Five years in Tihar, Norwegian learns Art of Living

13 Dec 2002

New Delhi, December 12: A PRESIDENTIAL directive freed Norwegian Leo Sande Gasnier from Tihar Jail. Gasnier has changed in the five years he served of his 10-year-sentence— From an arrogant man who spat at people in Tihar to becoming a “sadhu”.

The 22-year-old was handed over to the Royal Norwegian Embassy yesterday afternoon. “He had a superiority complex when he came to Tihar in 1997. He spat at everyone—inmates and officials alike,’’ a senior official recalled.

But the Vipasana and Art of Living courses, which Tihar organises for inmates, changed Leo. ‘‘We had to force him to attend the first three or four classes. But then, he started changing. We noticed this first during his trial,’’ the official said.

The judge reportedly asked Leo whether police had found one-and-a-half kg of heroin from his possession. ‘‘Leo turned around and told the judge that the police had actually recovered 2 kg but he didn’t know what they had done with the rest of the heroin,’’ another official said.

Leo confessed to the charges and the judge sentenced him to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment and fines of Rs 1 lakh each on two counts.

‘‘He literally became a sadhu and renounced everything. He made meditation and vipasana popular in the jail and recommended it to everyone. He would meditate every day and participated in every Art of Living course,’’ an official recalled. He was one of the few inmates who didn’t have visitors as his family in Norway had rejected him. A Norwegian TV channel aired a documentary on Leo. After watching the documentary, his mother wanted to meet him but didn’t have enough money to visit India. The channel collected Rs 20 lakh, allowing her to see Leo once a month.

The then Norwegian Prime Minister Lens Stotltenberg, during a visit to India last year, requested the government to pardon Leo. A mercy petition was filed and the President granted him remittance from the Rs 2-lakh fine and waived off the remaining five years of his sentence. An Norwegian embassy official took him from Tihar yesterday afternoon.

Leo is the first foreigner, serving a sentence under the NDPS Act, to be commuted by the President.