Over 2,000 inmates at the Tihar complex, the largest jail in India, took part in the Christmas celebration organized by the Prison Ministry of India (PMI) on Monday. PMI is a national voluntary organization recognized by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. It has around 6,000 volunteers, including priests, nuns and lay people, helping the jail inmates in about 800 prisons across the country. PMI annually organizes Christmas and other cultural programs for the prisoners across the country to bring joy to the inmates and advocate a message of peace and love in society.
Father Savari Raj, PMI regional coordinator, told ucanews.com that for the past 10 days PMI has been organizing Christmas programs, including cultural events and Christmas carols, for prisoners in different jails across the country. "PMI organizes cultural performances by school children for inmates on patriotic and festive themes. It is just a way of making the prisoners feel part of society," Father Raj said.
As the children associated with Chetnalaya — the social service wing of the Delhi Archdiocese — danced to the musical tunes and Santa Claus distributed candies to the inmates, the prisoners laughed, cheered and clapped with joy. Some of the inmates also sang Christmas carols during the program, which was attended by senior prison and PMI officials, including nuns and priests.
Akash Rajkumar , an inmate of the Tihar jail says that such events bring a little color and fun to the usually dull and mundane life inside the prison. "I look forward to such programs that give us hope that someday we will be out leading a normal life with our families," he said.
The 24-year-old has spent the last ten months inside the jail waiting for his rape trial to reach the courts. A former worker at a school in the nation's capital, Rajkumar claims he was framed. “I never thought I would end up at a place like this. I felt like killing myself when I was brought here but we have to be strong for the sake of our families,” he said, adding that staying within the prison's four walls was the worst punishment anyone can get.
Rajesh Sharma, another inmate awaiting trial for rape, told ucanews.com that nuns from PMI conduct regular Bible study for prisoners and "we learn a lot of positive things from these sessions. The nuns treat us like their children and counsel us if we are disturbed or have any problem. They are our family now. We look forward to their visit," said Sharma, who hails from Rohtak district in the northern Indian state of Haryana.
Apart from providing Bible study classes and values education to prisoners, PMI provides legal and financial aid to the prisoners. Father Raj said PMI helps prisoners who have received bail but are still languishing in the jails because they cannot afford the bail deposit. "We have been able to release 60 prisoners in the last year from Tihar Jail and are willing to help more," he said.
Speaking at the carols, Rajesh Chouhan, superintendent of jail no. 4, advised prisoners to adopt positive thoughts and then to bring them to life to create a peaceful and crime-free society. For the inmates, an evening of dance and music has brought some much-needed joy.
"The memories will stay with me for a long time. For a moment, it made me forget the pain of being in a jail. Children have come and performed for us. This means that we are not forgotten. We have people who care for us other than our families," Rajkumar said.