New Delhi: "I want to
be a doctor," murmured five-year-old Guddu Kumari, flashing a shy
smile and then hurrying to the rest of her classmates resting in
the L-shaped play school at the women's prison in Tihar Jail,
India's largest prison.
Like Kumari, the other 29 kids at her play school, The Creche,
cherish dreams of becoming doctors, journalists, police officers
or engineers some day.
Beautifully decorated with colourful posters of cartoon characters
on the walls and toys all over, the play school and a nursery at
Jail No. 6 is spread out into two huge L-shaped rooms. It houses
39 children, including 10 who are less than two years old.
"The Creche and the nursery are run with the assistance of NGO
India Vision Foundation. There are proper recreational and
educational facilities for the children," Deputy Inspector General
R.N. Sharma told IANS.
The children below two years of age are taken care of by NGO
workers and are provided with food, medicine and clothes. "They
are kept in a cosy environment, away from the cells," he said.
Children over two-and-a-half years are given education at The
Creche. "It is a play school. We provide all the facilities," said
counsellor Ruby Gupta.
Looking smart in their uniforms - white and pink checked shirt and
shorts, white for boys and pink for girls - the children sit on
benches and are taught subjects like Maths, Hindi and English on a
"They are taught while they play," Gupta said.
From 8 a.m. till 5.30 p.m., the children are involved in various
activities, which include painting and dance classes. They also
watch cartoon films on TV in the play school.
"They are provided breakfast, lunch and light snacks during
evening," Sharma said.
Ruby Gupta and Tulika Kiran, counsellors-cum-teachers from the
NGO, take care of the children. Two educated undertrial inmates
also take a few classes.
Motherly affection sometimes attracts jailed DMK MP Kanimozhi to
the children. "She spends some time teaching these kids when she
is not away in the court," Kiran said.
The kids are also taken for educational exposure trips across the
"They have been taken to various monuments, embassies and gardens
in Delhi. These regular visits make them feel they are not
prisoners by default and they enjoy themselves," Gupta said.
Education not just helps them aspire to make it big some day but
also comes as a big relief to their mothers who want their
children to lead fulfilled lives.
"I am happy that my daughter is studying. Seeing your child grow
in the jail is the worst thing for any mother, but I know better
things are in store for her," said Dolly Agarwal, an undertrial in
a murder case.
For the last 16 years, The Creche has served the purpose of
imparting education and moral values to kids in the jail that
houses 12,000 prisoners, almost twice its capacity, making it one
of the largest prison complexes in the world.
"When the child is more than six years, with the consent of their
mother prisoner, he or she is admitted in a boarding school with
assistance of some NGOs," Sharma said.
So far, 193 kids, who have spent their early days at The Creche,
are now pursuing higher studies at various schools and colleges
across the country.
"A few of them are doing management studies, journalism and
engineering," India Vision Foundation organising secretary Monica
Dhawan told IANS.
A few are also preparing for Indian Administrative Services (IAS)
examinations conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 484
children of convict women prisoners and 1,639 children of
undertrial prisoners were lodged in various jails across the
country in 2008.
(Sumit Kumar Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)