Shadows behind the bars: awaiting justice in Baghpat Prison

In the heart of Uttar Pradesh, Lies Baghpat, which was once called “The Land of Tigers”. Amid the chaos in one of the most populous cities in India, there exists the Baghpat district prison far away from human sight like a fortress of solitude and a crucible of human endurance. Behind these formidable walls, thousands of lives converge, each with a story etched in struggle and survival. As the sun rises over Baghpat, it casts long shadows on the tales of redemption and despair that unfold within. This is a world few have seen and even fewer understand.

The journey to the Baghpat district prison with the team of India Vision Foundation was indeed an experience that shattered every judgment a common man had regarding the prisons and the lives in them. There exists a common perception most people have when we hear the term “Prisoners”: the ruthless animal-like human beings who have committed the heinous crimes. But life inside the prisons not only involves these “Prisoners” but also the ones under trial where every sunrise brings a new challenge and sunsets a fleeting hope. It also includes the warders, who also lead a solitary life under constant stress and pressure while fighting the battle of professionalism, rising duty hours, inner politics, and personal life.

Under the watchful eyes of the guards and after following the strict rules and regulations of the prison, we got to enter into the same. Few inmates were doing some mundane work, involved in recreational activities but always under constant surveillance.

When you are inside a prison there is always an eye on you, reminding you of the lost freedom and liberty that once you dropped in front of the gate of the prison. In that regard, prison can be stated as the place left with the least hope.

 Despite having a relatively less number of population prison compared to other countries, the prisons in India have attracted the attention of critics in various negative aspects. Prolonged detention of undertrials, lack of proper infrastructure, overcrowding, lack of rehabilitation and reformation practices, deficiency in the number of recruitment and staffing, and so on.

 All these issues that are faced by the prisons in India cannot be solved until the criminal justice system including the courts, police, and government strive together. The heavy workload in the courts with comparatively a smaller number of judicial officers and stringent complex procedures add to the ones who are under trial. Even though the fast-track courts are performing well, they haven’t made a remarkable change in the current prison condition. This overcrowding can lead to a challenge for necessities like healthcare, food, and clothing inside the prisons. Apart from the same, staff shortages and inadequate training provided to them can even cause negative effects on both the prisoners and the warders. The issue of lack of inside prison programs, insufficient legal aids, and sufficient mental health assistance further accentuates the situation.

 A Prison is not just a place of punishment. It’s a place where we strive to rehabilitate, to give these individuals a chance to reform and reintegrate into society. The mission is as much about hope as it is about justice. But the current condition of prisons across the country can only result in individuals under constant trauma, pressure, negative emotions, and no hope ahead. This includes both the prisoners and warders because, at the end of the day, they are the ones who cohabit with each other.

 While coming on to the case of Baghpat district prison, the major issues they face include overcrowding, lack of insufficient inside prison programs, staff shortages, and less importance provided to mental health assistance.

Even though they tried to initiate the “One Jail, One Product” Program, the lack of proper infrastructure became a halt. The lack of proper infrastructure, Industry, marketplace, and difficulty in mobility were some prominent issues that serve as reasons for the lack of skill development activities inside the prison. The deputy Jailor further adds that there are convicts from both female and male sections who possess skilled craftsmanship in the domain of Bag making etc., but the lack of opportunities and infrastructure is restricting them from pursuing the same.

 Apart from this, regarding the aspect of mental and physical health care in the prison, the warders offer emotional assistance and in case of emergency, provide help from a psychiatrist at the nearby mental asylum, and also offer weekly medical camps for physical health as well. The Prison provides opportunities for performing Yoga, Physical training, and sports to maintain the overall wellbeing.

 As the conditions inside the prisons are linked with each aspect of the criminal justice system, no metamorphosis can be brought in a short span in most of the above-prevailing issues. But still, certain arenas can be taken care of. Here is where the India Vision Foundation comes into the picture. The pioneer of prison reforms and rehabilitation is the brainchild of the great visionary Ms. Kiran Bedi, who along with her team put forth changes like creches inside prison, holistic development of children from vulnerable families, Inside the prison programs, training for prison warders, and rehabilitation and reformation practices of prison inmates.

Education and vocational training are lifelines for many inmates, offering them a chance to rebuild their lives, one skill at a time. These programs are more than just activities – they are bridges to a future that lies beyond these walls. This was the intention for the visit of the team of India Vision Foundation to the Baghpat Prison where the team conducted a training program for prison warders and discussed regarding implementation of skill development and rehabilitation programs inside the prison.

The training sessions have provided me with some of the best insights that I could ever receive. I have seen the shift in the behavior of the prison warders from a face clouded with stress and rules to big laughter on their faces during the sessions. I have seen them getting involved in the activities with the enthusiasm and excitement of a child. I got to see the helpful and friendly nature of the Jailor who is ready to provide you with knowledge regarding the prison and also met the inmates who were handling the hospitality section. I have also witnessed inmates standing in a queue to call their relatives and family, Maybe these are the moments that remind them of their humanity and the possibility of redemption. These instances inside the prison made me realize that amidst the rigidity, there are glimpses of humanity – small acts of kindness, moments of introspection, and dreams of a life beyond the bars.

 After completing the prison visit and getting into the vehicle I saw the sun setting over Baghpat, the shadows lengthen, casting a pall over the day gone by. Yet, within these shadows, there lies a glimmer of hope – a testament to the enduring human spirit.