Festive cheer helps dispel darkness among Yerawada prisoners

Delicacies available at canteen, visits by family and members and New clothes help spread the light

Diwali means lots of shopping, sweets and delicacies for most Indians. For the inmates of Yerawada Central Jail also, festive spirit helps them forget their otherwise rigorously scheduled lives.

This Diwali, some prisoners will offer obeisance to Goddess Lakshmi in a private prayer within their barracks, says Yogesh Desai, jail superintendent. Every year, there are several such prisoners who offer prayers and read scriptures in a quiet ceremony in their cell as there is no public puja or worship at Yerawada jail as such, he says.

On Tuesday, a special meal with Maharashtrian specialties such as masale bhath and boondi or boondi laddoo will be served to celebrate the festival. Apart from the Diwali meal, prisoners can also opt for Diwali sweets and snacks such as chakli, laddoos, karanji and chiwda from the prison canteen. Desai says that these items can be bought only by prisoners' relatives and friends for them. "Most of all, during thi stime, prisoners look forward to visits from their family members and friends. Visitors often bring new clothes for the inmates but we only allow this during festivals. Visitors can also buy food from the canteen for the inmates but we don't allow them to give other home-made food items," he adds.

This time for the first time, inmates at the jail also crafted and sold several items for the festival such as greeting cards, lanterns and diyas.

While making craft items such as diyas and candles and other heavier products such as furniture are part of the daily schedule at the jail, this year was the first time the products were sold to the general public at a Diwali exhibition. The prisoners' artwork such as watercolours, acrylic and mixed media paintings by the inmates were also displayed at an exhibition at Bal Gandharva Art Gallery on November 6. But the prisoners were not allowed to either attend exhibition or see people appreciating their work.

The inmates are not allowed to burst any firecrackers as they can pose a potential hazard within the prison. "Firecrackers can be dangerous inside a jail; someone can get hurt or some untoward incident can take place," says Desai.

"They are here to serve sentences and so they cannot really celebrate Diwali like other people," he adds.

However, none of this has dampened their Diwali cheer. "Diwali makes the inmates happy because of the festive spirit that is everywhere. They feel cheerful because it is a slight change from their daily routines," says Desai.

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