Prisoners want to talk English, walk English

Prison authorities across the city have noticed that jail inmates who enrolled for the literacy programme show more interest in learning the Queen's language than the vernaculars; spend time reading English dailies

Undertrials languishing in jails in the city have a new, absorbing hobby. They want to learn how to read and write in English.

According to jail authorities, a majority of the prisoners in various city jails -- Taloja, Thane, Arthur Road and the district jail in Byculla -- who have enrolled for literacy classes, are showing a predilection for the English language, in comparison to Hindi, Marathi and Urdu.

The art of writing: Jail inmates, who never attended school, can now
correspond with their families by writing letters in English

Soon after the literacy classes started in the Central jails earlier this year, around 150-200 jail inmates enrolled for lessons. Authorities were surprised when they noticed that of the first batch of 120 jail inmates who took these classes in Thane jail, a large majority were far more eager to learn alphabets and poems in English, than those in Hindi, Urdu and the regional languages.

Believing that education to be the best form of reform, jail authorities had started the literacy drive in January. Under this programme, undertrials were encouraged to join literacy programmes in jails, in which they were taught to read and write under the supervision of a teacher appointed by the government.

Rupesh Shah, (name changed on request) one of the inmates from the first batch said, "Earlier, my fellow inmates were constantly arguing, and would often enter into unnecessary squabbles. But now our English lessons keep us busy. Marathi, Hindi and Urdu are also taught. But there is more demand to learn the English language. Reading English newspapers is now our favourite pastime."

Surinder Kumar, the inspector general of prisons who was instrumental in initiating the programme, said, "We categorised jail inmates into two groups: those who showed a high aptitude are given formal education, while the rest are imparted informal education, starting with alphabet learning and poetry lessons."

"We were quite strict, and asked them to attend the classes regularly. Some of the inmates, who have never gone to school, can now correspond with their families through letters, which they pen in English. We encourage them to apply for SSC or HSC exams, if they are interested," he added.

2-3 months
The duration of the literacy programme

The number of inmates who enrolled for classes in Taloja jail

The number of inmates who enrolled for classes in Byculla jail

On the road to reform?
Meanwhile, at Arthur Road jail, 34 inmates appeared for exams conducted by the authorities in the month of May, while 68 appeared in September. Moreover, 10 jail inmates have now qualified to teach other inmates. Apart from literacy classes, the jail inmates are also encouraged to enroll for specialised courses like the Bachelor of Preparatory Programme, which helps them study for the Class XII exam. Moreover, 22 inmates from Arthur Road jail have enrolled themselves for several courses at IGNOU for the academic year 2011-2012.

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