Sunday, April 24, 2016

Visiting Yerwada Prison with a full beard?

On a jail visit organised by the students of a Law College in Mumbai, which I'm a part of, we decided to visit Yerwada Central Jail. I wish I could start the way traditional stories would, 'it was a fine day, a beautiful morning and clear sky spread above our head...'. It was the April of Mumbai - hot and humid.

The Wall

We stood in front of a grand fortress behind a thick wall. The wall has a gate equally thick and big, made of solid wood, and oil painted with loud red and yellow. A guard opens a small door in the gate and we duck our head to go through the door. Behind the wall, stands a huge facade of the prison, guards rush around us, and the organizer prepares himself with documents and names of students. We stand in a couple of two students behind each other to make a neat line, so that we can again duck our head and go through a similarly small door that we have seen outside.

The Distasteful

While still standing in the line, a few guards engaged in a conversation with us, they inquired about our college. The guards perhaps were the lowest in the rank of security there. They boasted about how benevolent they're to have given us the permission. A few minutes later, one of two guards looked at a student with a full beard. This student is a large guy. He could easily pass by as a one man army. He has a beard, let us say his intention is to keep one, but the boy's biology isn't benevolent on him, and thus a few hair hang off his chin. The guard smiled and said, perhaps with a humor, that he won't be allowed inside. The guy smiled, took it in his stride, and replied, 'dekh lenge'. Interestingly, another student just passed him, and this time we're in for some real good business. A thin frame man, long face, a head full of thick hair, beard so thick and neatly and densely hanging off his chin. A beard big enough for his face like the present population large enough for Mumbai. 'Arrey baap re, aapko to andar hi rakh lenge,' the same guard commented. This time I overhead the guard, and I move ahead to tell the two guys that the guard was being disrespectful. When confronted with him, he said he was joking. He pulled the lid off a drum that had water, dipped a cup attached to a long rod and drank while the water fell off the edges of his lips. He said, 'dekho sir itna garam hai, aur paani bhi thanda nahi'. The boys expressed their disappointment and said, 'PIL darj karengey, aap fikar mat karo'.

The Explanation

One of the boys tells me that he wouldn't have confronted the guard, had I not pitched in. The reason being that he is not bothered about several such people who have had no proper education on culture and variety. It's his problem that he acted this way, and it suggested his illiteracy.

The Tour

Once inside, our IDs are checked, we're now following a smart gentleman police officer who has asked us to follow him again in a couple of two students in a strictly neat line. He briefs us about Poona Pact, and takes us past the room where Gandhi stayed. The room was neatly colored with a beige oil paint. A desk laden with a neat white cloth was kept in front of a charkha that Gandhi used, and a few candles lit the atmosphere. We walked on a road covered with greenery on both sides, and reached the kitchen.

The Kitchen

The noise of a machine mixing flour with water welcomes us. We move carefully through trays of freshly cooked rice on each side. There is a chest of racks, where one prisoner is storing chapatis. A long pan made of thick iron is cooking these chapatis with few men attending to it. Another prisoner applied oil on these chapatis.

Oil or Ghee

The dapper gentleman who we followed brought us to a shed with few benches and a few more police officers. These officers were happy to answer the curious questions they received from our group. They happily answered questions from what prisoners do for entertainment till whether they applied ghee or oil on the chapatis. This group of officers were polite, engaging, soft spoken, well informed and I must say that the first impression is not the last impression, at least sometimes.

Open Prison

A few minutes drive away is an open prison, the unbearable noise of handloom machines welcomes us. These machines are arranged so closely that walking through them would require agility. A very hospitable police officer greets us and engages with us in a conversation. He informs us about the vegetation, gardening, and how each prisoner needs to do something that he enjoys.

Masters of all

The police officer gave us a brief on the open prison, remission, and how people with amicable behavior are transferred in the open prison. One student requests that we'd like to talk to a prisoner. While he readily allows us to talk to one of the prisoners, he also cautioned that we should not talk to them about anything that could hurt them emotionally.

The prisoner introduces himself. He is an MBA from a university in London, and while in prison he studied for another master's degree. He spoke in impeccable English, and engaged in a very casual conversation on the prison, his likes, the criminal justice system, the courts and the judiciary.

The open prison resembled to me like a happy village. I believe that is a purpose of reform to create an environment conducive enough to induce change or correction, so that the reformed outcome can become law abiding members of the society. I feel both the low and middle level guards have a tough job there. They may come across as rude and unfriendly, however they aren't as bad as cinema has shown us. They ought to be strict to enforce discipline, and subsequent reform. I believe a jail visit is a must for every law student. To work towards the ends of justice, we must know what rests at the end of a criminal justice system -- the prison.


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Faraz Salat

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