Thanks to Suresh Chandra, Vaibhav and Puja are the proud "parents" of Nandini, Kuldip and Saurabh. Thrice a month, the three children, all under six, eagerly look forward to being treated to chocolates and sweets when the couple come visiting, loaded with goodies.
| PICTURE SPEAK |
|LOVE COMES KNOCKING: Vaibhav Tewari with wife Puja at the Lucknow jail |
Besides spending time with the children, the Tewaris also pay for their education, food, medicines and clothes. Their one regret: they can't take the three "adopted" children home-because the children must remain in jail. Condemned to life behind bars in Lucknow's Model jail for a crime their mother has been convicted for, life for Nandini, Kuldip and Saurabh, along with nearly two dozen others like them, would have been without any semblance of hope had it not been for an idea conceived and put into action by Chandra.
The jail's senior superintendent recently initiated an innovative scheme, titled "Guardians of Children of Lesser Gods". Meant for the children of inmates of the jail's mahila wing, the scheme encourages Lucknow's citizens to "adopt" these innocent captives and give their lives some stability. Chandra says, "When a man commits a crime, his family members are concerned about him and care for him, and his wife waits for his release. But if a woman commits a crime, her family deserts her and her husband marries another. It is a social tragedy."
One such case is that of an inmate called Shyama, mother to 17-year-old Rita who is visually challenged. Aged women convicts, says Chandra, are often left to languish in jail with family members refusing to take them home even for the stipulated 15 days in a year. The jail superintendent's efforts to save the children from the misery suffered by their mothers, however, received a major boost when the Tewaris came forward and offered to "adopt" Nandini, Kuldip and Saurabh.
It was Vaibhav Tewari's brother visiting from the US who urged the couple to become a part of the scheme. "What crime have these children committed?" Tewari asks. "The society must ensure a proper living for them." Tewari and his wife now want to help all the 21 children of the jail and are happy that a beginning has been made. The jail has opened a school with its own resources and also arranges trips to the zoo for the children and their mothers.
For the convicts, the scheme has become a lifeline from strangers. "My son who is lodged in the jail often blames me for ruining his career," says one woman inmate, "but now I feel there is some hope for him."