We were not exactly excited by the offer to paint in the Dasna jail with the prisoners. We were nervous, sceptical and worried about what is going to happen.
Jey was tense as he didn’t want this to happen like a media managed PR event where media gets a limited access to prisoners and all babus surround you all the time.
On a Saturday morning we started our 50 km journey to the jail via the crowded national highway 24, crisscrossing the over-crowded auto rickshaws and honking cars.
We were stopped at the gate of the jail and our bags were literally seized and our wrists stamped with the jail stamp. We were officially in the jail.
The superintendent of the jail Mr Shiv Prakas Yadav was a well read and friendly man who had invited us. He asked the deputy jailor Harbansh Pandey to give us a tour of the jail.
We started our first work in the juvenile ward of the jail. It was funny to wander in the jail premise. We have this image of jail where prisoners are beaten up, bad food and dreaded criminals.
Here we found nothing of that sort. Off course Meenakshi got few scary glances from some juveniles who were in the jail for heinous crimes such as murder and kidnapping.
Meenakshi decided to paint the dancing figures from the Warli art form. For the first time in the artologue project we had such enormous walls to paint; jails have walls….huge walls.
Jail authorities have provided us with two prisoners who have been painting in the jail Ajay and Krishna. Their job was to clean the walls and also involve other prisoners as initially we avoided the direct contact with the prisoners.
Once we made the outlines, many prisoners came forward and asked, ‘can we paint as well.’
Meenakshi replied, ‘Why not?’
The juvenile prisoners decided to increase the area of the painting and they started making figures with pencil. We stood and enjoyed the spectacle.
It was difficult to imagine that they were dreaded criminals.
With the juveniles, there was another barrack where some of the sensitive prisoners were staying.
One of them was a doctor named Vijay Verma. He came forward and explained, “Can we make something like a hand and butterflies?”
Vijay verma is a trained doctor who was in jail because of a medical scam in Uttar Pradesh. He has a four month old daughter. He wanted to paint something to stop the female foeticide. That’s why he gave the idea of butterflies and a pair hands.
We did the sketch and he filled the colors. I felt that he got emotional while painting. He asked about our Artologue project and said, ‘Please go to my house in lucknow. If I get bail in next few months, I will welcome you guys.’
While talking with him, we found out that many had picked the colours even the policemen who were there to protect us from the prisoners.
Meenakshi thought that painting in the women cell would be easier which proved wrong.
It proved difficult to paint because there were 18 small kids along with 132 women to manage and one transgender too.
Simran was a transgender serving her life sentence. She was confident and readily agreed to paint on the designated wall. Few others came forward to paint with her.
She chose the design and started painting scenery on the wall. Meenakshi advised them on and off but that proved to be more difficult as different group of prisoners started painting their own different designs.
Jey had to manage the 18 kids living on the women cell. We wondered about these women, their crimes. We chatted with them about what they have done. Some talked…some avoided…but I remember Simran’s words.
I asked her, ‘you are so beautiful. What’s the charge on you?’
“Murder….” came the reply
“Whom did you murder?”
“Dusman tha” (He was an enemy)
The way she said those words….we had goose bumps. We really don’t know what is the truth and what is the lie…but we can say for sure we saw many different faces of humanity in the Dasna jail.
The group photo after the painting session.
(The experience of painting with the male prisoners was quite different. Next blog will be about them so wait for it.)