The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Movie balm for unruly Beur inmates

Patna, Jan. 28: If Tihar can do it, can Beur be far behind' Not if the Rabri Devi government in Bihar can manage to teach Beur jail inmates a thing or two about moral uprightness.

After Sri Sri Ravishankar, founder of the Art of Living movement, failed to talk sense into the inmates, the state has now switched to the medium that talks to all — films.

The state has decided to organise a film festival for the inmates in February last week, Bihar minister of state for jails Ashoke Chowdhary said.

“We believe film is a much more powerful medium. Films suitable for a change of heart in them could be exhibited for a week to make a new effort (at reforming them). After all, we cannot lose faith in the essential human capacity to undergo change,” he said.

Home to about 1,200-odd inmates, violence is second nature at Beur jail. Among the prisoners are dons who have a nexus with politicians and still others who have turned politicians themselves.

Beur’s don-turned-MLAs include Suraj Bhan, Rajen Tiwari and Pappu Yadav. Each has his own territory marked inside the jail. Their capacity for mischief was confirmed last week when prisoners owing allegiance to Pappu Yadav went berserk. They ran amok and staged a violent demonstration to protest the state’s apparent neglect of their leader. The administration had a tough time reining them in.

Early in January, rival groups of young inmates fought a pitched battle with swords and knives.

Beur jail has for long defied all efforts at reform and peace. So after numerous false starts, the state jail ministry decided to try a film festival when a December 23 brainstorming by voluntary workers, film club office-bearers and top state bureaucrats threw up the idea.

Suggestions for jail reforms were aplenty despite earlier adversities and the state’s cash-strapped condition.

Bachpan Bachao, an organisation that has been working at children’s remand homes, showed the way. The organisation explained how it brought about a change in children at the remand homes through film shows.

The NGOs willing to repeat the experiment at Beur jail offered something else, too — funds. “When the NGOs volunteered to organise this at their own expense, the state government quickly approved it,” said an officer of inspector-general rank at the jail directorate.

Nav Uthan, an NGO, is leading the group of festival organisers, including the Directorate of Film Festival of India. Chowdhary said he would leave for Delhi today to meet the director of film festivals to finalise the festival arrangements.

The organisers have tentatively chosen films such as V. Shantaram’s jail reforms epic, Do Aankhe, Barah Haath, and Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro.

Shantaram’s film is the tale of an upright jailor reforming six of his prisoners. The organisers believe that its popular song, Aye malik tere bande hum, will do wonders for Beur inmates.

Mirza’s film, produced by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), is the story of a Muslim youth who strays into the underworld and pays for learning its ways.

Some foreign films dubbed in Hindi are expected to be shown as well. These would be humanistic in nature and emphasise the human struggle for perfection, a Nav Uthan office-bearer said.

The NGO is not new to Beur jail. Like some of its previous assignments in other jails, Nav Uthan had initiated a computer learning programme for Beur inmates a few months ago. As many as 200 prisoners successfully completed the course to obtain certificates.

Many social workers believe the film festival will be an honest effort at promoting jail reforms. But overcrowding in jails is as potent a problem that the state cannot ignore, they said, especially in unruly Beur.

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