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'Restaurant rehabilitation' at India's notorious Tihar Prison

With more than 10,000 inmates, New Delhi's Tihar Central Prison has a notorious reputation. But the prison has recently taken a step to break some of these shackles and give its inmates ambitions for the future - with food.

NEW DELHI: Piping hot Indian flatbread is being readied in a kitchen nestled in West Delhi - it might seem like normal restaurant activity, but what makes the cafe unusual is its staff. They are convicts from South Asia's largest prison, Tihar Central Prison.

Situated less than a kilometre away from the main prison dormitories, the restaurant is open to everyone but has strict parameters for its workers - an inmate who works there must have at least a high school certificate, a clean record during their time in jail and only two years remaining on their sentence. The inmates are paid a small wage, with profits from the restaurant going towards prisoner welfare and other training programmes. This is an attempt by prison authorities to rehabilitate the convicts before they are released.

Sunil Gupta, a spokesperson for Tihar Central Prison, said: "We are meeting our objectives which is to reform, rehabilitate, and reintegrate the prisoner into the society. Here, they are coming into contact with society. So we are achieving this purpose. Secondly, they are earning their wages by serving others. Thirdly, this helps instil a sense of confidence in them that when they are out from the prison... they can reintegrate themselves into society."

However, the restaurant has had some hiccups as well. Not everyone is open to the idea of eating food prepared by convicts, and despite trusting the workers, prison security still has to be vigilant about convicts slipping out.

Nonetheless, there is optimism that this programme at Tihar will break them free from their criminal past. Bal Krishna Grover, a prison inmate who works as a waiter at the restaurant, said: "I used to think a lot about what I will do after my release from prison, what kind of job I will pursue. (Through this,) they have given us a way to carry it forward and lead an honest life."

There is a hope that the inmates - once they are out - will be able to serve others in a small but significant way, far from the world of crime.

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