When years in jail turn convicts into scholars
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When the lights were turned off at 8 every night in the cells of Kolkata's Alipore jail – now called Alipore Correctional Home – Utthan Paul settled down to study by candlelight. Serving a life sentence for murder and in jail for 18 years now, Paul went on to score a first class first in MA in political science and win the 2010 gold medal in that subject from Netaji Subhas Open University.
Utpal Mandal, 49 and another murder convict, has won two MA degrees — first class in both social work and history. A political prisoners' committee recommended his release for his academic achievement; the authorities rewarded him by sending him to an open-air jail in Lalgola.
Biswanath Sarkar, 38, again serving time for murder, is a third convict to have got an MA with a first class — in political science. "Since I have not heard any news of plans to release me, I intend to get admitted to MA in sociology. Here, we get ample time to study," he said.
And Banshinath Gayen, at 74, is looking for a third MA degree. A schoolteacher, he had one in history before arrest, and added one in English literature in 2010. Now, says the murder convict, "I have no work to do, so I intend to do an MA in Bengali literature if I am not released in the near future. We expect the new government will release us as political prisoners."
Paul was convicted in the murder of a businessman during a political clash in Burdwan 18 years ago. "All these 18 years of good conduct, relentless social work and my efforts to have an identity of my own have yielded nothing. I should have been free by now," he says. "More than the denial of freedom, what pains me is the denial of an opportunity to take up a Ph D course. I wanted to do that after becoming first class first."