By Amritapa Basu:
Whenever we think of jail inmates, the first image that conjures up in our mind is that of a brawny man whose mere glare could kill. But while attending a seminar organised by a media institute last year, I was touched by a visual presentation which showcased interviews with the inmates of the Presidency Correctional Home, Kolkata (better known as Presidency Jail). These were common men (and women) who somehow reminded me of the poor, lean, impoverished daily-wagers we so often see working at a building construction site or road-side.
Few of them said that they did not know what crime they had been convicted for. One said that he had been staying at this place for the last seven years for stealing a bicycle and he does not know how long will he have to stay as the court keeps adjourning his case. There was one other individual who prominently grabbed our attention- Nigel Akkara, a 25-something youth with chiseled features and athletic built good enough to qualify as a fashion model. In 2000, he was convicted for kidnapping and murdering a business tycoon. He was 21 years old then. A rugby player and a B.Com student of a top college in Kolkata. A college-going student like many of you who are reading this. He was sentenced for life.
What makes a criminal?
Everyone will vouch for the fact that no one is born a criminal. Circumstances or exposure make him one. As I read on YouthKiAwaaz.com the other day, ‘Poverty, not choice leads to child labour’. A similar case stands here. Desire for a higher standard of living has given rise to many ills in the society. With globalization, if economic standards have improved, so has economic disparity. This leads to coveting other’s property and belongings. Poverty or lack propagates criminality and exploitation. This has been explored in many Bollywood films as well. The craving for more leads to thefts and at times murders. Newspapers often report of servants murdering their masters and plundering their houses.
Lack of parental care, guidance and support can lead the child to end up getting caught in the web of the criminal world. Orphans, especially slum children, end up becoming victims in these cases.
Even in case of hardened criminals, like serial killers or serial rapists, studies have shown that some incident in their childhood has resulted in this kind of behavioral irregularity. Research has revealed that children who are exposed to brutal cruelty (either have seen being inflicted on others or have been affected themselves) are more prone to becoming serial killers. Again, those who have been exposed to sex and sexual abuses from a very young age more often than not become criminals charged with sexual offences in their adulthood.
The company a child keeps also has a major role to play in influencing his character, especially adolescents who think that they are mature enough to take decisions themselves. Anurag, the only son of Mr. and Mrs. Karkaria, was the topper from his school for ICSE. One and a half years later he had become a drug addict and was caught stealing to fulfill his drug demands. What had changed in these one and a half years? He had changed his school for the senior secondary exams and we can deduce thereon.
Immense brainwashing too may do the needful as well. The numerous terrorist groups are thriving on this policy. The terrorist masterminds and leaders lure young people into believing that their rights have been denied and they have been unjustly treated and thus must fight for the cause of their freedom. They are so convincing that the young minds are unable to comprehend wrong from right and become part of the revolution even before they are fully aware of the consequences themselves.
Another major reason for increase in crime rates is the portrayal of violence on television and movies. Easy availability of ammunition and murdering another as a panacea for all troubles as portrayed in movies have had their influence on youngsters of the day. This has given rise to instant murders in ‘love triangle cases’.
If circumstance is the cause, can criminals be cured?
First, let us talk about the ones who have already committed some kind of crime and have been put behind bars. It has been often seen that those who are imprisoned for petty thefts come out to become big hardened criminals. This again is the effect of the brutality meted out to them. Prisons are supposed to be reform centres but the conditions in these institutions are appalling. They are so badly humiliated that that they cannot look forward to a fresh start when they are released. Sometimes female convicts are asked for sexual favours which hardens them as they strive for self-protection.
Many say that criminals ought to be cured and not caged. One may refute that this is not a practical solution in today’s scenario where criminals are innumerable. But one must look up to the example Kiran Bedi put for the whole world in the notorious Tihar jail. During her stint as the Inspector General of Prisons, in Tihar Jail (Delhi) (1993—1995), she instituted a number of reforms in the management of the prison, and initiated a number of measures such as detoxification programs, yoga, vipassana meditation, redressing of complaints by prisoners and literacy programs.
Parents must devote a little more time for their children and take care that children do not take up to drugs and move onto the world of crime. They must also keep an eye on the company their child is keeping without being over-bearing on them. From a very young age, children must be encouraged to be open to different views and opinions and form their own conclusions, so that one hedonistic idea cannot rule their thought process. In society at large, poverty needs to be addressed to put a check on the rising number of crimes.
Let me end by going back to what I had started with — Nigel Akkara. Three months after I had attended the seminar, I came across a report on India Today which said that Nigel had become Balmiki. Cultural programmes in jails were initiated by Alokananda Roy, a danseuse and additional Director General of Prisons, West Bengal, B.D. Sharma. They started dance therapy, as Roy calls it, on the inmates. Initially, the male members were unenthusiastic as they considered dance ‘womanly’ but by 2007, they were putting up performances. They started receiving invitations from outside the correctional home.
“In October 2008, Roy conceptualised Balmiki Pratibha (the famous play by Rabindranath Tagore) and Akkara took centrestage,” (India Today)
In his performances at various places now, Nigel presents his real life on stage by enacting the transformation of the dacoit Ratnakar to sage Balmiki. On seeing his performance one can only hope that we will see many more such Nigels transforming into Balmikis in today’s world.