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Art from behind bars

Creativity cannot be shackled, inmates of Birsa Munda Central Jail in Hotwar can claim, as paintings of those serving time sell briskly at the ongoing Diwali Utsav fair on the Zilla School grounds in Ranchi.

On display are 25 paintings, apart from handmade soaps, candles, shawls, blankets, bedsheets, rugs and towels, all made by prisoners as part of the Jharkhand Prison Welfare Programme.

Lifer Hem Singh Munda’s (48) interpretation of life of a rural woman is on sale for Rs 1,000. A dancing tribal woman painted by fellow lifer Lohara Munda (40) is priced at Rs 1500. Kartik Prasad's (48) Lord Krishna and Krishna Tudu’s (50) Lord Shiva are the other works on display as are a scenery by lifer Shekhar Soren (38) and a landscape by Dinesh Ram (35).

Speaking to The Telegraph, jailor N.K. Singh said the response at the fair had been good and on Sunday alone, paintings worth Rs 4,000 had been sold. “We have altogether 100 paintings in the prison, but we have just displayed 25. We are replenishing stocks as they sell,” he said.

This kiosk is being provided free of cost by JIASOWA members to make visitors aware about the activities undertaken for the welfare of prisoners. Inmates who are artistically inclined attend painting classes for two hours daily. The classes have been running for the last three years under the aegis of Chotanagpur Art and Research Development Society (CARDS).

“We started this initiative and now the inmates are carrying on the work. Many of them are quite talented, and officials should organise painting exhibitions. The exposure will boost the morale of prisoners, who often feel that life has nothing to offer after being convicted for a crime,” said CARD secretary Haren Thakur.

Visitor Renu Sinha’s first reaction was disbelief when told that the paintings were the works of prisoners. “They should be prized possession for art lovers. Not only are prisoners supported financially but their art work also finds a place in living rooms through such platforms,” she said.

Jail officers manning the kiosk also looked elated at the response. “These works have surprised many visitors,” said policeman Shishir Kant.