It is 11.30 am. Anand Kumar (33) sits in front of a tabletop mic and clears his throat. A Kishore Kumar song is about to end on the radio, and it is his turn to recite his poem on the pregnant elephant that died in Kerala a few days ago.
As the song fades out, his soft voice traverses across a hundred speakers. “Jab koi apnon ko khota hai, ye dekh mera dil rota hai. Bhagwan teri is duniya mein, aakhir aisa kyun hota hai. (When someone loses their own, my heart cries. O Lord, why does this happen in your world),” he says, as claps can be heard in several parts of the 100-acre Gautam Buddh Nagar District Jail. Anand, who is serving prison time, is a part time radio jockey in the jail.
Since taking charge last year, the DG Department of Prisons Admin & Reform, also called Anand Kumar, has accelerated the process of developing an in-house jail radio system operated by and for the prisoners.
Twenty-six prisons in Uttar Pradesh have their own jail radio. By next year, the system will be present in all UP district jails. With songs, poetry, news, and discussions, the radio has become a conduit to the world outside to not only stay informed on coronavirus but also to calm nerves.
“As the lockdown began, all visits to the jail were barred since we had to prevent the spread of virus within the facility. This meant the prisoners could not meet their families. They were told about the raging pandemic outside and all necessary precautions that jail authorities will be undertaking. This naturally meant the prisoners have anxieties about what is happening all around. The jail radio has come as a blessing, since light music in the compound for a few hours calms them down. There are also other programmes that are positively impacting their mental health,” said Vipin Mishra, Superintendent of Gautam Buddh Nagar District Jail.
The prison currently has 2,365 inmates, out of which approximately 2,000 are undertrials. The prison barracks and facilities are spread across over 30 acres.
Beyond the two entrance gates and between two high-walled barracks is a small room and a covered verandah. The room acts as the radio station, where a frequency tuner is kept with a microphone. There are more than 120 speakers — two in each barrack. Next to the microphone stands a Caravan jukebox, which plays songs on a loop.
In the morning, bhajans and devotional songs are played, and prisoners exercise or perform yoga in the open field. Some prisoners also write down their requests for specific songs, which are played as per availability.
The radio station operates for approximately two hours in the morning, afternoon and evening. “Jail radios have proved to be a game changer for inmates in these testing times. It has served the dual purpose of disseminating awareness about the pandemic, apart from providing worthwhile entertainment, keeping their spirits high. In the months to come, all UP jails will have a self functioning radio,” said Anand Kumar, DG Prisons.
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