Is prison tourism coming to Tihar?

Now even normal and law-abiding citizens may get first-hand experience of what life is like within the walls of Asia’s biggest prison housing notorious criminals, reports Pari Saikia

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Ever imagined yourself walking in and out of a prison like a boss, that too on your free will? Sounds impossible, right? Well, in coming few months this will become a reality as the Tihar Prison, India’s largest prison complex, would soon welcome tourists to experience a day inside the jail. What is even more thrilling is that once inaugurated, it will be India’s first jail to invite tourists to live with criminals — be it most wanted gangsters, politicians or celebrities.

Believe it or not, Tihar Jail has always been a fascinating spot and one of the major attractions for outsiders as this largest prison complex of South Asia has a record of housing some of the most high-profile names like the present Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, corruption crusader Anna Hazare, former JNU president Kanhaiya Kumar, Kashmiri separatist leader Maqbool Bhat, gangster Chota Ranjan, presently, former finance minister of India, P. Chidambaram and many others.

Talking to the reporter, a senior police official stationed in Tihar Jail said, “There has always been a curiosity among outsiders to see how life is like inside the Tihar prisons. So, it would be good for the visitors to see themselves and experience when Tihar jail tourism opens for public.”

The Tihar Jail tourism project, themed ‘Feel-Like Jail’, will be open for tourists soon at INR 2,000 ($28) per person, the rate is subject to change, since the project is awaiting final approval from the state home department. There are also reports that ‘Feel like jail’ project might be handed to the Delhi Tourism department.

A thorough background check of the tourists will be done as a first step before they are allowed inside the jail. Once inside, the tourists would experience the life of a real prisoner — wearing uniform, eating the food served to inmates, sleeping in the cells on floors, doing chores, etc. Not to forget, while the visitors experience all of these, they would be watched over round the clock by the jail wardens. And, remember, no breaking rules.

The experience will be no less than the television reality show, Big Boss, where a group of people are locked down inside a house for some months without phone, newspapers, visitors — completely cut off from the outside world. Unlike the reality show, the only difference here is that these visits will not be aired nor will the visitors get a luxury budget or an immunity task to win. It will be a real challenge and way tougher than one could imagine.

Euphoria

Though there is some time for its prelude, the buzz about the Tihar jail tourism is already creating an euphoria among the locals as well as foreign tourists.

This reporter asked a couple from Amsterdam, who had just finished visiting ISKON temple and were now waiting for the cab to arrive, on whether they were interested in visiting Tihar Jail, to have an experience of living in the prison for a day. The couple came out with a surprising reply: “Why not? It would be adventurous to live like a prisoner.”

Sunil Manchanda (25) a resident of Tilak Nagar, West Delhi, where the popular Tihar Jail is situated, can’t wait for this unique project to begin. A thrilled Sunil who loves to go to the gym regularly said that he will definitely pay for a day to stay in Tihar jail so that he can test his own mental and physical strength. “This would be a self-reality check. So many notorious criminals live inside. I don’t know how I would react when I see them but it would be worth visiting,” Sunil says with a chuckle.

But, Nishu (29) has a different perspective on the ambitious scheme by the government. A psychology student herself, Nishu believes that Tihar Jail tourism would benefit the psychologists and experts in studying the psychological behaviour of the criminals from up close. The study could be used later for “improving the conditions of the inmates and those dealing with the criminals.”

What to expect:

According to an official privy to the matter, the tourists will spend a typical day as spent by any other prisoner in Tihar. Everything, including cooking, grinding wheat, cleaning, getting up early in the morning, and participating in different activities in the jail as done by the prisoners, will be part of the schedule for the visitors. however, the officials will ‘hand-pick’ the convicts to be placed in the vicinity of the visitors.

The authorities shared that the tourists will be required to share the same premises as the convicts in these jails, to enable them to have a real-life experience of jail environment.

Other jail tourism initiatives in India

Cellular Jail , Andaman and Nicobar Islands:

The famous Cellular Jail, otherwise known as Kala Pani, is located in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In 1969, the jail was converted into a National Memorial which houses several galleries – freedom fighters gallery, exhibition gallery, art gallery and Netaji gallery among others.

Cellular Jail has been open for tourists since a long time now and visitors can have a feel of it, except for national holidays. The entry fee starts from

30 per person, while 200 is charged for still photography and 1,000 for videography, and if you are intending to shoot a film then you have to shell out 10,000 per day after due permission. The jail authorities also hold scintillating light and sound shows depicting India’s freedom struggle in Hindi and English.

Hijli detention camp, Midnapore, West Bengal:

Built as Hijli Detention camp in 1930, the Hijli Jail is also a historic prison. The jail has played a significant role in the freedom struggle against the British. The infamous “Hijli Firing” incident, in which the police opened fire on the prisoners in 1931 happened here. The detention camp was converted into IIT in 1951 after independence. The erstwhile detention camp has now been converted into the Nehru Museum of Science and Technology. Tourists often visit this prison to have a feel of the British era detention and torture centres.

Viper Island, Andaman and Nicobar Islands:

Another British era prison, the Viper Island prison, located in the Andaman Nicobar Islands, witnesses an impressive rush of tourists. The prison was a prominent one during the British raj when the freedom fighters were incarcerated here. This jail was the place of torture and agony for a number of people who dared to speak against the British. This jail has also housed several prominent people, like Brij Kishore Singh Deo, the then Maharaja of Puri.