BIMTECH students help put up library for inmates at Dasna Jail, Ghaziabad

Dasna Jail Library entrance

It is just after 10 am and activity has already begun inside Ghaziabads Dasna District Jail library, which is located about 35 kms from both New Delhi and Greater Noida. Four prison inmates who volunteer at the the newly formed library in the jail premises take a round of all the barracks to collect paper slips from the prisoners, which state the code, title and author of the book they would like to read. Next, the same inmates who are in-charge of the library operations spend much of the afternoon delivering the books to the inmates. Since the time Birla Institute of Management Technology (BIMTECH), Noida students and faculty have helped us put together the new, 4000-volume strong jail library, reading has become the life-line of many prisoners, said R K Pandey, Deputy Jailor at Dasna District Jail.

For BIMTECH students, the Dasna Jail library project was initially an extension of their social initiative under the institute funded Ranganathan Society for Social Welfare and Library Development. Since 2009, around 25 students who in addition to their regular curriculum wanted to get involved in social activities, became members of the Ranganathan Society. As a part of the society, this group visits nearby villages, helping residents set up libraries in these areas. Dr Rishi Tiwari, Librarian at the institute found out that while under an Uttar Pradesh State Government policy that requires all state jails to have a library, Dasna Jail had a library, but gross neglect and limited choice of reading subjects had resulted in minimal interest in the library in the prisoners. When he came up with the project proposal to develop the library in the Dasna Jail premises, the students took it up as a challenge, although some were a little apprehensive as well.

When Twinkle Wadhwa, an alumnus from the 2012 batch at the institute told her husband about the Dasna Jail Library project, it was met with immediate rejoinders about the dangers of going to a jail, to not participate in the project and finally to be extra careful. However, for Twinkle, the project screamed an adventure that she really wanted to experience and learn something above and beyond her regular curriculum at the institute. On the other hand, inspired by his perception of jail life as a hard and unyielding one as seen in television serials, Ankit Agarwal, another BIMTECH alumnus from the 2012 batch became a part of the project because he wanted to do something to improve the life of jail inmates. Ankit felt that while his formal education was important, his involvement in a social project would help him understand the working of the society in a better manner, which was essential for any successful career, be it in a job or as an entrepreneur.

When the students started work on the project, some of them were apprehensive that the jail authorities might interfere in their work. Others did not know what kind of reception they would receive from the prisoners. However, much to their surprise, not only did the jail authorities welcome them, the jail inmates treated them with utmost respect. Esha Jain, another BIMTECH alumnus and part of the project was quite surprised to discover that the 3800-strong prison population included lawyers, doctors, software engineers and even a few management graduates. Probably because we were management students and had a close link with education, a few inmates came up to me and shared their passion for reading and even their dream of studying further, she told PaGaLGuY.

For Ankit, his first visit to Dasna Jail was an eye opener of sorts. A mixed group of prisoners have formed a Bhajan Mandli group, which sing a number of devotional songs every morning and evening, shared Ankit. He added that while as a management student all he had been bothered about was his grades, a well paying job and his dreams of running an entrepreneurship venture, to see the zest for life that these inmates possessed despite being in difficult circumstances was an extremely humbling experience.

In order to create a well-balanced library for the jail inmates, the students needed to understand the lifestyle of the prisoners, their background and reading interests. For this, they called upon the HR philosophies that they had learnt in their classes at that point of time. We created a questionnaire that would help us understand the prisoners demands from the library in a better manner, Twinkle said. The students method proved successful as the results of the survey clearly showed that the reading choices of the inmates were specific down to the author and even the titles of the books that they would like to read. Of the opinion that inmates would probably prefer religious and maybe a few current affairs books, their choices ranging from Hindi literature to law and even management books surprised the students.

To set up a fully automated, computerised library, first the students requested their peers, alumni and other contacts to donate books. The gaps in the compiled list was filled with the help of the funds allocated by the institute. Students also made a brochure of all the books, marking the books with the Dasna Jail stamp and numbering them alphabetically. The institute donated a couple of computers to the jail, which were then upgraded with the latest library software. Students then uploaded all the books on the system and even trained four inmates who had been nominated to take charge of the library functions to operate the computers and keep the library up-to-date in terms of records. While most of the inmates are literate, they had problems understanding the basics of operating a computer, Ankit said.

Neatly filled book racks with paintings made by inmates on top

The final version of the library was inaugurated on March 17, 2012. Tastefully decorated with paintings created by the inmates themselves, the library has led to a definitive change in the habits of the inmates. Since the library now has a more comprehensive reading list, with titles that interest maximum prisoners, the demand for reading has gone up by almost 300%, said Dr Vrijesh Sharma, Superintendent of Dasna Jail. According to Sunil Azad, one of the prison inmates who is in-charge of the library and a big fan of literature himself, Hindi literature was the most popular genre amongst the prisoners. R K Pandey also said that previously a lot of ideal time led to a number of fights amongst the prisoners. However, an increase in the reading habits has reduced their tendency to become violent.

As a student, his experience during the project helped Ankit when he set up his entrepreneurial venture after completing his management education. Realising the importance of social work, Ankit has set on the path of building an environment friendly office premise. On the other hand, while her management education has helped her bag a lucrative industry job, Twinkle is still involved with the Ranganathan society and their upcoming Luchnow District Jail project. I keep in touch with the institute authorities and help in whatever way I can, said Twinkle. Post the success of the Dasna Jail Library project, the institute has been approached by the Lucknow District Jail to develop its library as well. The institute has agreed to work on the project.

Elated at the success of the first phase of the Dasna Jail library project, Dr Tiwari has already outlined the parameters for the second phase of the project. The institute is planning to donate an additional 2,000 books to the library. As a part of the second phase, the library will also have an audio-visual section, which would include documentaries, inspirational movies as well as few popular movies. Work on the second phase of the Dasna District Jail library project is set to begin sometime during the month of September.