Sunday, 4 November 2012

Reflections from my stay in Pakistan V: Karachi Central Jail

Pakistan's police forces are not generally thought to be at the forefront of social change. On the contrary, the ineptitude and corruption of the police are often seen to be a significant causal factor in the nation's poor justice system. Nevertheless, pockets of excellence can be found in the most unusual of places. Consider my amazement when I came across just such a phenomena within the Prisons Division of the Sindh Police.

Karachi Central Jail has a vibrant program to teach prisoners basic computer, English and other technical skills. All as a result of the efforts of a few dedicated police professionals. More surprisingly, the prison has a School of Art within its premises.
Your blogger (front right in white shirt) being shown around Karachi Jail. Note the two prisoners in tow.
Prisons Pakistan's jails, like jails anywhere, are not the friendliest of places. Thus, when I was asked to visit the Karachi Central Jail to witness firsthand the prison's School of Art project I had few expectations.
I was pleasantly surprised.
Initially, prisoner artists are put through a simple vetting procedure simply to ensure they are serious about learning art. Subsequently, the aspiring artists are given training by a qualified instructor at the school's dedicated facility within the Central Jail. The prison authorities are working with the Sindh Board of Technical Education to accredit the Karachi Central Jail's School of Art so as to authorize the entity to issue diplomas to graduates.
In fact, the 'prisoner artists' have become somewhat of a celebrity. Their work is regularly exhibited at some of Karachi's premier arts venues, including the Alliance Francaise. As an incentive to stay on track, prisoners are permitted to sell paintings at these displays and retain all earnings from sales.
Your blogger (front left) discussing art pieces with two aspiring artists
The aim is not only to create tomorrow's Sadequain or Gulgee but to provide inmates with a healthy outlet to consume their energies. It is the first step in a larger reform process designed to ease released convicts back into society.
Ok, education in jails is no biggie I guess. Such courses exist in many prisons. But a School of Art and that too in Pakistan's underfunded prison systems? Slightly more unusual.
Karachi Central Jail's School of Art is proof that individuals can make a difference. The challenges are many but the rewards even more. In altruistic ventures, patience and dedication are often adequate substitutes for seed capital. Philanthropic money sniffs out successful initiatives. Undoubtedly, the Karachi Jail's experiment with art will have repercussions beyond its own four walls.

Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

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