Today I attended a talk by Shri Keshav Kumar, IG Police, Gujarat Prisons. This was one of the most inspiring talks and presentations I have attended in NID. This man has all the prisons of Gujarat under his jurisdiction, that means some 11,500 prisoners. By creating workshops and bakeries and kitchens, and training programs, the prisoners are now gainfully employed in a variety of activities such as making towels, textiles, tents, coats, bags, leather shoes, book-binding, screen printing, cooking bhajias, puffs, biscuits, chevda, bread (authentic brown bread as well), making phenyl, teak furniture, folders, and more.
The products are of very superior quality, the kitchens especially maintaining an exceptionally high standard of hygiene. The workers all wear uniforms and head gear. The food products are sold in the city, from the sale of the bhajias alone they earn Rs. 24,000/- per day. The other products are sold to other government divisions. In toto, they have an annual income of Rs. 6 to 8 crore per year.
And the best part is the positive use of the prisoners. As Shri Kumar explained, they have a tremendous labour force, and a captive labour force, which has a lot of time on its hands. Time that can be utilised well. And that is exactly what he has done. Each day more prisoners come in, so there is never a shortage, and as he joked, they never have strike problems either. Each prisoner earns Rs. 16, 18 or 20 per day. This may not sound like much, but its good enough considering the government covers other expenses like food, medical etc. And the prisoners are positively employed. More significantly, they are equipped with a set of skills that will enable them to integrate back into society once they are out, and they will be able to earn for themselves. From the total amount they earn in the prisons, 50% goes directly into an account each prisoner has at the post office, and 50% he can use for spending.
There are two prisons called ‘open prisons’, one in Ahmedabad and the other in Alipore. These are large compounds in which the prisoners live and work. They can move about within the compound, and go out daily to sell the bhajias. They have 50 acres of farmland where they grow the raw materials for the eatables and snacks.
Shri Kumar came to NID hoping that students can provide better ideas and suggestions or plans that they can implement to sell more and better products. They require help with packaging, branding, and marketing their products. The disadvantage is that enough people do not know such products are made, and there are not enough suitable outlets for the sale. Recently certain retail outlets like Big Bazaar have shown interest in selling their products, and it would be great if such a thing works out. Shri Kumar also hopes that the prisons can come under a SEZ (special economic zone), which would allow increased space and resources for production.
I wish this man and his initiative the best success. Through positive endeavor, he has improved the life of many. It was a real eye-opener for us to know what goes on in a prison. One can understand the extent he has changed the set-up, when the food in the prison kitchen is so nutritious and hygienic that prisoners fell ill after going home on parole. I hope that such efforts are taken in prisons all over the country.
He concedes to the downside of the prisons, such as they being over-crowded, but through action, he has turned disadvantages to advantages, not for himself, but for society and its most neglected and stigmatized people.