Jailhouse rock: In quest of the Tihar Idol - and reform (Social Feature)
New Delhi : On a rainy July morning, Sumit Kumar, a murder convict in Delhis Tihar Jail, one of the country's largest, finishes his tea and rushes to begin his dance session in preparation for the latest season of a reality show that over the last few years has become a regular feature of the prison.
Sumit, 25, and 19 other participants of the Tihar Idol-3 quickly gather in the music and dance academy room in the sprawling prison complex.
After they clean the floor and remove dust from the musical instruments, the room turns into a virtual studio. One of the prisoners, Sharad Kumar, a rape convict, plays the DJ and tunes into a Punjabi track ‘O lagdi Lahore di aa... jis hisaab naa' hansdi aa…' by Guru Randhawa.
Akash Kumar, an undertrial in a murder case, and Mohit Pal, convicted for rape, practice a freestyle dance form. Sumit looking into a mirror adjusts his left earring and suddenly jumps in and shakes a leg or two in the Punjabi bhangra style.
Akash and Mohit, both from Delhi's R.K. Puram, flaunt their hip-hop moves, spins, gymnastic stunts, monkey flips and reverse hand glides. Both have trained more than 100 prisoners in different forms of dance.
While Sumit, who leads the dance troupe, is serving life imprisonment, Mohit has already completed six years of his eight-year-term. But for the time being they forget they are in a jail, serving or facing imprisonment. Whoa! They are shouting, laughing, clapping, whistling and singing loudly.
All this is being done to give them a chance to reform themselves and battle "deeply disturbing mental conditions" they undergo after committing crimes, Director General-Prisons Ajay Kashyap told IANS.
He said prisoners generally feel that they are just a "number" (every prisoner gets a number by which he is called) in society and that makes them feel depressed and useless.
"Every prisoner in the jail deserves the second chance to live a new, reformed life," said Kashyap.
Back in the virtual studio of Tihar, Naresh Baisla, a music director, who organizes the annual Tihar Idol that began in 2012, is overseeing the music and dance practice.
"The outside world has no idea what happens in a jail. We have completed two seasons, the first is 'Jaane Anjaane Tihar Idols' and other is 'Tihar Idols Reality Show'," Baisla told an IANS correspondent who was allowed to watch the practice session.
Famous singers like Sonu Nigam, Suresh Wadkar, Arun Paudwal, Sajad Khan, Sudha Chandran (classical dancer) and music director Pandit Jwala Prasad have participated as judges in earlier Tihar Idol seasons.
By this time, Sumit and his dance partners finished their first practice session of the day. Sweating heavily, they sat down on the floor - some having waters and others rubbing sweat from their faces.
"Initially I was not interested but when other prisoners encouraged me to take up dance, I did…only to escape the emotional pain," said Sumit, who hails from Rajasthan.
"I never cared about my family, my parents but today I have realized their value in my life," he said.
Sharad Kumar, 35, a Delhi resident, is one of the competitors and is ready to practice a song. Tattooed his wife name on his neck, Sharad fixes switches on a mixer board.
Taking a deep breath, the rape convict, who is also pursuing a graduation course through IGNOU, breaks into a Kishore Kumar song - ‘O Hansini, meri hansini, kahan ud chali..', almost imitating the legendary singer.
Sunil Kumar, 37, a murder convict, hails from Haryana. He has five children. "Maybe my wife is struggling a lot to raise the children. Every night before going to sleep I always think about my family and the children."
It is his turn to practice a song. Sunil closes his eyes and sings a Mohammed Rafi number - "waadiyaan mera daaman, raastay meri baahen..jaao mere siwa tum kahaan jaaoge…"
Most of the inmates said if they get a "chance", they would prove themselves in the world outside.
But Sumit is conscious it is difficult for him since he is serving a lifer. "I know I have to stay in this jail…but it is hard for my family to face the humiliation from the outside world."
(Sandeep Manohar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)