Chennai: For Mohammad Rafiq*, it was a happy reunion with his family after four years, via a video call. His daughters and wife kept fighting over the phone so they could catch a glimpse of him. Overwhelmed and with tears rolling down his cheeks, Rafiq asked his daughters to stay safe. “Drink hot water, don’t go out, wear masks,” Rafiq repeated, trying his best to console his two daughters, during the video call that lasted about 5 minutes. Rafiq is an inmate at the Puzhal Central prison.
Prisoners lodged at the nine central jails and six women’s prisons got an opportunity to speak to their families and friends via video call since visitations are not allowed due to Covid-19 lockdown . At least 74,467 prisoners have called home so far. The prison department has distributed 58 smartphones with 4G sim cards and unlimited data for the purpose and readied a room for the prisoners to take the video calls from, under surveillance, twice a week. Remand prisoners can call home thrice a week.
All smiles, Rafiq ran out of words thanking the officials. A prisoner who had left his aged mother alone and another, who had left behind his pregnant wife, felt the same way. “The video call was all that I could have dreamt for. Even if they had applied to see me in person, the whole family couldn’t have made it,” Rafiq said.
The video calling facility is available at Central prisons in Chennai, Palayamkottai, Trichy, Madurai, Vellore, Cuddalore, Salem, Coimbatore and special prisons for women at Chennai, Vellore, Trichy, Coimbatore, Madurai.
Manickavel*, the soon-to-be dad, said he and his wife were restless since the pandemic set in as there was no one to look after her. “I am happy I got a chance to talk to her, ask her to stay extra cautious about the infection,” he said.
It is risky to allow people, even family members, inside the prison during such a situation, said Sunil Kumar Singh, director general of police, prisons, adding “So we came up with this idea.”
“All the prison staff have been provided with masks and other safety gear. They have to wash their hands before entering the prison complex,” said the DGP. Prison staff staying with family members who have a travel history are sent on medical leave.