First Degree

From the Chakki to the Education Grind

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What’s portly, studious, barely sees any sunlight, and resides in Tamil Nadu? No matter how many nephews you might have who fit this description, there’s an unlikely answer to that riddle: prisoners of Tamil Nadu. While data released in 2009 revealed that 90 per cent of the prisoners who had been released that year had gained weight, apparently due to a rich diet and inactivity, this year has seen some slightly brighter news, with convicts profiting from a new policy of free education.

A few months ago, the Tamil Nadu State Department of Prisons announced that it would be introducing engineering courses in leather technology, computer science and textile engineering in association with the Tamil Nadu Open University. Now, the Indira Gandhi National Open University (Ignou) has announced that it has received a total of 102 applications for admission to its courses from three central prisons—Madurai, Coimbatore and Trichy. “Last year, we only received two applications, both from Trichy Jail,” says Dr M Shanmugham, regional director, Ignou Regional Centre, Madurai. “But this year, the number of applications went up to 102, thanks to the awareness campaign we held in three prison campuses on the policy of free education. The majority of applications came from Trichy—58 in all.” The most popular programmes are the Bachelor’s preparatory programme leading to a Bachelor’s degree, and, perhaps inspired by that rich prison diet, the certificate programme in Food and Nutrition (Health).