Tihar – The Jail That Rehabilitates through Vipassana
You must have heard about Tihar Jail, there’s no doubt about that! With nine overcrowded prisons housing over 13,000 prisoners, including those awaiting trials, the Tihar Jail in Delhi is one of the biggest prison architectures in the world. But that is not the only reason why it is known worldwide. The renowned Jail is known for its unique and at times bizarre welfare activities, including Yoga and meditational practices, which are conducted as an integral part of its prison reforms. Now, how often do we come across a prison that seeks to rehabilitate its prisoners, besides “teaching them a lesson”, which (unfortunately) is the world’s perception of justice.
Apparently, punishment alone is not a cure for crime. Yes, despite having crossed the sanctioned limit of prisoners to be held – by almost 200% – the Tihar Jail seeks to inspire its prisoners by organizing meditation camps, to teach them how to attain control over their minds, seek out from within a new sense of identity, and thus restructure their life in a successful manner. The prisoners have the privilege of attending Raja Yoga and Vipassana camps, to not only cope with their emotional unrest triggered by the jail life, but also to find oneself and their true nature locked in some kind of a treasure chest deep within despite all the inner turmoil – and above all to prepare for a hopeful future that lay ahead.
The Tihar Jail seeks to inspire its prisoners by organizing meditation camps, to teach them how to attain control over their minds, seek out from within a new sense of identity, and thus restructure their life in a successful manner.
It all started in November 1993, when Vipassana teacher, Ram Singh, and two of his assistants organized a ten-day meditational course camp within the Tihar prison walls, in which a total of 96 convicted prisoners and a little over 20 jail staffs participated. Following the end of the course, many prisoners had voiced their delight in terms of having found a means to self-realization, amid the chaotic jail setting. Within just a couple of months, owing to a favorable response from the inmates, four more courses were conducted to accommodate up to 300 participants from three jails within the Tihar Jail complex. Within a short while, many inmates had started overcoming their feelings of revenge and such.
It all started in November 1993, when Vipassana teacher, Ram Singh, and two of his assistants organized a ten-day meditational course camp within the Tihar prison walls, in which a total of 96 convicted prisoners and a little over 20 jail staffs participated.Soon, a large camp was organized to accommodate approximately 1000 Tihar Jail prisoners, including a total of 28 foreign country convicts. Many of these inmates were awaiting trials and had been charged with crimes ranging from robbery to rape, murder, and even terrorist activities. Of course, this couldn’t have been possible without the then Inspector General Kiran Bedi, who had helped put together a large team of about 100 Vipassana teachers, who helped make this possible. By the end of the course, the first ever permanent Vipassana center in a prison complex had been set up in the Tihar Jail complex. A new ray of hope began to fill the dark cells of Tihar Jail, which the inmates seemed eager to embrace.
Since then, 10-day Vipassana courses are conducted once every month, accommodating several participants from all four jails within the Tihar Jail complex. 10-day Vipassana courses are conducted once every month, accommodating several participants from all four jails within the Tihar Jail complex.Today, Vipassana courses are also being conducted in many other prisons in India. Post-camp observations reveal that approximately 36% of the inmates continue to practice regularly in the jail, while 11% of the total participants find it hard to practice their meditational routines, owing to the chaotic jail environment.
On another heartening observation, only three percent of the total participants at the Tihar Jail camps tend to not practice the technique at all. Convict practitioners have always appreciated these Vipassana courses and reveal that it has helped them attain mental stability and has taught them to keep away from feelings of anger, greed, envy and fear in their jail life.
It appears, a new era of justice is spawning to fill in the gaps in our judicial system. After all, a country that boasts a rich cultural history has so much more to offer to its residents in today’s people-flooded, half-westernized environment. And finally, prisoners can hope to be free from their past trauma, as they would only proceed to lead the life of a free man, with their vengeance overcome by compassion and all their hateful emotions replaced by peace, love, and purpose.
Imagine how many prisoners would walk out of prisons a better person, if such humane measures are established worldwide!
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