Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Glancing through  the Hindustan Times dated 24th August, 2016, I noted ,that it carried an article on Swatantrapur , an open jail in Maharashtra.It was a full page write up.I decided to read it later. I mused that perhaps , V. Shantaram's classic "Do Aankhen Barah Haath " must have inspired the open prison in Swatantrapur .And I was completely wrong  ! In fact, V. Shantaram was so touched by the Swantantrapur experiment, that, he made the classic, "Do Aankhen Barah Haath " .This movie won the Golden Globe award,the first for an Indian film !  I get goose bumps every time, I watch the film Or for that matter ,that iconic song," Ae, Maalik ,tere bande hum.........taki hanste huwe  nikle dum ."

A social reformer of Polish origin ,Maurice Friedman called Bharatanand was a resident in Gandhiji's Wardha ashram  during late 1930s. He got friendly with the rulers of the  erstwhile Aundh state. During 1937-1939,Mahatma,Friedman & the Raja of Aundh,Balasaheb Pant made a blueprint to transfer power to the people  of Aundh .This was the Aundh experiment based on the self -rule idea.The Aundh people had a full fledged  representative government in Pre Independence India , thanks to the constitution which was brought into being, on 29th January, 1939 in Aundh.

The success of the Aundh experiment prompted the  next step. Balasaheb & Friedman wanted to  set up a colony  to integrate the convicts back into society through prison  reforms. This was to be done by shifting the prisoners to an area where they could feel  free.Thus , was born Swatantrapur or free town , a 57 hectare open prison colony in Atpadi taluka, Sangli District , Western Maharashtra.

In Swatantrapur, the convicts or the inmates till land, as daily wagers. Some of them stay in the colony with their families while others stay alone. Daily routine for residents is to assemble at eight in the morning for attendance & prayers .Next, they start working on the farms , take a lunch break & return to farming.By six in the evening, they go back to their tenaments in the colony.

Inmates to the Swantantrapur vasahat are selected by  committees in each of the 13 open jails in Maharashtra.Only prisoners who have shown consistently good behaviour & are heading towards the end of their imprisonment periods get selected . Generally, the committee selects every three years .Those who have spent more time in open jails are chosen first. Next, the list is sent to the Government.After the government 's ratification of the persons selected, the prisoners are shifted to Swantrantrapur. The inmates spend 2-4 years in the colony. The remainder of their imprisonment period is suspended by remission .They are then set free .

Terrorists and others who committed offences against the State & those having mental & health complications are never selected. Even those who have pending trails are ineligible for Swantantrapur.

The colony consist of tenements  & earlier there was no power supply. The children of the prisoners attended local school.The farm tilling ensures that the families of the prisoners can make ends meet.The Swantantrapur colony is a must visit tourist spot in Sangli.

Many prisoners chose to stay back in neighbouring villages as these villages have been kind enough to accept the ex-inmates into their midst as one of their own.Fights are rare & hardly any inmate has broken any rules. The inmates would rather stay there than be sent back to jail for any misbehaviour.The reformation & rehabilitation tales of  Swantantrapur  have paved the way towards more open colonies on a pan Indian basis.

Some years back when Atpadi was hit by drought, the inmates helped protect cattle to assist the farmers. The convicts  even offered to dig up reservoir. Locals have grown up watching the colony inmates & find them to be as human as themselves.

The colony is like an ashram where inmates live in harmony .After all, Swantantrapur signifies that even convicts can dream of freedom & revel in it !

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