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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Tihar Haat, run by jail inmates, raring to go online

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Tihar Haat — a store run by the inmates of Central Tihar Jail since 1961, famous for its cupcakes, stationery and handicraft products — could soon be available online.

The move is aimed at expanding the footprint of TJ, the brand name of Tihar Haat products, while also providing employment to more jail inmates, say officers. Nearly 1,000-1,250 inmates are employed in the factories in the prison.

Director-General (Prisons) Sanjay Baniwal told The Hindu that the 16 jails in Tihar have 34 working units, which train and employ inmates. These units are involved in various categories of products, such as handloom, baked goods, carpentery, jute bags, herbal colour, spices, blanket, stitching, candle making, undergarments, etc.

Mr. Beniwal explained that the Haat’s products, which were earlier limited to baked goods and food items, have now diversified to include rugs, cotton shirts, coats, woven sweaters and clothes among others. “We’re reinventing ourselves to suit the modern market.”

He added that the inmates are efficient at creating good quality products to use both commercially, such as file covers, and personally, like bedsheets and hygiene items. “We are now planning to approach online retailers to scale up our business,” Mr. Beniwal said.

He also said that the teams supervising production at the Haat are working to ensure that even after scaling up their business, the products don’t feel mass-manufactured. What works for them, Mr. Baniwal added, is that Tihar Haat customers have an emotional bond with the store.

“Many of our buyers understand that by purchasing TJ products, they are supporting people who are searching for a better life… We are trying to break stereotypes through this initiative,” Mr. Baniwal said.

‘Good cause’

Sarita Awasthi, a 47-year-old housewife residing in west Delhi’s Janakpuri, has been buying products from Tihar Haat for the past three years. On a chilly Friday afternoon, Ms. Awasthi came here looking for fresh bread and cumin powder.

“I usually come here to buy kitchen products. Buying from here makes me feel like I’m contributing towards a good cause,” she said.

Ashok Kukreja, 38, who had come here looking for cupcakes and henna, said, “I tell my children how these products are made and who makes them.” He has bought rugs and shifts from the Haat. “Sometimes it’s not just about shopping; it’s about the greater good,” he said.

A student from ITI, who did not wish to be named, recommended handicrafts and stationery. “I know some products are a bit expensive. But buying from here is a different experience… It’s hard to explain,” he said.

First-time customers

Deputy Superintendent Praveen Kumar, who manages Tihar Haat, said the store gets a lot of first-time customers who are curious to know how the jails function. “It’s difficult for them to imagine that people, allegedly involved in crimes, creating such simple-looking products. Many express their desire to associate with us,” he said.

Mr. Kumar gave the example of a retired army veteran who has been buying from Haat for the past 10 years. “He was curious to know how these products are made. After we explained the whole process to him, he has been a regular customer with us,” Mr Kumar said.

He said the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court place bulk orders with them for handmade files and folders. “We would also get orders for bedsheets and mats from hospitals in Delhi. However, after the pandemic, many of these hospitals stopped placing orders,” he said. The Haat also gets orders from several NGOs for mementoes and bakery products.

Mr. Kumar also explained that talks are on to open more stores in the city. “We’re also approaching the Government E-Marketplace, (GeM) a website that provides organisations to sell their products directly, to enhance our market share,” he said.

At GeM, the online marketplace created by the Central government, entities can register and list their products, and interested people can directly reach out to buy them.

Mr. Kumar said GeM will help building the Haat’s brands as consumers and retailers will be able to directly approach the store.

The Haat is also prepping up to launch a new range of cotton shirts and different types of cakes, Mr. Baniwal added.



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