Behind Bars, A Ray of Hope

A recent video from the Puzhal Central Prison created a buzz on social media. The video clip showed how the prison inmates are giving a fresh lease of life to demonetised currency by converting them into customised file pads for use in government offices.The video was followed by numerous stories highlighting the process involved in turning the shredded currency into office stationery. But not many know that the Puzhal Central
Prison has many such ongoing programmes that give prisoners some purpose — and hope. Life in Puzhal Central Prison starts at 6am, and after the daily routine morning activities, the prisoners get busy with the tasks they are most interested in. So, there’s a paper-making unit, a tailoring unit, a baking unit, a shoe polish-making and packaging unit, a vegetable-and-fruit-farming unit, a rabbit-farming unit, a sweets-and-snacks unit,and many more. Here’s a little jail tour through the different units.


Super soft fresh breads come out of ovens and the aroma of cookies, pastries and cakes
fill the air! Yes, we are still inside the prison, at the bakery unit, where 12 prisoners are busy packing breads to send them to the Government Stanley Hospital and Government
Raja Sir Ramaswamy Mudaliar Hospital in Royapuram for free. A packet of bread sold in the prison bazaar costs just `8. This unit was set up in 2013.“We package 1,000 packets of breads every day and send them to the hospitals by 8.30am. We also make cookies, biscuits, rusk, cakes, pastries, and vegetable and fruit jams. We use whole wheat to make breads. We started making breads just eight months ago,” tells the in-charge of the bakery unit. Very soon, they will be distributing their bakery items to the Madras Medical Mission Hospital, the Government Hospitals in Royapettah and Kilpauk.



In the middle of grey stone walls, rusty iron bars and dusty floors, there is a small world of colours and art. The 10-year-old prison art gallery has eight prisoners who practise art. On any given day, they can be spotted busy carving and engraving, sculpting and painting. They sell their work in the prison bazaar.“I spent a year training to do something I love. When I came here, I was depressed for a year. I had so much anger in me, and even suicidal thoughts. After connecting with art, I feel a lot of change in myself; my mind is calm and composed now. The art I have learnt here, I would love to take it up as a profession if I go out,” shares Selvam, who is serving a life sentence (he has served
seven years so far). “If the government decides to release me after I complete 10 years, I know what I will be doing for the rest of my life,” he smiles as he paints.


The videos on turning scrapped currency notes into office files were made in this unit. This is the oldest unit in the prison. “We started making office file pads recently three months ago. The RBI contacted us saying they have tons of demonetised currency
notes and asked if we could utilise them after recycling. We received the first set of eight tonnes of scrapped notes in the shape of round cakes,” informs a senior police officer.


An in-charge in the unit guides 25 prisoners in learning this skill. “We process these cakes of scrapped notes to get office file pads. First, we turn them into pulp and then pour that in batter machine that drains all the excess water from the pulp. This is then taken to a hydraulic press where it is pressed into square shapes, followed by calendering machine to smoothen out the material and then brought to paper-cutting machine. We need to dry the pads in the sun before manually sticking them with papers,” explains the in-charge.


The convicts not only make cover files and file pads, but also envelopes and bound books after recycling old newspapers and scrapped used papers. All these stationery items are then used in government departments. There is also poster-and-banner-making unit where they print flyers for the police department.



Brown and black boxes of shoe polish at just `22! It’s been a year and a half since the shoe polish-making and packaging unit was started to give employment to 35 prisoners. They package 10,000 boxes every day under the name ‘Freedom’ (this is the brand name that is used for all the products produced inside the prison), which is then sent to police departments across the state.


Senthilkumar, a prisoner, says,“We make the polish as well as the case. We have both manual and semi-automatic machinery units. Under manual production, we make 500 boxes per day, while we produce 1,000 boxes per day using the machinery” He adds, “I used to work in an oil company before, so I know the mechanism that’s used in making boot polish. I have been working here since the day this unit was started.” Apart from polish, inmates also make sealing wax here.



Music is good for the soul, and the inmates here know it better. The music room inside the prison has a guitar, xylophone, drums, orchestra bells, a bongo and a keyboard. “They sing in English, Tamil and in Hindi. They also perform on important days, like Independence Day and Republic Day.We have a music teacher on board, and have also tied up with an agency to teach them these instruments,” informs a senior prison official.


There are 130 women inmates who are engaged in several jobs, like farming, gardening, making sweets and snacks and even concrete hollow blocks. In the transit yard, there is a rabbit farm that is being taken care by a prisoner. “I have been taking care of them for the past two years. A rabbit gives birth to 10-12 kittens. Since I have experience in training dogs when I was in New Delhi, I found it really easy to take up this job,” says
Prabhavati, a who is serving a life sentence.


