Monday, August 6, 2012

Behind The Wall

My office is very close to the jail. The office canteen overlooks a wide patch of land where all women convicts toil hard in the day. As the days have passed, the brown, coarse patch has turned into a green, lively field.

Everyday is a new day to observe these women in the field. When we moved to this new facility, it was a novel place for us all. We were overjoyed to see the vast fields before us and the open skies. We moved in the winter months and were glad to sit in the weak, winter sun and get some sun-bath. The early morning ritual of a hot cup of chai in the sun to warm ourselves was coupled with the gazing and observing of the fields before us.

As winter gave way to summer, the oppressive heat became unbearable. We tried to avoid the open canteen and remain inside in the air conditioning. Even as we had to go to the canteen for our lunch, we grumbled about the brutal heat waves that made it impossible to sit there. Only as the afternoon waned, we stepped into the canteen for a cup of evening chai.

Rains have come very late this season. Long, dry summer was very adamant and troubled everyone with its dry winds and insufferable heat. Finally as the rains have arrived, a fresh breath of life has been given to all. Everyone has also given a sigh of relief that the water situation for the entire city will improve.

During all this time, with the changing landscape, the fields and the workers have been constant. In the harsh summer afternoon, we could see them under the trees. All ladies in green saris toiling hard in the heat. As monsoon approached, they started tilling the fields and then waiting for rains. Two months into the rainy season, their fields have blossomed into green vegetables, and other produce that they will sell.

Every day, for me it is a kind of a routine to look out at the fields and see the convicts working. Sometimes, it is hard to believe that all those ladies working in those fields are convicts. The tremendous efforts that they put into their work is a truly extraordinary.

Perhaps some of them could have been convicted for petty crimes, some might have done gruesome crimes, while a few could also have been convicted wrongly. But they all have the same routine now, same lifestyle. A few could have been from rich families, while others from poor families. But in the world behind that big wall, they just are all the same. Neither poor, nor rich; neither educated, nor coarse, just plain criminals who are all on an equal level.

Or so it seems! Inside the walls, what happens one wouldn't know. There would be a hierarchy even among the hardest of the criminals. They might perhaps still be bullying some weaklings in the group. Perhaps only before the wardens they behave themselves while without a watchful eye, they go back to being the ruffians that they are thought to be.

Each one of them would have a story to tell. Of why and how they landed up in the jail. How they have their families behind them, how their kids might be surviving without them. It must be difficult for them to be without their kids and families.

I always wonder what each one of them must be thinking of when they are serving their sentences. Do they feel ashamed of what they did? Do they feel good that they did what was right? Do they feel stuck in that little world behind the big wall? Some of them could be waiting for the end of their sentences so that they go out and lead a better life. They have perhaps learnt from their mistakes and during their time in the prison, they have come to understand what life really is.

All in all, for me it is an everyday experience of seeing the ladies toiling in the fields and doing something that not all could boast of in an urban landscape. But then, they also have done something that not all would normally do.

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