Tinka Tinka Tihar: A tale of the resilience of women in prisons

By Anakha C J and Ishita Kisku

En route to West Delhi, your eyes may stumble upon a graffiti wall adorned with the words from “Chaardiwari” (the four walls), a poem penned by Seema Raghuvanshi, a Tihar Jail inmate. The poetry reads “Subah likhti hoon/ Is chaardiwari mein baithi bas tera naam likhti hoon/ Is faaslon mein jo gham ki judai hai/ Usi ko har baar likhti hoon.” [I write in the morning/ Sitting inside this boundary wall, I just write your name/ The separation of sorrow in these distances/ I write the same every time]. These paint flushed walls are the very four walls that fortify Tihar Jail, one of the largest jails in the country.

Conversations about women, their achievements and the progress of the feminist movement often fail to discuss one particular section of women, namely, women in jails. In India, conversations around this topic was enablled and further encouraged by Tinka Tinka Tihar (2013), a collection of poetry written by four women in Tihar Jail. The book was compiled by Dr. Vartika Nanda and  Vimla Mehra (IPS).

The women inmates Seema, Rama, Arti and Riya whose poetic pieces were published in the book, found this as a medium of creative liberty in a world where they were deprived of it. When Seema learned about her poem being published in a book, she was thrilled and loved telling people about it. As other female prisoners saw her enthusiasm, they also became intrigued and started taking an interest in writing.

[Nanda. (2015, August 16). Tinka Tinka Tihar Special with Vartika Nanda [Video]. Youtube. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGrsGC2zyHk]

With due encouragement from the editors of the book, the women sat together and discussed their writings, building a community of writers in the jail, and subsequently creating a happier environment in the jail post the launch of the book. Since 2013, the book has been published in 6 languages and entered the Limca Book of Records in 2015. In September of 2023, Tinka Tinka Tihar celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Link: Song in Tihar Jail written by Vartika Nanda: Tinka Tinka Tihar । तिनका तिनका तिहाड़ । Tihar Jail | Song by Vartika Nanda (youtube.com)

Even those who read the most, tend to pick up books based on glamourous reviews and ratings, leaving this genre unrecognized. Books like these are not as widely read as other genres yet they do leave a strong impact on inmates.

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