Reforming prisoners with a touch of literature and theatre

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By: Bhawani Negi

Saroj Vasishth, a noted theatre critic and a social activist, has reformed many lives in the closed walls of the jail. She has moved beyond the edges of daily life to serve felons of the civilized society. It was her love for every creation of God, patience and hard work that made her to bring about a change inside the dark cells.

Saroj graduated from Marinda House in 1952. After finishing studies, she got married and was having a happy life with kids, followed by a satisfying job at AIR, Delhi. However, the turning point in her life came when her youngest son at the age of 18 suffered a kidney failure and underwent a transplant. Saroj says, “The event gave me a sense of direction and change is visible. Now I am doing what I always wanted to.” She believes that the best in her came by reaching out to people of the lesser God.

She tells that she was inspired by Kiran Bedi, the then IG (Prisons), Delhi, who was reforming the prison culture at Tihar Jail. Saroj started in Tihar Jail by volunteering as a story-teller to achieve reformation in jail-inmates. Storytelling was soon followed by donation of books and stationery for setting up a library in Tihar jail with support from friends.   For a long time she was associated with the jail reforms at Tihar Jail and later shifted to Shimla to keep her association continued with jail inmates. Her project of reforming jail inmates in Himachal was supported by Delhi-based NGO Delhi Kala Karam. After Kaithu and Kanda jail, the project has spread out to other jails at Chamba, Nahan, Bilaspur and Dharamshala.

She explains that literary expression of the inmates was brought out through workshops and poetry writing. She adds, “The basic idea was not only to spread literacy and to add some sense in the life of these jail-inmates, but also to reduce their pain and agony through literature and theatre.” Recently a 30-day theatre workshop, under the aegis of Delhi Kala Karam, funded by National School of Drama, was organized in Kaithu jail for jail inmates under the direction of noted theatre critic Amla Rai. The workshop was followed by successful staging of play “Muawajey” (compensations) that witnessed participation of the inmates.

Her voluntary work for the inmates has brought many laurels aboard in her social life. She has been awarded Indira Gandhi Priyadarshni Award, Sixth Red and White Bravery Award and Himotkarsh award and many more for her efforts to reform prisoners. She was also felicitated for the jail project by India Vision Foundation, which is run by Kiran Bedi, in September last year.

She has authored Apne-Apne Karavas, Aise Jaise Kuch Hua Hi Nahin – books focusing on Tihar inmates’ life. These books try to bring out the pain and agony of those behind the bars. Recently, she came out with “Zindani” compilation of short stories which narrates how mothers are prisoners of their sons (children). She has also released collection of three Hindi poems each by Tihar jail inmates and inmates of prison in Himachal.

Besides, her original works, she has also translated various works in Hindi, which includes Snow Country and Hazar Saras by Noble Prize winner Yasunari Kawabatta and The Catch by Nobel prize winner Kenzaburo Oe. She is currently working on her book “Araaif”, which proposes an imaginary transit place for reformed prisoners, where the fate is decided by God on whether the prisoner should be sent to heaven or hell.
She acknowledges her husband Satish Vasishth as her biggest strength in life. She candidly tells at the age of 76 yrs, “My husband has been supportive in whatever I do and that keeps me going.”

21 COMMENTS

  1. Laudable ! i hope someone does something for undertrials languishing for years for justice delayed and justice denied…fill-up the vacancies…fast track courts…i’m sure most lawyers run their households on such situations…may be then we wont’ve much of prisoners anyway.

  2. The commitment and dedication with which Ms. Saroj Vashisht has been contributing to this great and noble social cause at her age is really commendable. One is reminded of the old movie, "Do Ankhen Barah Haath", a V.Shantaram starrer, in which the jailor sets about to reform the prisoners, with the desired results coming forth , only at the cost of his life. Later Ms.Kiran Bedi also did a commendable job at the Tihaar Jail.

