Sabarmati Jail has become a Special Learning Centre of the Indira Gandhi National Open University. This centre is an outcome of the farsighted efforts of Narendra Modi to bring the jail inmates into the main stream of the society.
In the quest for an effective method of mental treatment, psychologists, sociologists and educationists should focus their spectrum of knowledge upon the wide uncovered areas of social interactions. One of the best devices is education, through which the behaviour pattern of human beings can be changed. But practice of education should not be bounded within the four walls of educational institutions.
Sabarmati Jail has become a Special Learning Centre of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). This centre is an outcome of the farsighted efforts of Narendra Modi, former Chief Minister of Gujarat, to bring the jail inmates into the main stream of the society. IGNOU, Ahmadabad, has activated Six Special Learning Centres for Jail inmates – 3 in District Prisons and the rest in Central Prisons. Since January 2012, IGNOU, Ahmadabad, has been able to start shaping and sharpening the ideas and aspirations of prisoners for bringing them to the main stream because of the infrastructure provided by the Gujarat Government.
The journey for bringing jail inmates to main stream through education commenced with a Round Table Conference at the Inspector General (IG) Prison Office, where senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officials, Jail Superintendents, and Welfare Officers attended the meeting for plans to streamline jailhouse activities, and motivate the inmate learners, and to discuss a number of issues related to academic counselling sessions and identification of academic counsellors within the jails.
The prison department came forward to motivate the inmates in order to develop them as a skilled workforce, enrolling 3,284 inmate learners. Among the inmate learners, one was Dr Maya Kodnani, a medical person by profession, but a life convict, enrolled herself for the Masters Degree Programme in Gandhian Peace Studies. A few senior IPS officers, convicted and consigned to different jails, also enrolled themselves in similar programs.
To be candid, IGNOU authorities have deeply appreciated the initiative taken by the Gujarat Government, which is the first of its kind in India, and they have also waived the fees for inmates. IGNOU academics thus have been not only motivated to become more learner friendly, but have performed the unique task of reforming the text and the sub-text of conditions within the four walls of prisons provided by the Gujarat Government. IGNOU has also identified academic counsellors among the jail inmates for counselling their jail mates for various programmes of IGNOU. In order to develop a proper academic atmosphere, a few of the best available experts have been identified from among the prisoners, who fulfil the prescribed norms for qualifications and experiences. Transforming jail inmates into academic counsellors would strengthen the ideas, creativity and capacity building among the inmates/counsellors to foster innovations in distance education. The Learner Support Centres are valuable institutions for nurturing bright and inquisitive minds whose ideas and explorations are expected to lead to pioneering solutions of issues related to open and distance learning system. Identifying jail inmates themselves as counsellors for IGNOU can also be fruitful, especially because the inmates may better empathise with their mode of counselling.
The learning skills and competence of the jail inmates have contributed to their educational development. Utilising the expertise within the four walls of Sabarmati Central Prison can be an encouraging example for other states. It can be a role model for other prison departments in different parts of the country. IGNOU is planning to showcase inmates’ works prepared for IGNOU such as visiting cards, greetings cards, planner diaries, calendars, etc. Importantly one life convicted Dr Bhanubhai Patel; Medical Practitioner by profession of Sabarmati Jail received certificate from Asia Book of Records for his successful completion of 31 degrees/diplomas from jail all in first attempt. He also received certificate from Limca Book of Records for his outstanding academic performances. Acknowledging his brilliant academic career former Chief Minister of Gujarat waived his jail terms and released him for National Educational Development and appointed him as a Consultant at Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University at Ahmadabad since February 2012.
Dr Sujit K Ghosh
(The writer is former senior regional director, IGNOU, Ahmedabad)