Jailed outside the prison

It's not just the offenders who face punishment, their families suffer with them

I didn’t know what my husband had been up to. His family never revealed that he has a court case against him,” 35-year-old Rakhi says. “One day, he goes to the session court and gets convicted for life term.”

In the absence of her husband, who is a murder convict locked up in Tihar Jail, Rakhi says she is the provider for her family. She has two girls, 13 and 14, and an 11-year-old son. She works a domestic help.

She rues that people look at her with suspicion when she dresses up for her monthly visits to meet her husband in jail.

Rakhi worries that her husband Vishnu Kumar, 41, has grown too old to learn the ways of the world outside the jail. He has been inside for 11 long years, she says.

She is hoping that a non-profit organisation, working for rehabilitation of former Tihar inmates, will give her husband a job that could fetch her family Rs 6,000-7,000 per month.
“When he was out on parole recently, we discussed our plans for the future. He too wants to help us out.”

Vishnu’s fellow inmate, Ashok Kumar, who is now out of prison, tells Deccan Herald that life in jail changes the way you view the “outside world”. Implicated in an allegedly fake encounter case, this Delhi Police constable has appealed before Delhi High Court against his conviction.

The final verdict on his case is not out yet, but he has already spent seven years in Tihar.
“It is very bad to be on the inside. God forbid that anyone ever faces this in life,“ he says.
“Getting settled in the outside world becomes difficult because by the time you are out, others have moved on in life. You are always left behind,” he adds.

Thanks to the High Court decision that turned his termination into a suspension order, Ashok says, he gets just enough as salary to sustain his family of four – two sons, enrolled in a Greater Noida college, and his wife.

Long battle
Other family members who helped him fight the long and expensive court battle have slowly withdrawn support.

After Ashok’s conviction, his family moved to his village in Haryana. But they returned to the city following growing hostility from neighbours.    

“Their attitudes change when you are serving your sentence. Also, I had to keep my children’s future in mind,” he says. “I always thought that my elder son will make it to the IIT (Indian Institute of Technology). He had done so well in the Math Olympiad.”
He admits his children are under pressure to find jobs now, and assume the responsibilities of the family.

While in prison, Ashok found meaning in sewadari, or voluntary social service. “There is a saying: One bad fish spoils the whole pond. So there are always three or four people in your barrack who dirty the environment,” he says.

Ninety per cent of the people in jail are first-time offenders, says another former Tihar inmate, Sirajuddin, who was barely 18 when he went to jail.

“Pyar-mohabbat ka chakkar tha (It was a matters of love). I was sentenced to seven years in jail,” he says. It was his proven “good record” in jail that secured him a release in just five and a half years.

He recalls how some inmates smuggled tobacco packed in polythene or condoms, which are meant to be swallowed and later vomited out.

The contraband serves as a strong currency in jail. Using tobacco, inmates can make others do their work, be it washing clothes, getting a body massage or even sexual favours.

If traded for money, a packet of tobacco costs least Rs 500 in jail. If in short supply, the prices go up. “I didn’t use tobacco. But 100-200 out of every 500 inmates use tobacco,” Sirajuddin says.

He thinks he has sobered down after his jail sentence. “When I am on the outside, I am free to do what I want. But when I was in jail, all you could do is see the sky. There are certainly very few rules on the outside,” he says.

The 24-year-old talks about his father and unwed sister. But when asked about his marriage, he says, “Koi laundiya milegi toh shaadi kar lenge (I will marry if I find a girl).”  
He is with an NGO that works for the families of jail inmates.

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