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Prison reform: Meet Naya Savera, a band of former convicts belting out tunes of change

Prison reform: Meet Naya Savera, a band of former convicts belting out tunes of change
Musicians today, prisoners yesterday, their band is quite fittingly called Naya Savera, and it truly is a new morning for Sunil Maida, Ashish Sharma and Shoib Khan as they leave behind the past and drum up melodic dreams for the future. And just like different sounds blend into a tune, Maida from Rajasthan, Sharma from Uttar Pradesh and Khan from Madhya Pradesh, all in their 20s, together make music, performing at various venues across the country, including the World Music Festival in Udaipur and many prisons.

It all began when they swapped stories at the Udaipur Central Jail where all three were serving time - Maida and Khan for theft, and Sharma for cheating and assault.

Once part of a gang of thieves and goons in Chittorgarh, Khan said he would often think of ways to become a bigger "gangster" behind bars. But after he started learning the guitar, his outlook towards life changed so much that he stayed back in the prison for an extra year even though he was offered bail to improve his music skills.

"This life and that life are starkly different from each other. Now I feel my music is the only best thing for me and that I can do really great things in this direction. The way people look at me now has changed, I feel respected," the 21-year-old guitarist told PTI.

Khan's life could have steered in an entirely opposite direction if it weren't for music, he said. The youngest in the trio, 21-year-old Khan learned to play the guitar and improved upon his vocals inside the prison.

Recounting the turmoil of his life so far, Khan said he was arrested for petty crimes and tortured by the police. "This led me to think... why not do something big if I am going to get beaten up anyway. This emotion only got stronger with time...."

In 2021, it changed when Naya Savera was formed, giving him and his two partners new meaning in life. Today, the troika proudly belts out popular Hindi songs as professional artistes in their evocatively named band, giving shape to their new beginnings away from a world of crime.

Maida, too, wanted to something "big" in the crime scene under the tutelage of more hardened and wizened criminals in the prison. He would spend hours with fellow inmates planning their big operation after getting out.

And then one day, when he was sitting inside his cell, his reverie was broken by the sweet sound of music. A curious Maida discovered to his surprise a group of fellow inmates learning different types of musical instruments at Swaraj University inside the jail, an initiative by Udaipur-based NGO Shikshantar.

"The sound of music would relax me and I thought to myself I should go where they are playing this music. I spent two days just listening to the music and looking at everyone. Then I decided I wanted to learn tabla," Maida told PTI.

Over the next nine months, Maida, who belongs to Pratapgarh in Rajasthan, learned the tabla under a fellow inmate before graduating to other percussion instruments such as clapbox and cajon. It turned out to be an association that was going to change his life.

After finishing his sentence in 2021, his musical journey continued in the company of former fellow inmates Sharma and Khan.

"It is because of this band that we got a new life. People who looked at us disapprovingly now feel that we are doing fine. Now I only want to do something big in music, it is my only goal," the 24-year-old percussionist said.

Maida also works as a chef at a cafe in Udaipur, and specialises in pizzas and pastas.

The third member of the trio, Sharma, is an MBA by education. He landed in jail for the first time in 2017 on charges of cheating under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code. After being released in 2018, he was again arrested on charges of armed assault.

His second stint in jail was a turning point in his life.

He diverted his attention to reading and memorising Bhagavad Gita by heart, and went on to explore videography, photography, filmmaking and learning to play the piano.

"As I started understanding Gita, it calmed me. I stopped getting angry, otherwise earlier I would reach for my revolver at the drop of a hat. Then I made Gita an inspiration behind my music, I also turned it into rap to be more relatable to the youth," the 28-year-old said.

Since coming out of prison in 2022, Sharma has expanded his horizon by becoming a professional documentary filmmaker and a musician. He also teaches photography to girl students in Udaipur.

The trio was in the national capital recently to perform at the Rural Renaissance Concert organised by Village Square, a storytelling initiative by NGO Transform Rural India (TRI).

The musicians, all acquitted now, teach children and other inmates of Udaipur jail for the NGO Shikshantar. They are based in Udaipur but make sure to keep in touch with their families

"Naya Savera, with its thought-provoking concept, offered a unique perspective on the lives of prisoners in rural areas. Through this concert we wanted to provide a platform to these talented artists to truly showcase the transformative power of art, and how creativity and expression can transcend boundaries and reshape lives," said Sanjana Kaushik, manager at Village Square.

The story of Naya Savera goes beyond that of redemption and transformation of a group of young men, the philosophy extends to spreading the message to more such disillusioned youth in prisoners across the country.

"Our message to them is simple that your life hasn't ended because you are in jail, there is so much more to it if you try. Today we are not ashamed to say that we went to jail. Anyone can go to jail, anyone can commit a mistake. But we have served our sentence for the mistakes we made then why would anyone punish us again," said Sharma.

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