Bangladeshi prisoners embroider a new life in Jammu jail (Feature)

Jammu, May 10: They crossed over to India illegally to find a livelihood, but landed in jail here. Now many Bangladeshi infiltrators are being provided training in Kashmiri embroidery at the Kot Bhalwal jail here.

Many of the nearly 90 Bangladeshi prisoners lodged in the jail, on the outskirts of Jammu, feel the skill will help them live a dignified life back home after their release.

Poverty is the main factor that drives them to infiltrate into India to either stay put or further cross over to Pakistan in search of work. But many get caught by police or the Border Security Force (BSF).

One such convict, Shamshul Alam, a resident of Chittagong in Bangladesh, told IANS that he belonged to a very poor family, ‘so I thought of crossing over to India to work as a labourer but police caught our group of 10′.

Alam, aged 25, says he along with nine others worked for a few days as labourers in Arnia village near here before police arrested them. ‘There are agents in Bangladesh who bring groups of people into India with the promise of getting us small jobs,’ he told IANS.

‘Bangladesh is a poor country and, on top of that, floods and cyclones spell havoc. This forces many like us to flee illegally,’ says Jashimian of Dhaka who along with a group of 25 was arrested by the BSF while trying to cross over to Pakistan from the border near Jammu with the help of an agent. They were later convicted of illegal border crossing.

He says he has a big family, including parents, six brothers and two sisters, to support.

Now while they are in jail they are getting training in Kashmiri aari embroidery on crewal fabric.

‘I learnt it in just two weeks, and thereafter I have embroidered a number of curtains, bedcovers, tablecloths and ladies’ suits,’ Alam says proudly.

All of them realise that they have learnt a great art which can make earning a living easier.

Expressing gratitude to the jail authorities, another Bangladeshi, Mohammad Johail, says, ‘Our jail sentence has become a boon, as now we know Kashmiri embroidery which can help us earn our bread back home in Bangladesh. It is like taking a great gift of Kashmir to our country.’

Jashimian gets emotional as he remembers his home. ‘It is going to be a beautiful blend when we do world famous Kashmiri embroidery on the famous Dhaka cotton.’

Now all of them are much more confident about life. Mohammad Illiyas says, ‘We can start coaching classes for this embroidery, or can sell embroidered items when we go home… at least we are sure of earnings now.’

When asked what prompted the jail authorities to teach Bangladeshi inmates Kashmiri embroidery, Superintendent of Jammu district jail Rajni Sehgal said, ‘Our effort is that when these inmates are released they do not feel lost in the world. This is to make them learn an art that can help in earning and surviving and make them skilled workers.’

There are around 90 such Bangladeshi convicts in this jail in the age group of 20 to 30 years. The majority have completed their sentence and their counselling is also over. ‘We are checking their antecedents and they are now under preventive detention till repatriation,’ she said.

About the training, Sehgal said, ‘Language was somewhat a problem between them and the teacher, but we overcame that in no time with love and affection.’

The Bangladeshi inmates, who have become very fond of Sehgal, say in chorus, ‘When we go home, we will do embroidery on Dhaka’s malmal (cotton) and bring that gift for our madam (jail superintendent). But this time we will come legally on passport.’

(Binoo Joshi can be contacted at binoo.j@ians.in)

–Indo-Asia News Service

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IANS