Mumbai, Feb 14 (IANS) In a unique initiative, hundreds of women jail inmates in prisons across the state celebrated the Valentine's Day on Wednesday by "expressing" love for their children, top officials said.
For the first time, the Maharashtra Prisons Department embarked on this venture when minor children of women prisoners -- convicts or undertrials -- were allowed to meet, interact and spend time with their children from whom they are separated for prolonged periods.
"In the past, there have been occasions when children were permitted to meet their mothers through the help of some NGOs. But this time, it had a special significance on account of the Valentine's Day. We hope to make it a regular feature," Additional Director-General of Maharashtra B.K. Upadhyay told IANS.
The programme was implemented in many of the nine central jails, 31 district jails, 14 open jails and 172 sub-jails where women inmates are lodged. Currently, there are a total of around 1,500 women and 30,000 male prisoners across Maharashtra in these jails.
The women inmates were allowed to meet their children under 16 years of age -- interact, play and eat with them for a few hours.
In Mumbai's Byculla Women's Jail, around 55 young boys and girls came to meet 50 women prisoners, who were received with cries of joy, and a tearful reunion with hugs and embraces followed in the jail premises, under the watchful but caring eyes of the prison authorities.
The jail authorities had thoughtfully created a festive atmosphere with snacks and beverages for the visiting children, and on departure, they were handed small token gifts, courtesy the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
One inmate from Jammu & Kashmir was connected on a video-conference call with her children and she could barely speak as she cried most of the time and touched the screen where her children, who could not make it to Mumbai, were visible.
"Many of the women prisoners became very emotional to see and meet their children after prolonged periods of separation. They sat with them, talked a lot, exchanged stories, played some games, ate and enjoyed together," said Byculla Women's Jail Superintendent Aruna Mugutrao in a statement.
According to Upadhyay, past experiences show that women inmates appreciate such gestures of facilitating meeting with their children, as it helps them de-stress and inspires them to complete their sentences and get reunited with them.
Mugutrao explained that many times, the relatives of convicted women, especially their children, did not come to meet them as they felt ashamed or due to the stigma of being related to a jailbird-mother.
"However, after such occasional reunions with their growing children, most women feel very calm, and make attempts to genuinely reform themselves. Many said they really enjoyed interacting with their loved ones and sought more such opportunities at frequent intervals," Mugutrao said.
In the past, the children wanting to meet their imprisoned mothers were only permitted with the help of local NGOs, working for the betterment of the convicts. But this time, the Prison Department itself came up with the winning idea and implemented it for the first time.