  3. HI THIS IS GREAT JOB TO BE DONE BY SOMEONE…. AS WE WE SEE PEOPLE AROUND US IN PAIN AND WE TRY TO HELP THEM BUT THOSE WHO ARE INSIDE JAIL AND ARE REALLY SORRY FOR WHAT THEY HAVE DONE… THEN I THINK THOSE PEOPLE SHOUD BE HELPLED TO MAKE THEIR LIFE NORMAL WHEN THEY COME OUT… BY NOT HELPING ACTULLY WE ARE CREATING DANGER FOR US ONLY AS WE ARE PROMOTING THEM TO AGAIN GO ON WRONG PATH…. AND THIS WILL SURELY HAPPEN IF WE WILL NOT GIVE THEM RIGHT WAY TO MOVE AHEAD FOR GOOD AND RESPECTABLE LIFE… PLEASE MAM I'M MAKING ONE PROGRAMME ON REFORMED PRISONERS AND WANT FEW SUCH CASES SO THAT WE CAN TELL PEOPLE THAT EVEN THEY ARE HUMAN BEING LIKE US AND THEY SHOULD BE GIVEN CHANCE TO GIVE THEIR LIFE A FRESH START…. pLEASE CONTACT ME THROUGH MAIL ON MY MAIL ID IS —-> JOURNALISTVIKAS@GMAIL.COM OR ON MY NO.. 09868578023

    • she done a graet job at the cost of her life,realy awesme,i really want to appritiate mam for her work,i was personally known to mam and i enjoyed alot under her guidence,may god give her a blessed life,regards -ankit chopra,contact – ankit_chopra7@yahoo.com

  4. pOEM FOR cHILDREN

    At school I’ve learned a lot of things

    I really like to do,

    like running in the hallway

    and eating gobs of glue.

    I’ve learned I’m good at making pencils

    dangle from my nose.

    I’ve learned to hum and pop my gum.

    I practice, and it shows.

    I’ve learned I like to cut in line

    and love to cut the cheese.

    I’ve learned to fake a burp, a cough,

    and even fake a sneeze.

    You’d think with all this learning

    I’d be doing well in school,

    but everything I learn to do

    appears to break a rule.

    – shaveta

  5. Khamosh raat ke pehlume sitare na hote,

    inn rukhi aankho mein rangeen nazare na hote,

    YAKIN maniye hum bhi na karte parwah,

    Agar aap itne pyare na hote.

    Pyaar ko dolat ki nazar se na dekh Faraz….

    Insaan ban, Zardari na Ban.

    Usey kehna k bin us k din nahin kat'ta

    Sisik sisik k kati hai raat usey kehna

    Teri surat se nhi malti kesi ki surat,

    teri tasvir ko hum hathu me ley pharte hai.

    Jab kisi ke sapne kisi ke aaman ban jaye,

    jab kisi ki hasi kisi ki muskan ban jaye,

    pyar kehte hai use,

    jab kisi ki saanse kisi ki jaan ban jaye. -Shaveta

  6. jindgi hai do pal ki issai jiyo hans ke, dukho ko bhool kro yaad kero un dino ko jo jiye dil khol ker, pyara sa dard hai ruthnai ka mnnani ka, dua kro bhwann se her din aisa pal dekho sukunse ………………

  7. apna dard apni tklif na byaan ker sktai hai ksi ko

    per apni khushiyon mein shamil ker sktai hai her kisi ko, iss liye kholo apni khushiyo ke drwaji ko sbhi ke liye taaki usmai anai bala her insaan khai hai, khushi tu aise hi rehna iss ghar mein taaki hum yhaan baar baar tujhse milnai aatai rhai

    -Shaveta shaveta.sharma@hotmail.com

  8. khena hi kya ek anjaan se mile… unse milne ke badh ek jhaan se mile.. kyun ki hum thei indian woh te pakistani… to hi gya na dfrnt jhaan ….. kya aap bhi itna sochati ho -shaveta

  9. Deepak hai rajni ki rajni hai Deepak ki, Deepak hai rajni ki rajni hai Deepak ki, phir bhi dono ko aisa kyun lgai koi unhai unse churra lega… kyun ki dono mein khud hi woh rishta nhi jo rishta kisi ke anai se behkta nhi…. Deepak hai rajni ki rajni hai Deepak ki

    -shaveta shaveta.sharma@hotmail.com

  10. mummy mummy krta hai Deepak papa papa krta hai Deepak arju arju krta hai Deepak Doston per mrta hai Deepak.. daddi ki sunta hai Deepak. Sab sehan krta hai Deepak, Maap baap ke according chlta hai deepak, kabhi kbhi sutta lgata hai deepak, apne Bebbddai doston ko sehrata hai Deepak, apne mann mein kashish lata hai deepak, per jindgi mein krna kya hai yeh smjh nhi pata hai Deepak….