A mushroom farm, which was set up 10 years ago, is taken care of by two inmates. “We get produce of about a kilo every day and we sell it in the prison bazaar,” says an inmate who looks after the farm. There’s also a sari printing and dyeing unit, where, under a supervisor, an inmate dyes the saris. The supervisors help her sell saris in the




Right outside the Puzhal Central Prison gate is the Prison Bazaar, run by inmates who are serving lifetime sentences. They sell almost everything — from shirts and saris, and sweets and snacks to fruits, vegetables, rabbit kittens and even concrete hollow
blocks! The bazaar was started in 2013 and all the products are made by prisoners


  • SANITARY NAPKIN UNIT – The existing sanitary napkin-making unit is not functioning at present. But the government has recently allotted Rs 2 lakh for purchasing a machine that will help in largescale production. “We only work with the Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation Limited (TNMSC), which procures napkins in large quantity to supply in government schools, hospitals and institutions free of cost. Previously, we were manually manufacturing it for use by the inmates. We were also supplying maternity sanitary napkins to the government hospitals. Now, we are waiting for the purchase order and the new machine to arrive,” informs a senior official. A napkin pad costs Rs 2.50 and one packet contains six pads.
  • PETROL BUNKS- A proposal to start five petrol bunks inside the prisons in Tamil Nadu has been submitted to the government. The five chosen locations are — Puzhal, Pudukottai, Coimbatore, Madurai and Vellore. “The proposal was sent five months ago to the government. There are some security concerns. Prisoners who have been sentenced for life, but have maintained a good conduct record, will be shortlisted and they will go through the selection process by a classification committee,” informs a senior official. He adds, “Nearly 15 prisoners will be employed in each location. We are expecting the government to announce the fund by March. We are working with Indian Oil Corporation, which will provide us with the infrastructure facility.”
  • PAPER-MAKING UNIT- The existing handmade paper-making unit will soon be upgraded. To purchase advanced machines, Rs 10 lakh has been allotted. “The government has announced Rs 90 lakh for nine centres across the state. We are expecting the unit to be in the Puzhal Central Prison by April,” says an official. The manual paper-making unit has a capacity to produce 700kg per day, but the advanced machine can produce 4,000kg per day.


VELLORE CENTRAL JAIL: Known for its shoe-manufacturing and shoe-polishing
unit for policemen across the state.

COIMBATORE CENTRAL PRISON: Popular for its powerloom unit, where around 500 prisoners weave and stitch uniforms for policemen across the state. They also make bandages that go to all the government hospitals across the state.
TRICHY CENTRAL PRISON: A soap-making unit has been set up recently on the prison
premises. The inmates make oil bath soaps, detergents and toilet cleaners. They have a
tailoring unit for both men and women, and produce woollen blankets, bandages, and
khaki raincoats, which are sold to various government hospitals and police departments.
They also have a book-binding unit, a bakery, and a packing unit.
MADURAI CENTRAL PRISON: They have recently installed a paper-making machinery
costing Rs 10 lakh.


Whenever a convict enters the prison, they are produced to the classification committee every Tuesday. The committee is led by a chairman, assistant superintendent, jailors, doctors and psychologists who decide which convict is fit for what kind of job after analysing their age, interest, background, psychological test and skills. For those who possess no skill, there are trainers, who are called foremen, to train them in their field of interest.



Photos by Johan Sathyadas


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What’s there in your self defense kit

What do you think are the potential defense tools for women? Accessories like hair clips, safety pins, rubber bands, or stationery items like pencil and pen, door keys, tweezers, scissors and sometimes even nails come in handy. Sounds unbelievable? Let’s hear it out from these women who have been using them regularly.

Sridevi, who runs a catering business, ensures she has her safety tool in her handeverytime she goes out with her friends for partying. And the tool is nothing, but her scooter key! “I always keep the key in between my fingers, in a way that it can instantly poke if I am attacked. It’s more like my finger ring and I am so used to it, as it has been helpful in the past. This is just a trick that caught my mind ever since I started riding scooter. Moreover, I always have pepper spray in my handbag, but it can’t be used quickly like the key.”

Women carry their world in their purse — from safety pins to hair clips, and what not! All these can be smartly used at the time of emergency when they feel their safety is threatened. Just like bike keys, even door keys, or any key for that matter can be useful during a crisis. 

Remember how actress Vidya Balan used cold steel honeycomb and hair brush dagger in the movie Kahaani 2 to stab the villain? Small tools like tweezers, scissors or anything from your manicure kit can also play a big role in saving you in times of distress.

