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Paying for her crime by teaching behind bars

Thursday, September 02, 2010 10:07:15 AM, Asit Srivastava, IANS

Naugarh (Uttar Pradesh): Call it an act of atonement. A woman who is in jail in Uttar Pradesh for torturing her daughter-in-law has donned the role of a teacher for fellow prisoners and their children.

Famous as 'masterni', 45-year-old Urmila Devi is in a prison here in Siddharthnagar district, some 300 km from Lucknow, serving a sentence of three years. But she is spreading literacy behind the bars.

"Urmila is a quiet person and usually doesn't like interacting with the jail staff," Siddharthnagar district jail superintendent P.K. Srivastava told IANS.

Urmila, he said, is a graduate. She teaches over 40 women prisoners, some of whom attend the classes with their children. The classes start at 9 a.m. daily in the women's barrack of the prison.

"Though on a number of occasions we tried to know what prompted her to teach the prisoners, she never gave a clear answer. She is just not ready to disclose anything about her personal life," he added.

"From our limited interactions with Urmila, we only get a hint that she wants to make amends for the wrong she committed and, therefore, her teaching exercise could be an act of repentance," Srivastava said.

From moral science to mathematical calculations to recognition of the Hindi and English alphabets - she teaches all.

"Urmila is quite punctual in taking the class. Her seriousness towards the teaching exercise can be gauged from the fact that she prefers taking the class even when she is not well," Jailor A.K. Saxena said.

"When we ask her not to take the class in such conditions, she manages to convince us on the contrary," he added.

"Her dedication is really praiseworthy. I have never seen any prisoner engaging in such a drive to spread literacy behind the bars," Saxena said.

According to officials, Urmila initiated the teaching exercise seven to eight months ago. She has completed one year of her three-year term.

"Some of our officials first noticed her teaching women inmates in an informal way. We never knew that it would become a routine. We have now provided Urmila with a blackboard and stationery items to assist her," Srivastava said.

Prison officials believe the drive undertaken by Urmila would go a long way in spreading literacy.

"If other literate prisoners also follow in her footsteps, they could immensely contribute to spreading literacy in a big way," Srivastava said.

(Asit Srivastava can be contacted at






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