WHEN 32-YEAR-OLD Sagar Pawar entered the Nashik Central Prison as a convict in 2017, few could have predicted the transformation he would undergo in jail.
Depressed over his eight-year conviction in a rape case, Pawar found his calling as a master sculptor, training prisoners double his age the art of designing and developing clay models.
For this year’s Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, Pawar and his dozen-odd apprentices started work in January. The group, which is dynamic in size as people leave after completing their sentences and new ones join, makes over 1,400 idols every year for the Ganesh festivities. These are sold for anything between Rs 500 to Rs 5,000, fetching close to Rs 13 lakh in revenue for the jail every year.
There are over 8,000 convicts lodged in various jails across Maharashtra, of which, around 1,300 are in Nashik Central Jail. Every year, Maharashtra’s prisoners generate a revenue of close to Rs 30 crore through the goods they produce. The wages they receive are, however, relatively low with them earning Rs 55 per day for skilled labour, Rs 50 for semi-skilled labour and Rs 40 for unskilled labour.
As per the prison manual, it is mandatory for those who have been sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for more than two years to work in jail. An in-house prison committee allots what work should be assigned to a prisoner. The Nashik jail has a bakery, a furniture workshop and a weaving unit among other workshops where prisoners work.
In the case of Pawar, who has completed his Masters of Fine Arts from the J J School of Arts, a chance meeting with the jailer gave rise to the idea of making sculptures.
“We had heard that we had an artist in our midst. We approached him and asked him to show what he was capable of making. He made a small art work and we were impressed. We then asked him if he would want to train others in the art as well and he agreed,” Senior Jailer Pallavi Kadam said.
Pawar, who has his origins in Pen — famous for its Ganesh idols across India — said he willingly agreed to the idea. “If you are not mentally strong, the prison system is such that it can leave a person mentally scarred for life. When I came to serve my conviction, I was a nervous wreck. I realised very early that if I did not immerse myself in something, the prison would get to me.”
Pawar finds making idols and teaching his apprentices therapeutic. “Teaching a new skill to middle-aged men requires immense patience. It is the lack of patience that led me to jail. Being a teacher and a trainer has taught me the value of patience. I hope to become a better human being when I come out,” said Pawar, who is set to complete his sentence in 2021.
Their works are sold by the jail authorities outside its premises. Interestingly, a large number of people who come to buy these idols remain unaware that these had been made by people perceived to be hardened criminals.
“I came here to buy an idol as these are relatively cheaper than what are sold in the market. Moreover, these idols are made from natural clay and not plaster of parties, which is not environment-friendly,” said Padmaja Waikar (19).
Even as most of the buyers head home happy with their Ganesh idols, Sagar and his apprentices are only too aware that one more year has gone by. “The only consolation is that our creations bring some joy and happiness to those who buy them,” Sagar said.