Ruby Ann, a 40-year-old RJ, entrepreneur and social activist, is a master in handling Swiss knife and using pepper spray. She has also learnt self defense mechanism with mixed martial art techniques and has been training her daughter, too, considering the growing number of sexual harassment cases. “Even though we have pepper spray and Swiss knife in our bags, the most important self defense tool would be a person’s confidence and common sense. Having pepper spray doesn’t mean that you’re safe, you must know how to use it at the proper time. Offenders these days are aware of the consequences of being attacked with pepper spray, and hence, they know how to get away with it. They will any way find ways to trouble women. The best thing is to stay sensible, knowing what you are doing and where you are going after the party. I have used pepper spray a couple of years ago when I was on a road trip in a northern state and another time when I was returning from Krishnagiri,” she says. 

Five years ago, when Keerthana, a music teacher, had to walk through a deserted place to take class, what came handy was a nail clipper. She says, “I always used to carry a nail clipper with me. The area from Sholinganallur bus stand to the apartment where I had to go had no mode of public transport. The distance was around a kilometre. There used to be a gang of men who used to ogle and pass comments. I used to feel uncomfortable and threatened always. For my safety, I used to clutch a nail clipper in my hand. Now, it’s been like a part of me, just like any accessories I wear.”

For 25-year-old, Sowmya Sankaran, a city-based entrepreneur, her nails are her smart instant weapon. They are ‘pretty’ devil to be precise! “My nails are my strength and I have now mastered on how to use it at the right time. A slight scratch will make anyone bleed — I have done it many times in the past,” laughs Sowmya. 

She was in class 10 when she realised that nails are a good tool for self defense. “One evening, I boarded a bus from Mylapore after school. A man was constantly trying to push and grope me. It made me angry and irritated — I just scratched his hand in anger. He got furious when he saw that his hand had started bleeding. I wore a cap of confidence that day and self-patted on my shoulder for being brave and smart. Since then I have been using it and will continue to use it in future if it requires. Why girls need to stay home after sunset? We, too, deserve to celebrate like men, don’t we?”

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‘Participation is a Bigger Achievement than Winning’

It’s been a busy week for the finalists who are performing today at the Times Thyagaraja Awards. They recently had an interactive session with the Carnatic vocalists, Priya Sisters (Shanmukhapriya and Haripriya), who shared with the finalists tips on how to perform their best for the finals.

“Confidence is what is needed the most for any singer. If you are nervous, it affects your performance on stage. Secondly, keep it very simple and do not try to overdo anything which is not your style,” told Shanmukhapriya to the finalists. 

They also advised the contestants not to practise too much before the competition. “If you do so,your voice will get strained.Be careful with what you eat.Avoid anything spicy, which is not good for your voice. It’s best to have home-cooked food.Also,take adequate rest. For any artiste, it is a must to lead a disciplined life. Also, don’t speak too loudly. It’s really bad for your vocal chord,” added Haripriya.

They also advised the finalists to treat any competition as just another experience in their life.“You are going to face bigger competitions in life when you become a professional musician.Every concert is a competition. They should consider their participation a bigger achievement than winning,” they said.

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Painting To Defeat Hunger

group of artists has come together to display their artwork to contribute their bit for the campaign, ‘Hunger Free India’. With the sale of their artworks, they attempt to raise funds for the nutrition of vulnerable and malnourished children. “Art Houz in collaboration with World Vision India is conducting this event titled ‘Art for Vision’, a charity exhibition supporting hunger-free India. Artists from all over the country are displaying their work,” says Aarthi Rajasekharan, coordinator, Art Houz. There are two kinds of works by the artists — handmade and digital paintings. “There is no specific theme for the artists. We just wanted to dedicate the art exhibition -cum-sale to charity,” she added.

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This French Artist Is Facinated By Indian Gods

Who would say that the paintings displayed at the Varija Gallery, DakshinaChitra on Indian Gods is by an artist from Paris? Olaf Van Cleef has been painting since his childhood. His work talks more about his understanding of Indian culture, religion and traditions people follow in different parts of India. All thanks to his childhood vacations with his grandparents who were settled in Mumbai. “When we come to India, we can’t avoid the gods, they are found in every corner. It’s fascinating to know and learn about every region where people worship different gods, and the gods look so different in every region,” says Cleef. It’s been over 20 years of back-and-forth trips to Puducherry for Cleef. The influence of Thanjavur painting is clearly visible in his work.

“When we visit South India, specially Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, we come across Thanjavur paintings. I was intrigued how beautifully it is done using lots of colours and jewelleries,” he adds. On his visit to cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Cuttack, Guwahati, and places in North East, his artworks prominently feature Ganesha, Durga, Kali, and Gautama Buddha.

