New Delhi: The Siddhartha Vashishta Charitable Trust (SVCT), an NGO, that works primarily with children of prisoners held a seminar today titled ‘Unseen, Unheard – Innocent Prisoners of Conscience’ at the India Habitat Centre. Attempting to highlight the condition of children of prisoners and propose an action plan to alleviate their suffering through collaborative efforts of individuals, government and civil institutions, the seminar had eminent speakers such as Kumar Vishwas (AAP party member), Madhur Bhandarkar (Filmmaker), B.K. Gupta (Former DG [Prisons] and Commissioner of Police Delhi), Justice K.K. Lohati (Former Chief Justice Madhya Pradesh High Court), Jill Carr-Harris, Mukesh Nayak (MLA) & Indu Sinha (Art of Living).
Some of the issues discussed in the seminar included the psychological and socio-economic condition of children of prisoners; social circumstances of children of prisoners and their families; the situation of children in cases where one parent is in jail and the other is deceased; what part does education play in the life of the children of prisoners; what steps can we take to support the children of prisoner’s in these critical times, etc. The seminar also raised the very relevant question—Is it not morally imperative for the private sector to come forward and provide employment opportunities to the released prison inmates and for civil society to pave the way for their absorption in main stream society?
Direct interaction with the children of prisoners and their families was an excellent opportunity for people to understand the problem and empathize with the cause. The seminar showcased case studies, testimonials, a sand art show, recital of poems and song written by Tihar jail inmates. Also poster paintings and photos by students and inmates were displayed.
Siddhartha Vashishta Charitable Trust felt an urgent need to highlight the plight of these children. Shakti Rani Sharma (President, SVCT) said, “These unseen unheard children of prisoners are condemned and ostracized in society and deprived of even their basic rights. While working with these children of Tihar jail inmates we observed that because either one or both the parents are incarcerated in jail, the lives of these children is turned completely upside down. These children are deprived of basic necessities of life and also education which is a fundamental right of every child. These children too have the right to live with honor and respect as a part of the society, not as outcastes due to circumstances beyond their control. Because they suffer societal indifference and ridicule coupled with extreme poverty, these children are financially and mentally very vulnerable and require our help.”
Addressing the gathering, Filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar said, “Ever since I have made the movie ‘Jail’, my worldview on prisons and prisoners has totally changed. For making the movie, I visited several jails for research. We may not realize, but jails are a different world altogether. Prisoners are also human beings. I am of the firm view that we should do everything to bring prisoners in the mainstream after they are released. I extend all the help and support to SVCT who are doing a commendable job of taking care of the families of prisoners.”
I have had the privilege of initiating several measures in Tihar Jail during my tenure as Director General of Prisons. We tried to bring an end to corruption in jail by bringing several processes online. Cleanliness in the jail was given top-most priority. While a lot has been done to improve the condition of jail inmates, their families are forced to live with a stigma. Even they are considered as convicts. I salute SVCT for helping out this vulnerable section of the society, said B K Gupta (IPS), former Director General (Prisons) and Commissioner of Police of Delhi.
Celebrated Hindi poet and social activist Kumar Vishwas said, “Mahatma Gandhi once said that children cannot be illegitimate, relationships can. Why should children be isolated for crimes committed by their parents. Also our view about the prisoners needs to be changed. Even they are serving the country in several ways. When I visited Kargil war venue to lift the morale of our soldiers through my poems, I saw strings marked TJ. I was told that soldiers use jute stringers made by Tihar Jail prisoners as plastic strings don’t work in the cold. So behind every army honour, there is an invisible hand of a prisoner. We need to support SVCT who are rendering yeoman services in bringing prisoners and their families in the mainstream.”
Siddhartha Vashishta Charitable Trust supports these children, their education being the main focus. The Founder of this trust during his own incarceration realized that children of prisoners are extremely marginalized and are suffering after the primary bread winner of the family is in prison. It was felt that the best way to support these children was to help them in continuing their education so they could build a better future and also to counsel and encourage them to stay away from the negativity around them.
The Prisoner’s Child Education Programme takes care of educational needs of children of prisoners by ensuring continuation of studies in the same schools/colleges as they were attending earlier and also by getting admission into institutions in their neighbourhood. Tuition fees, books, stationery and uniforms etc., are also provided to these children in addition to counseling, mentoring and motivational sessions. Some cases referred to the trust by the courts or other agencies are also taken up on real time requirements. What started as a support initiative for a few children is now a full-fledged program with hundreds of children having benefited from the program.