    -shaveta

    shaveta.sharma@hotmail.com

  11. mein tera hoon kheta hai Deepak. mein tera hoon kheta hai deepak, mrta hoon tuj per yeh kheta hai deepak, Jindgi mein drta hoon yeh bhi kheta hai deepak , Shaveta tu smjh mere pyaar ko kya dard hai jindgi tuj bin yeh bhi kheta hai Deepak, Ek mokka de muhje apne pyaar ko dikhani ka kehta hai Deepak, Duniya mein aania bali her musibat se ladun ga.. kehta hai deepak, agar hai woh kashish to na sunu ga teri yeh kheta hai deepak, shaveta

    shaveta.sharma@hotmail.com

  12. Shaminder deepak shaveta ki hai pyaari dosti, Shaminder deepak shaveta ki hai pyaari dosti, per shaminder khai na bin kshish hai yeh hai ek adhoori dosti… Deepak hai na kashish aaaye to kahatm ho jaaye yeh dosti … Kyun ki mein fidda hoon kashish per shaminder teri hai yeh jhooti dosti, kashish teri babhi hai meri jaan hai… na ki pyaari dosti… shaminder khai na…. hum thai acchai dost ek time per shaveta ne khatam ki yeh dosti… tu manai behan kashish ko ek time tha tu manai behan kshish ko ek time tha… aaj kasjhish teri bahabi ban gyi kaise hai yeh dossti a tera rishta na rha jab tune rishto mein fark na jana to kya aagai badd payegi yeh dosti -shavtea……….. shaveta.sharma@hotmail.com

  13. Poem Name: Mera Himacahl 🙂

    Himacahl hai maa kai aanchal jaisa, jismai cheepa hai her bahnti ka insaan.. chahai woh muslim ho chahi woh hindu, chahi issai chahai sikh, HUM SAB EK HAI …

  14. Himacahl hai maa kai aanchal jaisa, jismai cheepa hai her bahnti ka insaan.. chahai woh muslim ho chahi woh hindu, chahi issai chahai sikh, HUM SAB EK HAI … khai yeh her kisi ki juwaan …. mere pyaarai HIMACAHL MANN se naman kru tujhe mein.. sab rhai mil jul ker yehi dua kru mein

    -Shaveta

  15. Positive Thinking: Hey insaan Allaas chorr, apne ko pehchaan, apne kaam smwhaal, jhan ruki pddi hai jindgi, uss jindghi ko bdda tu, jo tmushkil aaker tkraye ussai todo, ho rhai anyay ko paker ker nichodo, Hey insaan tum aalas ko choro…- shaveta

  16. GOD: bhawaaan kehtai hai… hey manushya, kyun dundta hai tu mujhe kyun bdhkta hai tu mere liye… kyun ki na mein murt mein, ne mein kisi ki surat mein, na mein tere ghar mein na mein kailash pe… arre murkh mein to tere maann mein…. apne maan ko saaf ker dekh usmai kya hai —- shaveta

  17. bechani:

    insaan pershaani pershaani krta hai, apni hi uljnai bnaker usmai fansta hai, na sotta hai na jgta hai.. na sochai woh perashani ka haall, na sochai woh uljaan ko htanai ka haalll, bus sochai to sochai pershaani ko, kyun ki, insaan pershaani pershaani krta hai, apni hi uljnai bnaker usmai fansta hai Shaveta

  18. Pyaar: hum mile, phir dil mile, phir pyaaar hua, phir ekrar hua, phir takrara hui, phir apni glti relaise hui, ki kya hua krtai thai hum, kya jindgi jiya krtai thai hum, gltiyaan bhi kiya krtai thai hum, aur un gltiyon se nikla krta thai hum, per yeh kiase glti ki, jissai krnai ke badh yaar tu matt krna yeh khaa krtai hai hum…………… – Shaveta 🙂

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