Excerpts from the Blog-http//www. katsu-katsu.blogspot.com
From a life of drugs and crime to a life of literacy
Sunday, October 14, 2007
I had a great opportunity to visit Shri Ramanand Saraswati Pustkalaya, a non-governmental organization (NGO) which is located in Jokehara, a remote village in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh (Approximately 3.5 hours from Benares). I met with the two men who have really propelled a vision to empower women and children and to breakdown gender bias and caste bias. It's a pretty amazing place and the story upon which it was founded is even more astounding. It's got a tough cop, a reformed convict, love, loss & betrayal, drugs & mafia warlords and... the silver lining is... empowerment of poor rural women and children through literacy, arts and dedication! Vibhuti Narain Rai, is the head of the organization is a Vice Director General of Police for the state of UP. He's basically the second in command and exudes authority and machismo, but when he smiles, one can see the corners of his eyes wrinkle behind the dark Ray Bans (think Tom Cruise in Top Gun). He is a dedicated man, visiting the village at least twice a month from his post in Lucknow. He introduced us to Sudhir Sharma, the famous librarian who has brought literacy to Jokehara and 10 neighbouring villages. Sudhir is famous b/c of his fight for the right to read books while in a Goa jail. His only request was to read, and as such he developed a relationship with writers, one of whom was Vice Director General Rai. After prison officials returned books to the senders, Sudhir smuggled a letter out to Mr. Rai and thus began the court case which went all the way up to the Goa High Court. In the end Sudhir was not only able to receive books, but he went on to establish a library in the jail. upon release Mr. Rai offered him the opportunity to become the resident librarian for his NGO... and now... the story really takes off. The library was the seed which germinated an entire village to throw off their skeptical concerns that reading was important and a valuable skill set and he inspired them to proffer what little they had to build a community centre. The poorest man of the village gave a parcel of valuable farm land, the stone mason, 2 bags of concrete and so forth... those who had no materials to offer, gave their labour to help build this centre. It is truly inspiring. Now, the community centre hosts a sewing centre to allow women to develop a marketable skill set that will allow them to earn approximately 30-40 rupees a day ($0.80-$1.00) and continue to feed their families. From the sewing centre spawned a computer centre where community members can come to learn basic computer skills and then apply to computer programs in nearby cities to further their skills. The most powerful story though, is the introduction of community theatre. Here the women are rallied to join and write their own play and then perform in it. It's so wonderful because the women learn how to command presence through physical body movement and oratorial skills as they must project their voices. There are of course many obstacles that these young women face when they begin to realize that they are entitled to equal treatment and greater opportunities -- it is a reality that all such organizations face. With knowledge comes power, and with power there is a threat of change to those who currently dominate. Sometimes "real change" may seem futile, but I think the lesson which must be gleaned from this is that one seed can foster great hope and change an entire landscape.
Women dare to ask question:
The mundane and routine life of Prabhawati had always been on the receiving end. Poverty, ill treatment of in laws and regular beating by a drunkard husband Bhagwat were all she could remember till she met Kusum and Pushpa, two activists on gender issues. SRSP, with support of OXFAM, has initiated a campaign against gender violence in fifteen surrounding villages. Prabhawati's village Sahnupur is one among these. She learnt the art of protest during interaction with Kusum and Pushpa and that was the beginning of the end of accepting cruelty without asking questions. "How dare you ask question" was the reaction of Bhagwat, with a sense of disbelief on his face, one day when he slapped her and a defiant Prabhawati asked uncomfortable questions. Since then Prabhawati never looked back. She giggles while narrating, before women participants in a discourse on gender, how she reacts to the violent behaviour of her husband and how much he fears raising his hands on her because he knows that she will pay him back in the same coins. Prabhawati is one of many women of different age groups who regularly attend various capacity building programmes and discussions organised by SRSP. These exposures have taught them to ask questions and not to accept violence against them in different forms and at various levels.
