Bagpiper Band and four walls of Jammu Central Jail

Jammu: Once infamous for its association with the Kandhar airplane hijack, the high security prison of Kot Bhalwal here seems to have moved along with time and forgotten its painful history.

A slew of changes and some innovative steps in the last few years have meant that the Central Jail has outgrown its past shadow. It was here during the 1999 hijack of Indian Airlines flight IC-814, that three terrorists Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar, who were lodged in Kot Bhalwal jail were traded off for the safety of more than 150 passengers on board.

The jail has now begun to be recognised as one of the model prisons, which inculcates values and life-sustaining skills in the inmates, so that they can live a smooth life after their release. "But it is no easy job," says a police official, who works in close coordination with the delinquents.

"It is very tough to change their mentality and motivate them to follow the right track," he added.
However, when one listens to the first of its kind `Bagpiper Band` of the inmates, the reality seems to be a distant fact.

Vijay Kumar, nick named commander leads the music band comprising inmates and as soon he shouts "general salute, ready one-two" the drums begin to beat, the bagpipers follow.

The tune they play is `nit khair manga soniya mein teri` nit khair manga soniya mein teri, (Every moment I pray for the well being of my beloved) it is not that they are professionals and love to play, but for them it is a way to forget the worries of the external world.

However, they make sure that the notes are played properly and there is proper synchronisation between the team. "It has been 10 years since I was sent to jail in connection with a murder case. I learnt music here…if we don`t engage ourselves with some work, it will be difficult to stay here," says Kumar, who is serving the life imprisonment.

Kumar says "there are no issues with the old members of the band, the new ones sometimes do not understand the signals….but they are trying to learn." It is Ganesh Singh and few others, who have been entrusted with the job of teaching the newcomers.

Ganesh is a murder convict and is serving a life imprisonment, but that doesn`t distract him from playing the right notes on the bagpiper.

The Superintendent prison, Kot Bhalwal Central Jail, Rajini Sehgal, briefs about the various initiatives taken by the prison department for the improvement of the conditions of the jail..

That includes a recently inaugurated legal aid cell in the jail premises and also informs that there are other projects in the pipeline to make the prison a hi-tech and self-sufficient one. "A lot has changed over the years, the last two-three years have particularly been very good, we have initiated a lot of programmes and there are few more in the pipeline, which I can`t reveal now," says Sehgal.

There are other vocational centres running in the premises as well, while Updesh Kumar, a former soldier with 55 Rashtriya Rifles is engaged in the handloom section, there is a Bangladeshi family from Dhaka which is learning the trade of embroidery in another section.

Joshim Miya, his elder brother Bashid Miya and his nephew Johail were caught on charges of illegally crossing the international border. "We came here in search of work, some agent had promised us work here…we are learning embroidery here and I am sure this will help us when we return," says Joshim while displaying a model of his art work.

Bashid`s son was just six or seven years old when he along with his father and uncle were arrested and sent to jail. The jail, meanwhile, has got an order of some 500 odd cloth bags, and all the units were busy completing the work on time.