Once A Jail Now An Ashram

‘Violence ends where love begins’ -Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji

The village of Senari in Bihar, is infamous for frequent massacres by the Naxalites (Ranveer Sena, Communist Party of India (ML), People’s War Group, and Mala, are some of the Naxal outfits that are active in Senari), leaving the villagers in a state of terror. Mrs. Indu Sinha, a faculty of The Art of Living, mustered the strength to venture into this area, to sow the seeds of nonviolence.

In August 2000, Mrs. Indu Sinha came across a news report in one of Bihar’s local newspapers, about a massacre that had taken place in the village of Senari; nearly 67 people were beheaded by a Naxal group. It was an everyday feature in the villages of Bihar to hear such shocking news, and most people had accepted this as a normal way of life. From childhood, people had been hearing and reading of violence and killings being carried out. Mrs. Sinha was deeply moved when she read about the massacre in the village, and decided that she had to do something about it.

In a meeting with His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in Delhi, she expressed her feelings regarding the depleting human values in these villages of Bihar. Sri Sri encouraged her to start a school in the village of Senari. She set off for the village, with a mission to change the conditions there. Access to the notorious village was not easy. She reached the village after three hours of battling through watersheds. As expected, the massacre had drawn a lot of media attention, and other social organizations had attempted to send in their representatives to improve the situation, but no one was successful. The first and foremost task before Mrs. Sinha, was to convince the parents in the village to send their children to attend school. On the flipside, this was the last thing in the world that those parents wanted to do. Mrs. Sinha started taking personal responsibility foreach child, and the school gradually materialized in the violent village of Senari. There were not many men to be seen in the village. This made her task even more difficult. Quite a few of the men folk in the village had been killed by the terrorist groups, and the ones that had escaped were tucked away in prison cells. Convincing the women left at home, was rather difficult. However, they gradually realized the genuineness and love behind The Art of Living, and its school project, and began supporting the cause. 

Once the school was successfully started, Mrs. Sinha returned to Patna with the idea of starting a ‘Prison Smart Course.’ Something definitely had to be done for the inmates. In fact, she thought that the jails would be the only place where she would get the opportunity to meet the members of different Naxal groups. She felt that she could bring about a transformation while they were still under the watchful eye of the law. It would be a new beginning for them and their families. This inspired her to organize a ‘Prison Smart’ course for the inmates of Beur Jail.

The District Magistrate had certain reservations about allowing a woman into the jail premises with hardened criminals. Despite the obvious problems, Mrs. Sinha started the ‘Prison Smart’ program with the jail inmates, under tight security. The ‘Prison Smart Course’ was one of its kind; a progressive, practical and result-oriented program, providing compassionate, innovative and effective solutions for breaking the cycles of violence, and tackling the escalating global crime rates. This course also gave the prisoners the opportunity to rehabilitate, and integrate themselves into the society at large. The benefits are primarily possible due to the ‘Sudarshan Kriya,’ a breathing technique devised by Sri Sri. Sudarshan Kriya completely roots out stress, which is the main cause of crime.

The prisoners in Beur Jail were hard-core criminals, who were imprisoned for more than two hundred crimes. Mrs. Sinha told the jail authorities that such tight security was not really necessary. In fact, she told the prisoners that they were her security personnel. The basic nature of all human beings is not of violence, but of love. What really changes a person is the environment, and what all is going through in their lives. Sri Sri says that ‘There is a victim hidden behind every culprit. With love, compassion, understanding and patience, there is no way that the change will not happen.’ With extreme sensitivity and gentleness Mrs. Sinha explained to the inmates that hatred and violence is futile, and a transformation was possible, even inside the jail. The most important thing that matters is to change the present situation, and in the place of violence usher in the feeling of love and peace. Love one another and forget whatever happened in the past.

In the end, the inmates were full of gratitude. The jail superintendent Mr. Surendra Kumar Gupta, observed the overall change in the behaviour and in the attitude of the inmates. He was surprised to see a visible change in four of the most dreaded prisoners. Reformist cop Ms.Kiran Bedi, had once said, “The inmates behind bars go through stress because of being away from their families, and the worry of their family’s well being always haunts them. Even the police, dealing with the offenders undergo severe stress. The Art of Living course has special relevance for these two sections.” The same men, who had evoked terror in the hearts of people, and were a source of constant worry for the jail security staff, became harmless and obedient. Their menacing looks were replaced with benign expressions.

Rama Chandra Singh, a fifty-five year old man had been in the prison for four years. He was considered to be a very dangerous man with a penchant for engineering discord. He has now vowed not to indulge in any criminal activity, ever. He said, “Pehle kuch bhi karta thaa galat hi karta thaa” (Earlier, whatever I did was always wrong). Hari Badan Singh, another dreaded criminal, is now able to keep his anger under control, and enjoys complete peace of mind. He suddenly developed feelings of love and affection for everyone. Largely, a participation in the course brought about a sense of well-being, and lot of the participants got cured of their physical ailments too. 

The course conducted by Mrs. Sinha came to an end on the 13th of January 2001, but the prisoners would not let her leave that very day, she accepted their request and stayed for one more day. She left on the auspicious day of ‘Sankaranti’. The prisoners saw their ‘didi’ (elder sister) off with tears of gratitude and love.

Since then, similar programs have been conducted in all the Central and District Jails of Bihar and the results have been revolutionary. In Patna, Aara, Gaya and Muzzafarpur over 4,000 prisoners have experienced the ‘Prison Smart Program’ with more than 2,500 inmates in Beur Jail alone. It wouldn’t be wrong to say, “Once a jail, now an Ashram”

Media Coverage:

Times of India, June 15, 2009

*Times of India, October 10, 2001

India Today, March 3, 2009

Video:

The Art of Living Course for Prison Inmates

 

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Writer: Eben Felix