposed that it would be printed by the Navajivan Trust.
Founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1919, Navajivan Trust is a publishing house that has published more than 800 titles in English, Gujarati, Hindi and other languages so far.
Navajivan offered to print the magazine for free in appreciation of the new initiative of the Sabarmati prison where once Gandhiji was imprisoned by the British. “When the jail authorities approached us for printing the magazine, we agreed immediately. We will do it for free and also look after the distribution,” says Vivek Desai, managing trustee of the Navajivan Trust.
Although Navajivan offers some editorial help, the prisoners have taken the jobs of editing, proof-reading and coordinating, upon themselves. Navajivan also sells the textiles and furniture made by the prisoners through its outlet called Sattva, located in its premises in Ahmedabad.
Contributions to the magazine include poems, short stories, crossword puzzles and cartoon strips. While the subjects are varied —they touch upon humanity, communal harmony and lessons of life learnt behind bars.
At present, the magazine is distributed in the police headquarters and various offices of the police authorities, and in the future, Joshi hopes that the magazine will be sold on newsstands as well. He also plans to invite inmates of other jails in Gujarat to contribute to the magazine.
This initiative is connected to the broader issue of prison reforms. Mr JR Muthalia, Deputy Inspector General of Prisons, Gujarat, says, “Sabarmati Central Jail is where Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders were imprisoned by the British for long. So, we seek to inject some Gandhian spirit through various reformative measures for the prisoners. In the wake of it, we have now decided that the prisoners who are illiterate will leave the barracks as literate after serving their sentence. We will also help them prepare for SSC and higher secondary exams.”
As they say, it is not the prison buildings but what goes on inside them that needs change.