This is our second major area of activity. Working with (nurturing) the families of prisoners with special emphasis on the development of C.O.P. (Children of Prisoners). We work with these children through a three-pronged approach:
A) Nursery School (Balwadis) As per the law of our country, children of convicts are permitted to stay with their imprisoned mothers until the age of six years. In such circumstances, VARHAD works towards protecting these children from the negative impact of prison life. This undesirable impact includes violence, abuse, abusive language, threats, fears, and unimaginable living conditions.
VARHAD initiated the liberation of these very children by opening Balwadis for the children of prisoners. These Balwadis function as a full-fledged school and efforts are being made to impart allround education to the children. With this initiative, children are taken care of personally and a loving atmosphere is provided. Their needs like food, clothes, bags and books are also provided by us. Presently the organisation is running two Balwadis, (i) within the prison premise of Central Prison in Amravati, and (ii) district prison in Akola.
As a positive development and a testimony to the honest work being done, even the staff working in the prison are sending their own children to study in these Balwadis. This move indicates that our efforts through Balwadis are getting acceptance widely. This is a real positive change, which will empower these tender minds throughout their life.
VARHAD believes that it is a responsibility of the state to safeguard the childhood of these innocent children of the women prisoners, admitted in these Balwadis by supporting all the needs and activities. The only sure-proof method for all-round development of a child is to put them in the good care of the dedicated and trained staff of these Balwadis who should be well trained. VARHAD’s efforts to ensure the state’s support for Balwadis brought a positive result, and we have been garnered permissions to open state run Balwadis, and Crèches (at the expense of the Govt. of Maharashtra) in all of the eight central prisons of the Maharashtra.
B) Financial Help for the Education An individual’s imprisonment brings a rippling negative outcome on his/her children even if they are NOT in prison with them. In some unfortunate cases, there are such children without care whose all the adult members of the family are in prison for mass crimes. In this situation, the innocent children suffer the most.
There is no debate that education of a child is an indispensable component of a healthy childhood. In a very responsible way, we work to prevent the negative impact of parents’ imprisonment on children by our educational support for the children of prisoners. In some sad cases, when there is nobody to take responsibility for the child VARHAD arranges residential educational facilities for the children. In coordination with genuine, socially responsible private and state-run institutions, the education of such children is offered free of charge by the organisation. They are kept in balgrihas, ashram schools or private hostels in towns such as Akola, Amravati, Buldana and Nagpur and the guardianship lies with the organisation. Every year, more than fifty children are supported with the above-mentioned free-of-cost residential facility. VARHAD also provides educational support in the form of study material and school kits to these children.
C) Integration with Families
To integrate prisoners’ children with their families, we work in the following two ways-
(a) Mass Meeting- The emotional bonding between parents and children is very important for the psychological well-being of both. Every month, VARHAD arranges for mass meetings of prisoners with their children in the jails. In every meeting, we accompany cultural events, picnics and games.
One-to-One Meeting- VARHAD also facilitates meetings of children with their parent/s inside prison walls which provides a direct human touch and feel access to parent/s and children.
D) Balsangopan Scheme
Due to our lobbying and amicable support from the government agencies, VARHAD has been involved in the implementation of Balsangopan scheme started in 2008 by the Dept. of Women and Child Development, Govt. of Maharashtra. In the scheme, a sponsorship money of Rs. 425 per month for each child of the prisoner(s) is provided to the family/person/guardian willing to adopt or take responsibility for such child. The scheme allows a maximum of two children from every such family to be supported by the state until the age of 18 years. In our credits, it is one of our big achievements that the scheme will function until the year 2025 and many children of prisoners will be benefitted by this.
In India, the women are considered as a vulnerable part of the male-dominated society. This vulnerability multiplies for those woman coming from the economically as well as socially degraded communities. This secondary status of women in male-dominated countries stigmatised them to the nadir point if they are imprisoned. It in fact leads too much psychological disorder for women to think positive in their whole life.
What is the worrying in such a scenario is that most of the times the family of female prisoner breaks the relationship, and disassociates from her in the name of safeguarding its reputation in the society and keeping away the imprints on other family members. Thus, for a woman prisoner, the life becomes highly traumatised due to loss of any social security and contacts with her near & dear ones, which forces her often to take drastic steps such as suicide or violent attacks on others.