KARACHI: In a first, a prison in the Pakistani megacity of Karachi has started offering Mandarin Chinese classes to up-skill inmates and give them a chance at a “better life” when they are released, jail officials said on Monday.
Karachi Central Jail, a high-security prison where 5,843 prisoners are housed in barracks meant for 2,400, was once notorious for incarcerating the most unredeemable class of criminals and had a reputation for being a brutal holding pen.
For the last few years, however, the prison has launched new rehabilitation programs to help ease the tedium of life behind bars and impart new skills to inmates. The prison has a School of Fine Arts and Music, offering painting, jewelry, embroidery, music and language training classes. Computer science and English lessons are also offered at the facility. In January this year, a convicted murderer jailed at the prison, Syed Naeem Shah, earned a prestigious chartered accountancy scholarship.
Last month, the prison launched Mandarin Chinese classes at its ‘Alkhidmat Computer Training and English Language Center.’ The teacher is Farhan Niazi, himself an inmate, and he has thirty students.
“This Chinese language class, we started a month ago, is one of those programs to enable inmates to live a normal and better life as good citizens after they are released,” jail superintendent Hasan Sehto told Arab News on Monday.
“The class of Chinese language is just a new addition, which is being introduced keeping in view its growing demand with many projects being started in Pakistan under CPEC [China-Pakistan Economic Corridor],” Sehto said, referring to a multi-billion dollar Chinese project in Pakistan. “These days Pakistanis need to focus on and learn Chinese language to have more chances of getting employment in the growing job market that CEPC related projects have created.”
Niazi, who worked as a Chinese language interpreter and translator before landing in jail for a minor misdemeanour, said he planned to train at least three teachers who could continue teaching the classes after he got out.
“I acquired a three-year education of the language in China but the six-month long course we are teaching here will help the inmates have a command over the language and use this skill in getting jobs,” Niazi told Arab News.
Muhammad Hanzala, an under-trial prisoner in his twenties, said learning a language was better than just passing time in jail purposelessly.
“The time will pass but you can make it useful by attending any of the programs that jail officials are offering,” Hanzala said. “And these classes provide an excellent opportunity as Chinese has become a very important language like English is necessary for progress and advancement in life.”
“The mistakes you have made may not be undone,” his teacher Niazi chipped in, “but inmates can learn, they can acquire a skill or two and make a better life for themselves once they are free.”
*Names of inmates have been changed to protect identities.