Skills that empower lives behind bars

Stories of courage, success and quest for a dignified life woven in jute will soon be a part of the Oxford Bookstore on Park Street.

By Farah Khatoon in Calcutta
  • Published 14.01.18
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Calcutta: Stories of courage, success and quest for a dignified life woven in jute will soon be a part of the Oxford Bookstore on Park Street.

Cushion covers, table mats, portfolio bags, file covers and more made by inmates of Dum Dum Central Correctional Home under the Jute Story Beyond Bars will be on sale at the bookstore from Sunday. The sales proceeds will be deposited in the Prisoners' Welfare Fund.

"Jute Story Beyond Bars started in early 2017 and currently there are 40 inmates, of which 20 are working actively with us on the project. The project mostly includes men. The items have been exhibited at the SAARC Summit in Sri Lanka held last year, India International Mega Trade Fair in Science city, ICCR, Netaji Indoor Stadium and other exhibitions in the city. The permanent space at Oxford Bookstore is a natural progress," said Chaitali Das, a managing trustee of Rakshak Foundation, the organisation behind the initiative.

"Apart from making jute products we have also been teaching them skills such as spoken English and personality development in the 500sq feet of space allotted to us inside the premises," Das said.

Das wanted to make it a hand-holding project to ensure that the skill taught to the inmates is passed on. Over the past two years, the project has empowered many. Lovely Adhikari, a former inmate of Alipore Women's Correctional Home, now works as a superviser with Das in the project. "The skills that I learned at the correctional home helped me a lot and paved the way to restart my life with dignity. Apart from making jute products, I also developed an interest in painting. And since I had some work experience, Chaitali di absorbed me in her own organisation," Adhikari said. "I also developed a more positive attitude towards life and though I lost a lot, I gained much more."

Das is proud to see Adhikari walk with her head held high. "The courage to fight social stigma and rise above is no mean feat. It's a big achievement for me to see that they are doing it. Lovely is my support system now," said Das. The project is also a movement to promote jute, as a natural fibre of Bengal.

Maina Bhagat, the director of Oxford Bookstore, is glad to be of help. "The idea is to encourage people involved in creating the jute products and help them in their growth... we are very happy to support it. Oxford Bookstore endorses originality and creativity in all forms and Jute Story Beyond Bars is a wonderful platform for empowering the inmates."