Letters from a Goa prisoner to writers: Sumant Bhattacharya in Indian Express of 18 th January 1998
NEW DELHI, January 17: From his tiny cell in Goa's Central Jail, Sudhir Sharma, Inmate No 797, has been fighting a long and lonely battle: he wants to read. The Constitution and the Supreme Court say he has the right to do so, his prison authorities say no.Sharma, a former addict, was arrested in 1993 and sentenced to a 10-year jail term under the Narcotics Act. While in prison, one day, a fellow inmate showed him a copy of Pahal, a monthly Hindi literary magazine. It was this that, Sharma says, gave him a reason to live.
He wrote to Pahal editor, noted Hindi writer Gyanranjan, who sent him his books. They reached the jail but authorities said he couldn't read them. The books were sent back and Sharma was moved to a sub-jail, in Vasco, where, he says, the conditions are worse.
Still, he keeps writing letters, to Gyanranjan, Hindi novelist and DIG of Border Security Force, Vibhuti Narain Rai; authors Nirmal Varma, S R Yatri and Asghar Wajahat. These letters aren't sent through ``official channels'', he smuggles them out, sometimes through an inmate on his way to the hospital, a friendly warden or an inmate's relative. In his latest letter to Rai on December 10, 1997, Sharma says he's perhaps paying for raising his voice.
The story of his life, as told through his letters: Once a student of Delhi University, Sharma left home for Mumbai. He began working for the underworld don Karim Lala's nephew Samad Khan, fell in love with a ``penfriend'' from Jodhpur. Things changed when Samad Khan was killed and his girlfriend ditched him. Sharma became an addict and began to peddle drugs until he landed in jail.
He clocked his days in despair until he read Pahal. ``Pahal ke ank ne meri zindagi mein pranvayu ka sanchar kiya,'' he writes in a letter to Rai. (Just one issue of Pahal gave me a fresh lease of life). He goes on to thank Gyanda (Gyanranjan) for accepting a prisoner as a reader. ``Thank you for agreeing to share your books with a criminal. I know I have done something wrong but I am conscious. Don't I have the right,'' he asks, ``to know what's going on, to be sensitive?''
Books and magazines came pouring in which jail authorities confiscated. He also wrote to Kiran Bedi. In a letter, he says he believes that his persecution by the jailer was largely due to his attempt to spill the beans in the letter to Bedi.
The IG (Prison), Goa, and the superintendent of the Central Jail in Aguada, quoted the jail manual to justify their action. In a letter to Rai dated July 8, 1996, the superintendent says:
"In view of Rule 17 of the Goa Daman and Diu Prisons (Facilities to the prisoners) Rules 1968, the parcel which was sent by you was refused by this jail."
According to this rule, prisoners' mail, both incoming and outgoing, "shall be carefully censored." And a prisoner may be asked to give "a list of persons with whom he is likely to correspond during his period of imprisonment. As far as practicable, this list shall be scrutinised."
Jail authorities claim that since these authors' names don't figure in this list, he cannot receive anything from them.
This despite a 1979 ruling by a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices V R Krishna Iyer, R S Pathak and O Chinnappa Reddy. The judges had said: "No prisoner can be personally subjected to deprivations not necessitated by the fact of incarceration and the sentence of the court. All other freedoms belong to him, to read and write... to creative comforts... to movement within the prison campus subject to the requirements of discipline and security, to the minimal joy of self-expression, to acquire skills... all other fundamental rights tailored to the limitations of imprisonment."Speaking to The Indian Express, G H Kenaudekar, additional Deputy Collector and Deputy IG (Prison), Goa north, says: "As per rules, books will not be given to prisoners but will be kept with jail authorities." When told of the Supreme Court's ruling, he says that probably the jail administration is not aware of the decision.
Ironically, the books sent to Sharma by Kiran Bedi, who was given the Magsaysay award for reforms in Tihar jail, were also returned. Says Bedi: "The Goa jail administration has overlooked the verdict and directions of the Supreme Court. It should be brought to book for this." Until that happens, Inmate No 797 will keep waiting -- and writing.