Vartika Nanda is jail reformist, professor of journalism at Lady Shree Ram College in New Delhi and convenor of the Tinka Tinka Foundation, a public charitable trust dedicated to jail reform. She is also the recipient ofRani Gaidinliu Zeliang Award – one of the six Stree Shakti Puraskars conferred by the government of India – in 2014 by the then President Pranab Mukherjee for her work. Excerpts from an interview by Shalaka Shinde.
What inspired you to compile Tinka Tinka Tihar?
Lot of people who have been inside jails have written several pieces. Right from Bhagat Singh to Gandhi to Nehru and Hindi authors, like Ajneya, are writers. When I was working for Tihar, I asked the inmates to come out and write poetry. When such people write and it comes out, people tend to take it seriously. Even unsung people can be heroes at times. All these four inmates who are a part of Tinka Tinka Tihar are unsung. Before landing in the jail, nobody knew them. Fortunately, they gained respect, regained confidence and dignity after the release of the book. That is how I named it Tinka Tinka, because ‘tinka’ is a small thing which is like a straw and nobody cares for a straw. I wanted the society to realise that a straw can also have some sort of importance.
How are the inmates treated inside jails?
When I go to any of the jails, I leave my mind on one side and I take my heart inside. It is not always true (that they are not treated well). I have spent hours and hours in different jails. I have seen some of the finest jail officers and jail staff in this country. So it is not that they are always so bad and gloomy. Officers and jails have evolved.
Jails are very scared of the outside world. This is the most common thing everywhere. It is not only the prisoners, but also the jail staff. They also worry about how much they should be interacting with the outside world. Secondly, I think jails try to evolve in a much better manner than the outside world. Sometimes the outside world takes much longer to make a change, but jails take lesser time to make that change. Because they have realised that they have a huge manpower inside; if they plan to do something, they can simply do it. However, jail life can sometimes get disrupted when a VIP lands up in jail. When someone gets VIP treatment, other inmates obviously do not like it. I have seen officers also feeling bad whenever there is a VIP inside, because media obviously asks a valid question – whether this person is being given VIP treatment or not.
What is the one paradigm shift that might seem impossible right now, but you believe is possible?
I want more and more open jails to come up. I think we should have at least 200 open jails in India, because if we have the time (and resources) to make malls, gyms, polo grounds, golf courses and lavish five-star hotels, we should also have the time and money to build open jails. It is the need of the hour, because these are people who will come back to the society and join it. They must be reformed well. Tinka Tinka is all set to take this campaign forward. We also want to bring up Tinka Tinka Yerawada and take this part of the country to other parts.
Courtesy – Hindustan Times