KARACHI: “I was caught under Section 23A for possession of an illegal weapon,” said Khizr Rahim, one of the 24 students at the English Language Centre, which along with the Sadequain School of Fine Arts and Computer Lab opened in District Prison Malir on Sunday, while writing carefully in his four-lined exercise book.
“Attending classes here I hope to do something worthwhile with my time in jail. Learning English seems like a very good option as I too will be considered a respectable person and hold my head up in society after being released one day,” he added.
Rehan Ali, also attending the same class, said that he wanted to be able to go to school like a normal child while growing up, but instead he had to work as an apprentice in a tailoring shop. “I learned the craft of embroidery but I always wished I had some educational qualification. It looks like my wish is coming true,” he smiled.
Also there was Daya Bhai, an Indian fisherman, who has been in the prison for eight months now. “I could write a little Hindi and Gujarati but now I can write English, too,” he said while showing how he had written his name in English on the front page of his notebook.
Next door in the computer lab, 27 students went about retyping news stories from various English newspapers in MS Word. Waqas Sherwani, their teacher, who is imprisoned for a white collar crime, says he would be leaving on bail soon but helping others learn about computers was a good way of spending his time behind bars.
“It is also a good way for the inmates to spend their time. It helps keep their minds off their problems,” he said while introducing his deputy instructor Wasi Ahmed Khan doing time under Section 69B, who will be taking over the teaching bit after him.
“This is a prison after all. One man comes in and another is released. I, too, will be released soon and then someone else will take over from me. It might even be someone from these very students,” he said pointing towards the class.
About the course, he said: “The computers are running on Windows XP and we are offering a three-month course in MS Office and Urdu InPage to the inmates. Besides these, there is also a six-month Adobe Photoshop course. The inmates attend five days software learning classes while Saturday is reserved for know-how in hardware and Sundays are off.”
There was also a Fine Arts class under way outside on the lush green lawn with 15 students working on still life with their pencils. An open door led one to the Sadequain School of Fine Arts gallery, where the walls were decorated by beautiful and brilliant artwork by the inmates. The work was all for sale and no one, unless they are told of course, would believe that it was all done by prisoners and not professional artists.
A painting of Nelson Mandela behind bars with a quotation by George Foreman, ‘Just look at the great Nelson Mandela. He came out of prison and saved his entire country. Some of the best people in the world have spent time in prison’ caught the eye. The artist, Ahsan Khairi, is an inmate at Karachi Central Prison, but was temporarily shifted to District Prison Malir with two other artists from there — Kazim Raza and Hasnain Raza — to invoke interest in art in other prisoners of the jail.
“After attending Aitchison College and FC College in Lahore, I did my BE from England. Later I started my own garments export business but was convicted for seven years for fraud,” he said quietly. “In jail I discovered the artist in me and this quote by George Foreman gives me strength. Great people, too, have gone to prison. I shouldn’t be ashamed.”
The Fine Arts School in Central Prison and the women and juvenile jails was a vision of IG Prisons Sindh Nustrat Hussain Mangan. After seeing the success of that school, he decided to bring the same kind of set up at District Prison Malir.
“There is a big need for jail reforms, especially in Karachi and Sindh. And starting such schools has put us on the right in helping inmates though we still have a lot more to do here,” the IG said.
The Sadequain School of Fine Arts has been made possible through the help of Principal Arts Council of Pakistan Karachi Naheen Raza. “Empty minds is the devils workshop and jails can become crime universities but here thanks to art school and other educational facilities, it can also become a educational university,” she said.
The computer lab and English language centre at the jail has been made possible through the help of Al-Khidmat. “We along with our volunteers are happy to participate in prison reforms,” said Abdul Aziz, secretary general, Al-Khidmat.
Appreciating the good work at the prisons, Muhmmad Yamin, district and session judge Malir, said that besides catching the criminals and misfits in society, law-enforcement agencies were also responsible for sending them back into society as reformed, good and useful human beings.
Senior Superintendent, of the Malir prison, Mirza Shuja Haider Baig and Assistant Superintendent Muhammad Hassan Sahito also spoke.
Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2014