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His classroom is a jail

S Rajendran’s initiative to teach prisoners in Chennai spreads to other prisons across Tamil Nadu

Written by Gopu Mohan | Published: January 1, 2012 10:57:56 pm

When one of his students passed class X,scoring over 50 per cent marks,Rajendran knew this was an idea that was going to stay. For,this was not an ordinary student. He was a prisoner,a man convicted for 12 serious crimes including murder. Sitting for and passing the examination,Rajendran believes,is a test of character.

Every Sunday morning,S Rajendran,an ardent follower of the father of Dravidian politics,Periyar,makes a trip to the Puzhal Central Prison in Chennai. There,he interacts with the inmates,teaching them,guiding them and,some times,merely talking to them about world and life. The effort,he says,is to understand them and transform them one step at a time. “The basic idea of prison system is to reform the convicts,isn’t it?” he asks. He himself is not well educated,having dropped out after completing class X three decades ago from a government school in Sendhurai in Ariyalur district. He has been a full-time activist ever since,traversing the state to take part in matters of public interest,attend and speak at meetings,and sometimes merely to travel.

After several years of work at the grassroots level,someone advised him to work for the welfare of prisoners. “We need to work with them,give them basic education so as to equip them to earn an honest living. They have to be taught skills including modern computing,” he says. Rajendran says it is not a one-man job,as he receives help and support from many,including prison authorities and in some cases,even the educated among prisoners.

This work by a team of committed people has begun to show results: last year,all students who took the exam for classes VIII,X and XII passed,a rare 100 per cent result that even the better-equipped schools outside find difficult to achieve. And the numbers only increased this year. This has encouraged prison authorities to spread the initiative to other prisons across the State,with positive results. For instance,B Raja,a life convict at Tiruchy Central Prison,scored an envious 902 out of 1,200 for class XII,results of which was announced in mid-2011. Many others scored a commendable first class in the same exam. Elsewhere,there were prisoners who are pursuing BA,MBA and MPhil,depending on their basic education background

“In all,400 prisoners are preparing for various examinations and other educational activities including graduate and post graduate courses,diploma courses by IGNOU and Tamil Nadu Open Universities,computer courses like Tally,higher secondary,SSLC and the like in the Puzhal central jail alone. We are trying to take this initiative to all prisons in Tamil Nadu,” he says.

There are several illiterates among the inmates,who are given basic education to clear class VIII first and then classes X and XII. Even in the case of those who don’t wish to pursue education further,Rajendran is happy that they are now able to write to their family members without having to seek anyone else’s support.

“There are several life convicts who are attending the classes. We are hoping that acquiring qualifications like these would perhaps help in securing an early release from prison. This encourages them to study,and studies would equip them to make an honest living once outside. When you teach a man to fish,it enables him to put a stop to the need to steal to make ends meet,” he says.

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