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In a new initiative, danseuse Alokananda Roy has introduced
dance-drama to prisoners in Alipore Women’s Correctional Home,
infusing the inmates with hope, self-esteem and a brighter future

By Sujit Bhar


Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life—think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, that is the way great spiritual giants are produced.
—Swami Vivekananda

After two hours of fun and play, it was time for three-year-old Sumi to leave “school” and head for “home”. “Ebare bari jete hobe (Now you have to go home),” Alokananda Roy, well-known danseuse and social reformer, gently told her in her mother tongue, Bengali.
“Bari? (Home?)”…

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Want create site? Find Free WordPress Themes and plugins.

In a new initiative, danseuse Alokananda Roy has introduced
dance-drama to prisoners in Alipore Women’s Correctional Home,
infusing the inmates with hope, self-esteem and a brighter future

By Sujit Bhar


Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life—think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, that is the way great spiritual giants are produced.
—Swami Vivekananda

After two hours of fun and play, it was time for three-year-old Sumi to leave “school” and head for “home”. “Ebare bari jete hobe (Now you have to go home),” Alokananda Roy, well-known danseuse and social reformer, gently told her in her mother tongue, Bengali.
“Bari? (Home?)” was the little girl’s surprised query. For her, home is jail with its high, forbidding walls. She was born there to a mother who was jailed. How would she know what “home” is? Not that she knew what “school” was either, till she came to Roy’s pioneering effort—Heartprint—a “school” within Alipore Women’s Correc-tional Home in Kolkata.

POSITIVE POSTURES

This is probably the first time that such an effort has been made. Roy had earlier desig-ned “culture therapy” for jail inmates. Her brilliant plays with them, many of whom were hardened criminals, have astounded jail officials and common people alike. She has given hope to those who had none and nurtured talent where there seemed to be none. Roy says: “You may have made a mistake once in your life, but there’s always a way out of that misery.”

From then on, teaching innocent kids was a natural transition. “It’s no fault of theirs that they are in jail. They are as innocent as any other child and proudly independent,” explains Roy. “Take Sumi, for example. She prefers to be called by her proper name, Aparajita (undefeated). Her only outing, when she dresses up in bright clothes, is when she accompanies her mother for court hearings. Is that a life of a child?”

Roy became associated with these children, thanks to the efforts of BD Sharma, additional DGP, West Bengal. He was res-ponsible for correctional homes around the state and helped Roy put together stage plays involving jail inmates. When he told her that something needed to be done for the kids, Roy went around the jail talking to the in-mates. “I bonded with them and became their ma, their mother, somebody they could look up to and trust,” she says. Imagine being ma to many hardened criminals; such was her demeanour and aura.

It was also about trust. Whenever she speaks, she has the attention of her audience and slowly, their trust. “That’s a great gift for me, their trust,” she says. And that’s why these criminals have travelled with her (along with an escort) to several venues in the city and beyond and nobody even thought of escaping.

So how does her “culture therapy” work? Roy explains that the carefully selected dance-dramas allow hardened criminals and undertrials to realize their true potential, raising their self-esteem and strengthening their desire to reintegrate with the world outside. It’s a matter of loving oneself.

Heartprint was inaugurated in May by Haider Aziz Safwi, minister-in-charge, correctional administration, and has 48 kids. Dressed in checked uniforms, the kids, between 2 to 10 years, marched proudly to school with their school bags and were struck by the toys, small tables and books there. Roy also managed to get a television set for the green school on the west side of the jail compound. It is approximately 18×30 sq feet and has started recruiting teachers. The school needs more material—books, toys, Montessori-type teaching elements—even as Roy’s NGO, Touch World, accepts donations.
Roy says: “Touch World is our jail project. I prefer to call it a movement now.” She now wants this unique project to be replicated in other jails in West Bengal, various states and abroad too.

ON A COMMON PLATFORM

As for adult inmates, her plans have grown beyond her expectations. They have travelled extensively, giving public performances even in Raj Bhawan, Kolkata, and Shantiniketan. They have also been to Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Bangalore and Bhubaneswar on the invitation of social organizations.

second photo
Jail inmates get ready for the play, Valmiki Pratibha, in Kolkata

Roy explains: “This has brought about a bond of a different nature—not of jailor and jailed—but talent coming together on equal terms. It is essential that they get accepted and recognized as artists as the applause can change them from inside.” But more than that, what the inmates have gained is what they had lost—self-esteem, dignity and respect. And these, says Roy, have become precious for them.
The children of the women inmates were natural corollaries to this effort. She says: “These children are devoid of the notion of family, care and social values. Many were born in jails and do not know the concept of home.” Roy also plans to impart basic learning and life skills. Although the kids technically walk from one room to another to attend school, they enter a different world, a world beyond their dreams.

Roy has been busy tying up with other like-minded organizations, including the corporate world, to develop her venture. Touch World is in dialogue with Metro Cash and Carry to open a store in the correctional home. The store will be operated by inmates after Metro provides training and awards certificates, which will help them to be rehabilitated after release.

Talk about giving the inmates a future to bank on.

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