At least teach women convicts skills they can use once they are freed, says human rights activist Sudha Bharadwaj

Mumbai, Dec 12: “Yerawada (the Central jail in Pune) has convicts who will stay there for a long time. It has skill training programmes like  beauty parlour work, housekeeping, etc. I remember some (inmates) laughing and saying, ‘you are teaching us to clean houses when that’s all we have done all our lives’. It is very important but no-one pays any attention”.

This was revealed by trade unionist and human rights activist Sudha Bharadwaj on Saturday during an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Bandra. It was organised jointly by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and the Free Speech Collective (FSC).

Human rights activist Sudha Bharadwaj signing her book “FROM PHANSI YARD”, at the event organised by PUCL and FSC in Bandra last Saturday.

She was responding to responding to questions that delved into issues like skill development programs in jails, advocating for more meaningful training linked to job placement that also addressed the post-jail job stigma.

“They might get a job in a mall or a restaurant. However, I found that those offering training never followed up with actual jobs. Ultimately, when you come out of jail, there will be a stigma; you won’t get a job easily. Training must be something that will help them get jobs. NGOs that come and do those trainings should follow up until they get a job,” she further added.

Also present on the occasion was actor Ratna Pathak Shah who read from Bhardwaj’s recently-released book “From Phansi Yard”, detailing her experiences in jail.  For the initial 35 minutes of the event, Shah read from the book, setting the stage for a thought-provoking panel discussion on justice and injustice in contemporary India.

Actor Ratna Pathak Shah gets her signed copy from the author.
Actor Ratna Pathak Shah gets her signed copy from the author. 

The panel, titled “Freedom to Breathe”, featured Bharadwaj, senior assistant editor of The Wire Sukanya Shantha, and writer journalist Freny Manechsha.  With over three decades of activism in Chhattisgarh to her credit, Bharadwaj  shared poignant experiences from her time in Yerawada and Byculla jails, the last in Mumbai.

The activist underscored the importance of articulating experiences for those who cannot. She passionately discussed the challenges faced by the 16 activists, among them herself, who were arrested in the Bhima-Koregaon case in 2018. So far, only four have got bail, while Fr. Stan Swamy died while still in judicial custody.

 “The only advantage of people like us going to jail is that at least we can bring out some of our experience. We can articulate it. Those who are suffering mostly can’t even articulate. So, hopefully, it will bring some attention to these issues,” said Bharadwaj.

Sukanya Shantha discussed the challenges of modern journalism and TV media in India. She highlighted the struggles of media organizations, using The Wire as an example, in providing constructive criticism of the government.

Report by St Pauls Institute (SPICE) PG Student – Sidhant Shekhar

Picture & Captions by – Vaishnavi Rasanbhaire

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