New Delhi: Wearing fresh uniforms, young kids looked about excitedly at their newly renovated creche at the Mandoli women’s prison here when it reopened after a long hiatus imposed due to COVID-19.
Dropped off by their mothers at 9 am, the little ones are eager to meet their friends and teacher after a long time and they are as enthusiastic about playing with new toys at the creche-cum-playschool which was set up when the prison was established in 2017.
Officials at Mandoli Jail no 16 said that as coronavirus cases came down and restrictions were removed in the outside world, the prison authorities also decided to open the creche again for children.
They said that all activities were suspended in the prison earlier due to the pandemic, and even NGOs and welfare organisations were not allowed access. This impacted the youngsters as they could not attend their classes, the officials said.
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When PTI visited the playschool, the kids danced with their friends as a music system blared out their favourite songs and animatedly introduced themselves to this correspondent. They pointed out their toys, two of which they have named ”Patlu” and ”Moto”.
The two-room creche is painted in bright, welcoming colours and walls are adorned with vivid paintings and posters in a stark contrast to the rest of the jail premises, where the mothers of these children are inmates. The officials said this was part of the new renovation carried out by the BYPL, which also provided 10 cots and new toys for all the 10 children who are part of it.
Sandeep Goel, Director General (Delhi Prisons) said, ”We try to provide a positive and free environment to the children living in this jail, along with their mothers who are inmates here. The creche provides them a learning and play area.” The officer said that once these children are six years of age and have to leave jail, they are sent to educational institutions with the help of NGOs or through the order of the Juvenile Justice Board.
The jail officials said children in the age group 2-6 years attend the playschool where they are taught a special curriculum set up by an NGO run by former Puducherry lieutenant governor (LG) Kiran Bedi, India Vision Foundation.
The curriculum known as ‘Nanni Pari’ is a holistic course structure which involves physical, mental, socio-emotional and creative activities that focus on training children in language right from the beginning, they said. They spend the day learning new things using play tools. From plays to rhymes and poems to alphabets in Hindi and English, they are trained by inmates who work in shifts.
They also have a number of colouring books and slides. The creche closes at 4 pm. Students are provided five pairs of uniform for each day of their classes from Monday to Friday, the officials said, adding that their uniforms are washed on the same day to maintain hygiene. The children are provided a healthy diet which is rich in proteins and includes fruits, sprouts along with seasonal vegetables. Children younger than two years do not attend the creche as they need their mother’s care 24X7 at that age, they added. Jail Superintendent, Mandoli Jail no 16, Anita Dayal said they wanted kids to have pleasant memories of their childhood, like any child living beyond these walls.
”We enable this through our small setup through the creche being run by jail staff, aided by NGOs and CSR project of companies… All efforts become worthwhile when you see these little faces smiling,” she told PTI.
Tulika Kiran, from India Vision Management, takes classes for children at alternate days at Mandoli and at Tihar prison on the remaining days. She was also in BBC’s list of 100 inspirational and influential women of 2017. The inmates who teach the children have been trained by ‘mobile creches’ of the NGO. They have taught the children about coronavirus and the measures required to safeguard themselves. ”Corona is bad. We have to keep ourselves safe from the infection and always wash our hands.We also have to maintain distance from each other,” chant the students seriously.
One of the inmates taking classes is a BA graduate who has worked as a teacher at a playschool before. She is in jail along with her family since 2013 in connection with a case of murder. She is assisted at the creche by an inmate who is a Nigerian national and was arrested under the NDPS Act after landing at the airport in India. The first inmate says teaching is her passion and it motivated her to teach at the creche here ”I have a passion for teaching so, given an opportunity, I thought I should work here. The jail staff is very encouraging. Teaching these children I have become more skilled as I have undertaken many trainings here. This keeps me occupied and spending time with kids I feel positive and peaceful,” she said.
A 32-year-old inmate, whose two children aged 3 and 4 years attend the creche, said that this was a happy place was her children.
”They get an opportunity to learn here and will not be behind others when they leave prison. With the help of the jail staff and their facilities, my two older children, who left the prison earlier, are studying in a school outside,” she said.