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Through The Prisoner’s Prism: A Review of “Tinka Tinka Madhya Pradesh”

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In this book, Dr Vartika Nanda uses colours and words to paint a picture of prisons. The book elaborates on the experiences of fourteen prisoners, four children and a watchman to build a compelling narrative of life inside Madhya Pradesh’s prisons. This coffee table book is the first such assembly of creations.  It details extensively, the day to day life in prison and it’s every aspect.

This ranges from the entry gates and searches to the kitchen and prayer time; offering novel insight into a section of society that we often overlook. Tinka Tinka is a unique series to bring change in the lives of jail inmates.

This book is the third in the series, following Tinka Tinka Dasna and Tinka Tinka Tihar.

Tinka Tinka Dasna is the first-ever reporting of its kind on life in jail, dealing with the lives of those who are on life imprisonment. Tinka Tinka Tihar, co-authored by Dr.Nanda with Vimlaa Mehra, is the first collection of poems written by selected women inmates of Tihar Jail.

The book begins with an account of a fallen tree trunk on prison premises.

Instead of removing it, the prison converted it into a beautiful art installation, truly a sight for sore eyes. It is this kind of resurgence and repurposing that this book chronicles. It stands as a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit and signals the rekindling of joy in jails.

The book is divided into nine sections, each adding its piece into the kaleidoscope of experiences that this book enshrines. It is an amalgamation of Dr Nanda’s journey and the lives of those associated with Madhya Pradesh’s prisons.

Bioscope Of Colors

This section explains how this story is being told through the paintbrush and pen of the aforementioned people. “All the men are on life terms, all the women are undertrials, while the children are silently suffering the brunt of their parents’ mistakes. The guard sees the prisoners everyday closely and is witness to the mental prison outside the jail and social prison inside the jail.”

Various themes are explored in this section. The metaphorical distance between the two gates of the prison stands for the distance that develops between the prisoners and their old identities as well as their families. A particularly poignant paragraph describes how all material of the outside world is left behind and only one’s shadow remains with them. The day to day drudgery of prison is described in detail.

“Everyone’s work inside the prison is duly decided. There are no clocks inside the barracks and one iron gong is used to tell the time. The food has no sweetness, only the saltiness of waiting.” Through poetic lines like this, Dr Nanda illustrates how jails are bound not by choice but by rules, leaving no room for independence or individuality.

Workmanship In Prison: Work And Nation Building In Madhya Pradesh’s Jails

Herein, it is described how Kanha emporium was established in 2016. Items made in all jails of Madhya Pradesh are sold through this emporium. In a year, items worth nearly 2.75 lakhs were sold. Through this, Dr Nanda makes the point that prisons can also have an identity beyond crime. “Prisons profess to finish crime but whether they can change the character and the nature of the crime isn’t set in stone. They teach one that everything is impermanent and teach everything anew.”

No cook or barber or gardener or cobbler comes to the prison from outside. Furniture, files, purse, vessels, etc. are all made on prison premises. Other activities include computer training, printing, making diyas, and growing vegetables. The bit about open jails was very interesting and uncovered a side to prison that not many know of. “In the open jail, the walls are small and the sky is big. It is a milestone in Madhya Pradesh’s jails with huge possibilities.” Prisoners undergoing life terms are allowed to go out, work and come back in the evenings. Their families are allowed to stay with them in the open jails. This experiment is setting an example of joining jails with society, instead of strict segregation. Such an initiative is a remarkable step towards rehabilitation and reform, not just punishment in prisons.

Children Who Live In Prison

Herein, Dr Nanda tells the touching tale of children born in prisons, and of their lost childhood and innocence. “The kids are rendered criminals without committing a crime. They are born in the shadow of the imprisonment of a near and dear one. The first chapter of their life is written in jail. Their address is the jail and they have nobody to take care of them, all their relations are made within the four walls of prison only.” There are about 1800 kids in jails across the country. This section truly forces one to think of the plight of these children and of the parents, who have no option but to see their child grow up behind bars as well.

Jails Write: The Brilliance Of The Pen In Jail

Touching upon how prisons bring loneliness and give time for introspection, this section talks of why there has been a tradition of writing in jails across the world. One sees several examples of freedom fighters who wrote in jails like Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, Pandit Makhan Lal Chaturvedi, Kaka Kalelkar and Bhavani Prasad Mishra herein.

Historical Jails Of Madhya Pradesh: Bars Imbibing The Past

Dr Nanda traces the history and evolution of prisons in Madhya Pradesh like Jabalpur, Gwalior, Baitul, Ujjain, and Indore. It gives the reader a greater insight and context of the prison system in India.

Desires And Regrets

Here, one gets a rare glimpse into three desires and three regrets of the prisoners. It is an unprecedented look into their mind. For instance, Jyoti writes that she regrets not being able to be a mother to her kids and the fact that her husband committed suicide. She hopes for a bright future for kids, desires to spend time with her family and hopes she doesn’t repeat the mistakes she made unknowingly. This chapter humanizes the prisoners as compared to typical media portrayals and lets one see them for the real individuals they are.

Pen, Paintbrush And Artist: Artists Who Wrote History Behind Bars

Eight prisoners from Bhopal, two from Ujjain, one from Indore and three from Gwalior have made the drawings in this book, as have four children and a guard. Their names and descriptions are enshrined within. Remarkably, this is the first time that men, women, children and even a guard participated in such an exercise through this book.

The Coming Together Of The Book

Herein, Dr Nanda speaks of her struggles and of those who made this book possible. Apart from the prisoners, she makes a fair point that for many of the employees, even their life just revolves around the prison. She talks of how the prisoners are incredibly talented. Her journey is commendable as she has struggled a lot to make this endeavour successful, working alone without a team. Some of the hurdles she faced included the reticence of the female prisoners, many of whom had given up on life entirely. She had to implore women again and again before they agreed to participate.

From Tihar To Bhopal

The last section helps one understand the journey and the people who helped Tinka Tinka travel from Tihar to Madhya Pradesh. One learns more about the author and her foundation’s noteworthy work.

The book leaves one with the sense of having read something impactful, engaging and innovative. An exercise of this sort has never been attempted before. It is a window into another world, one that the general populace needs to glance inside much more often.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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