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Campus is abuzz as festival masti grips colleges

Jhankar, MOP

This college has wrapped up it’s annual fest. And this year, their theme was ‘Rahmania-Celebrating 25 years of AR Rahman’. Anupama Vishwanath, prime minister of the Student Cabinet, says, “We had aimed big. We did some unusual things. We promoted Jhankar by releasing movie posters and singing a medley in the atrium. Also, a couple of us met Rahman and requested him to give us a video message about our theme.” Filmmaker Gautham Menon was roped in as the chief guest.

Festeve, WCC

This college is hosting a two-day fest called Festeve from February 2-3, under the theme ‘The Comic Strip’. There are 40 events, including dance, music, literary, debate, drama, art, and quiz along with a variety of talents hunt shows like RJ hunt. “College from all over the city as well as outside are taking part. The competitions are tough and students have to send their intro videos on whatever criteria they are performing much earlier. We are yet to finalise the celebrity names,” says Helan Jenifer, Cultural Chairperson. On sponsorship, she says, “We have to call, write emails and keep a track every day to get in touch with the managers. Many times, they don’t respond. Last minute cancellation also happens every year. But somehow, we manage.”

Saarang, IIT-M

Saarang, the annual cultural fest of IIT Madras, known for being the largest student-run festival in the country, begins from today. “We will see city’s first ever silent EDM concert on January 12 and 13, at the student Activities Centre. Instead of blasting music from the speakers, we are focusing on curbing the noise pollution by having the audience experience the concert through wireless headphones,” says Srikanth Musti, the cultural secretary.

Every year, students run a social campaign during the fest. This year, they will go by the title ‘Boondh’, which is on water conservation. In association with non-profit organisations, they are building borewell units in villages and RO Systems in Aanganwadis and government schools,” says Musti. Professor Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director, IIT Madras, adds, “Saarang has certainly become an iconic festival in south India with a footfall of around 75,000, hosting 100 events from over 500 colleges.”

Their performance line-up includes, some of the biggest names in both, classical and western music in the country. This edition of Saarang is presented by The Times of India.

Deepwoods, MCC

Preparations are on in full swing in this college. This year, it will be held on February 15, 16 and 17. Roshan, one of the students who’s part of the core team, says, “This year, the Fine Arts committee is working on a tribal theme. Pro-shows committee finalises the artistes for professional shows on each day. One of the biggest highlights of Deepwoods is the rock show. This year, we’re in talks with some of the best rock bands in the country. Sponsorship and publicity teams are also working round the clock. However, we are finding sponsorships quite tough his year. Thanks to GST!”

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Art and music is equal to political power: Pa Ranjith

Dressed in identical grey suits, walked in 19 band members of ‘The Casteless Collective’ during their first performance, in the city recently. With thousands gathering to see their performance, the band members were taken aback having received such a warm welcome. The highlight were the lyrics that condemned honour killings in the name of caste pride, quota, discrimination, and manual scavenging. And these videos from the concert have only created ripples on the internet!

Arivarasu Kalainesan, an engineering graduate, is one of the lyricists and rapper in the band who authored 10 songs. “I am born and brought up in a slum. I have grown up watching the hardship of discrimination in the name of caste people go through. I used to read and write a lot of poems in school and when I joined college, I got the opportunity to write lyrics for our college band. I gave an audition at Neelam Cultural Centre and I was chosen to work with the band. It’s good to see how through music, people have understood a century old issue.”

And this wouldn’t have been possible without director Pa Ranjith, who always wanted to bring gaana on a big stage.

Says Ranjith, “For me, art and music is a political tool. I want to highlight social issues through art and music, issues that have been there since centuries but have failed to bring about a change. Gaana is in the blood of every child who is born in the slums of north Madras, the same locality where I come from. They are so skilled yet so far behind in many aspects of life. I want to change that.”

Ranjith’s organisation, Neelam Cultural Centre, collaborated with the label ‘Madras Records’ to form ‘The Casteless Collective’, inspired by a Tamil phrase ‘jaathi ilaathu Tamilargal’, used by Tamil anticaste activist and writer C Iyothee Thass. “This collective goes beyond the barriers of caste. And all of us have one aim — zero discrimination in the name of caste and religion though our tool — music and art,” added Ranjith.

That’s when he decided to collaborate with the music composer, Tenma. “We conducted workshops to understand and found a way to bring fusion of gaana, folk, hiphop, rap and rock. It’s more like creating a new genre of music, which has too many elements — powerful stories, percussion instruments like katte and chatti, which are played during funeral processions — and there are rappers and beat boxers. Everyone has an individual personality. I had to conduct them like a gospel choir, more like African gospel because there are too many of everything together,” says Tenma.

The artistes are not only from Tamil Nadu, but also Mumbai’s Dharavi’s rap trio, Dopeadelicz. This rap trio has also worked with Ranjith in Kaala.

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