Prisoners Of Fate

India Legal|November 25, 2019

Prisoners Of Fate
A much-loved institution in the hill station, run by prisoners serving life sentences in the local jail, may lose its iconic status, thanks to myopic municipal officials
Govind Pant Raju

VISITORS to Shimla make a beeline for the Mall, the hill resort’s main street, from where they can enjoy a view of the Ridge while sitting on the iconic “Takka

Bench”. After clicking the obligatory selfie, tourists generally head to the Book Café, considered a must-visit landmark by many. This is not so much for the piping hot beverages, yummy snacks or the lovely books to browse through there, but also because of the people serving the customers and those behind the counter.

The Book Café is managed by convicts serving life terms at Shimla’s Kait hu Jail, which is about seven km from the Ridge, and all the bakery products at the café are made by the prisoners.

Last month, residents and local literary figures were up in arms after the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) declared it was going to float open tenders to run the Book Café. The protests revolved around the proposed move, that many felt would be against the very spirit of its formation, and would divest the convicts of a tangible correctional opportunity.

The inception of this café is a unique story. In 2015, Rakesh Kanwar, the then deputy commissioner of Kullu, noticed a dilapidated government building en route his office. Kanwar, known for his unconventional ideas, was shocked to learn that the building was Kullu’s public library where reading enthusiasts would congregate. He then decided to transform the old library into a classy book café.

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November 25, 2019