-By Shri Tarsem Kumar
This report gives details of the courses held to date at Tihar Jail, and the results of a study made after the first course to ascertain its effects on prisoners and staff. The first course was held from 22 November 1993, to 3 December 1993, and was conducted by Shri Ram Singh of Jaipur. He was assisted by Prof. P.L. Dhar of the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi and Shri B.L. Chaddha of Faridabad. Subsequently four more courses were conducted concurrently in different jails of the Tihar prison complex, from 1 January 1994 to 12 January 1994. Then a course for more than 1,000 students was conducted by Mr. S.N. Goenka and his assistants from April 4-15.
The first course was attended by one hundred and nineteen participants. These included ninety-six convicts imprisoned long-term for such crimes as murder, dacoity (armed robbery), rape, drug trafficking, bride burning and other heinous offenses. Ten prisoners who were under trial for similar offences and twenty-three members of staff also attended. In the second course there were a total of three hundred and thirty-four participants, the majority being under-trials. The third course was attended by 1,004 male inmates, and 49 females in another location.
Prior to the organisation of these courses, eleven members of staff were sent to attend ten-day courses at either Jaipur or Delhi Vipassana Centres in order to become acquainted with the technique and gain experience of how the courses are organized.
My Own Experience
I myself had the privilege of joining one course in Jaipur after the first jail course. I found the course very useful. I feel that Vipassana is a very effective technique which can bring major transformation in behavior patterns of the prisoners, and which will be helpful in our efforts to reform criminals. The technique is scientific and non-sectarian and can be practiced by all, irrespective of caste, color, sex, religion and nationality.
To ascertain the impact of Vipassana Meditation, fifty convicts and under-trials who participated in the November 1993 course were interviewed extensively three weeks after the course. Further interviews were held with other convicts residing in the same cells as the course participants to verify the accuracy of their statements.
The following are the main results:
- Most of the prisoners stated that they had better control of their anger. The remainder said that although the intensity of anger was the same, it occurred less frequently.
- Most of the prisoners felt they had gained some mental peace. They suffer less stress due to petty reasons and also due to reasons outside their control.
- All of the prisoners said they had improved in benevolence and compassion towards others, both co-inmates and staff.
- Many felt they were less self-centered, and could better consider the convenience and viewpoint of others. They wanted to extend help and co-operation to fellow convicts.
- Many prisoners gave up smoking and others drastically reduced their smoking.
- Most prisoners reported improvement in their health. There was some relief in minor problems like headache and stomach ache.
- Many claimed they had become more honest, as speaking the truth gave them satisfaction.
- Many felt they were less bothered by unpleasant past events, and were more concerned with the present. Many felt they could plan for a brighter future.
- All thought that such courses should continue to be organized in the jail. All claimed that they had started improving themselves in their daily activities.
- The majority thought they had improved in self-discipline.
- All had informed their families about the course and its beneficial effects.
- Many said that they would like to attend a course at a Vipassana centre with their families after being released from the jail.
- Many expressed a desire to serve as a Dhamma worker, if given the opportunity.
- Most of the prisoners were continuing with their meditation at the time of interviews, although some only intermittently.
Impact on Members of Staff
- Sense of duty and devotion increased.
- Positive changes in behavior patterns.
- Relations with convicts greatly improved. They felt more compassion and less hatred towards them.
- Many other staff members expressed willingness to attend a course.