Tihar inmates paint stark images against drug abuse

By Prashant K. Nanda, IANS,

New Delhi : Drugs as the mythological demon Ravan, alcohol as poisonous snakes, a funeral pyre made of cigarette butts…Such stark illustrations have come out of the minds of prisoners at Delhi’s Tihar Jail, especially drug addicts.

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Many of the prisoners revisited their hellish past to paint their thoughts on tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse – in a way succeeding where Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss failed to do on cigarette packs.

“I read in the newspapers that the government was trying to portray stark bad images on tobacco packets. Though I don’t know what happened outside the prison, we have tried to do that,” Ravi, a prisoner who is behind the bars for doping, told IANS.

Ramadoss had been campaigning to put scary pictures on tobacco packets to dissuade youngsters from smoking but ran short of support from his senior cabinet colleagues on the issue.

“I have been in jail for six months and have realised the value of free life. Once released, I shall never get into the old habit,” Ravi said.

The paintings were the result of a weeklong drawing, painting and skit competition organised among the inmates to mark the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26.

The Tihar jail, which houses over 13,000 inmates, is one of India’s most guarded and high-profile prisons, but drugs still manage to find their way in thanks to the connivance of some security men and visitors. Nearly eight percent of its inmates are drug addicts.

Two prisoners depicted drugs as the 10-headed demon Ravan and the painting got the first prize. Others depicted drugs as a poison tree with a deadly tongue spewing out AIDS, tuberculosis and even jail for some people.

In one of the paintings, a prisoner showed a funeral pyre made up of cigarette butts with the caption, “My past, My life”. “I cannot change the world but can change myself,” the illustration under the painting read.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is helping Tihar handle its drug addicts and persuade them to give up the habit.

“Look at the paintings…they speak of their past lives. But one thing is for sure – they are remorseful of their past. This will lead them towards a better life,” Jayadev Sarangi, UNODC prison expert, told IANS.

Showing his creative skills, Rakesh, another prisoner, painted a tobacco pack with the caption “Swagat Tobacco bad for health” and painted the smoker as a cancer patient. The tobacco pack is shown with a skull and cross bones.

One painting shows a bottle of whiskey with four or five snakes inside, another shows an injectible drug user as a hapless beggar. Some even painted pictures of beautiful women, with the caption “No need for drugs.”

“We have a full fledged hospital for drug de-addiction and we try to let our inmates display their creative skill to help them come out of drug dependence,” added Sunil Gupta, the law officer of Tihar.