Spotlight

Parivartan: Transforming lives through sport in prisons

Print edition : May 20, 2022

A volleyball match in progress. IndianOil has worked closely with the prison departments of several State police and was able to facilitate training programmes in badminton, volleyball, chess, tennis and carrom. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Shrikant Madhav Vaidya, Chairman, IndianOil: “The ‘Parivartan’ initiative aims to build confidence and improve the well-being of prison inmates through sports.” Photo: By Special Arrangement

Indian Oil Corporation’s unique programme to help prison inmates integrate into mainstream society through sports kicks off in a big way.

Medical science has proved that any form of physical exercise has a profoundly positive impact on a person’s mental health. Extensive research on the subject indicates that even modest amounts of physical activity is good for relieving stress, increasing energy levels, improving memory, and promoting better sleep.

Keeping this basic yet strong and effective theory as the primary goal, Indian Oil Corporation has launched a novel three-phase project called “Parivartan”, which aims to help inmates overcome the stigma associated with imprisonment and aid their integration into mainstream society upon release. As a major supporter of sports in the country, IndianOil has involved award-winning and highly accomplished international and national sports players to train prisoners in several sports. The project will reach out to over 2,000 inmates lodged in prisons across 13 States and 25 cities.

Shrikant Madhav Vaidya, Chairman of IndianOil, says: “IndianOil has been leading a number of social stewardship programmes across the country. The ‘Parivartan’ initiative aims to build confidence and improve the well-being of prison inmates through sports. The programme is in sync with IndianOil’s core value of care and will complement our ongoing initiative of employing prison inmates and people who have completed their time in prison as customer attendants at our fuel stations.”

As to why IndianOil chose the concept of improving the lives of prisoners, Vaidya says: “Parivartan aims to reach out to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable sections of society, prison inmates, and add joy and health to their lives by inducting them into sports.”

According to IndianOil, the company wanted the unique initiative to coincide with India’s 75th Independence Day. It worked closely with the prison departments of several State police and was able to facilitate training programmes in badminton, volleyball, chess, tennis and carrom. The first phase of the programme, which was launched on August 15, 2021, involved a four-week training module in which 129 inmates were coached on the basics of a sport, which eventually enabled them to participate in local competitions. The first five prisons to benefit from Parivartan were Chanchalguda Central Jail (Hyderabad), Puzhal Central Jail (Chennai), Poojapura Central Jail (Thiruvananthapuram), Special Jail (Bhubaneshwar), and Circle Jail (Cuttack).

Encouraged by the positive response, IndianOil launched the second phase at Tihar Jail in New Delhi and eight other prisons in 10 States. Eventually, the second phase would include coaching for 1,000 inmates in 17 prisons. The participating prisons in the second phase of Parivartan are Central Jail, Tihar, Delhi; Yerawada Central Jail, Pune; Kolhapur Central Prison; Central Jail, Patiala; Lala Lajapat Rai District and Open Air Jail, Dharamshala; Central Jail, Indore; Central Jail, Bhopal; Central Jail, Ahmedabad; Central Jail, Vadodara; Adarsh Karagar, Lucknow; Central Jail, Varanasi; Naini Central Jail, Prayagraj; Central Jail, Guwahati; Central Jail, Dibrugarh, and Central Jail, Dimapur.

‘Prison to Pride’

The third phase of Parivartan’s ‘Prison to Pride’ was launched on January 26, 2022, in Bihar, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana, Rajasthan, Goa, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Tripura, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim, Jammu and Kashmir, Pondicherry, Chandigarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Leh and Ladakh, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In a significant move, IndianOil is currently and will be employing more prison inmates who have served their terms. Currently, the oil major has prisoners as customer service attendants at 30 retail outlets in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Sports stars who are associated with Parivartan are among the country’s top players and coaches. The following coaches are currently training inmates at Tihar jail: Shivkant Mishra, chess coach and international arbiter; Mohammed Zaid, Delhi State team coach and national player (carrom); Manav, Delhi State coach (badminton); Parveen Kumar, coach and national player (volleyball); and Vishal Kumar Gupta, an international player (basketball). Swati Bhatt, an international chess arbiter, is responsible for women inmates; others are Neha Rani, a national-level carrom player; Manjusha Kanwar and Mini Sharma, national players (badminton); and Jitender Tyagi, national coach and secretary, Delhi Kho-Kho Association (kho-kho).

Experts and medical doctors have written extensively about the benefits of sports at a recreational level. It has been scientifically proven that the levels of chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, stress hormones and endorphins, change during exercise.

According to material available on the subject, this release can be transformative. Experts say that exercise can improve a person’s sense of control, coping ability and self-esteem. It can distract one from negative thoughts and be a healthy outlet for frustrations. Exercise reduces skeletal muscle tension, which helps a person relax. Each of these factors is crucial for the rehabilitation process an inmate goes through, says a doctor.

What experts say

Sports personalities laud IndianOil for initiating the project that has a wide-ranging and deep impact. P. Gopichand, the All England Open Badminton champion and chief national badminton coach at IndianOil, says: “This unique initiative of Parivartan—Prison to Pride is very, very important, and I do believe that as people who are in prison have a lot of energy, and if we can channelise it, it would be great for society. This will be a change that will not really change the people, but actually bring a transformation in society where people believe that if people who are convicted can be transformed, any of us can be.”

Mohammed Ali, a volleyball player and coach, says: “Initially I did not want to be part of this project, as I felt that it would not be safe. But very soon my perception changed completely and I really looked forward to my visit and coaching sessions. At first, inmates were quiet but by the fifth day, they started to enjoy the sessions. It was a very rewarding experience for me to see the team improve the basics of volleyball and a few of them got very good at it. As days passed, one of the inmates who was very reserved and quiet, opened up and wholeheartedly took part in volleyball lessons. The superintendent was very surprised to notice how happy the inmates were while playing volleyball.”

Manjusha Kanwar, a former international badminton player, says it was a unique experience for her: “Thanks to IndianOil, I got a chance to coach/interact with inmates on the sports grounds within jails. Realised the power of sports can touch inmates’ lives in a positive way. Prison inmates who showed interest in learning games asked for more lessons and wished that such programmes continued as it gave them a sense of purpose and hope, while reducing stress levels. I can never forget the day we organised matches in Jail no. 5 wherein inmates in the 18-21 age group were divided into two groups and played competitions in kho-kho, kabaddi, basketball and volleyball. Competitions were conducted in a healthy manner and all reacted well. As a coach, this made me realise the essence of coaching. Hopefully, this will rehabilitate their re-entry into society in a very positive way.”

Physical activity has both physiological and mental benefits. A study published by the American Psychologists Association validates the IndianOil programme. According to it, a 2008 Leeds Metropolitan University study of 201 white-collar workers published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management (Vol. 1, No. 3) shows how workers who took an aerobics class, lifted weights or participated in yoga during their lunch hour experienced improved mood and performance, leading to better concentration, work-based relationships and resilience to stress.