Enlightening Tihar's prisoners - spiritually and skillfully
Fifty-seven-year-old Gabriel, a Nigerian, never thought that making powdered colours for the Holi festival in Delhi's Tihar Jail would lead him on the path of spirituality and soothe his conscience, blotted after spending 37 years of his life in criminal activities.
Gabriel, a drug peddler who also forged passports, is an undertrial and has been lodged in jail No. 3 of South Asia's largest prison located in west Delhi for the last five years.
"I wasted 37 years of my life in petty crimes. the last five years I have repented for my mistakes and I am a new man now," Gabriel told IANS.
So drastic has been the life-changing experience for Gabriel that he now counsels young prisoners on how to reform their lives once they are free.
"He is helping the youngsters here in mending their ways and focussing on the right things. He is definitely helping us," Tihar spokesperson Sunil Gupta told IANS.
Gabriel is among 88 prisoners - 50 male and 38 female - who are undergoing reformation sessions with the help of meditation as well as imbibing soft skills that will help them get employed once they complete their sentences.
Apart from learning to make colours, an initiative introduced in December 2012 by NGO Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan (DJJS), the inmates are also taught how to make incense sticks and herbal beauty products, among others, which are then made available in various malls and markets.
"We greatly emphasize on helping them (inmates) spiritually and teach them yoga and meditation as it prepares them for the normal world outside. They learn to be at peace with themselves," DJJS spokesperson Swami Vishalanand told IANS.
Tihar Jail Director General Vimla Mehra told IANS: "While making colours or beauty products, the prisoners learn a new skill which will help in their rehabilitation after they have completed their terms."
"The spiritual wisdom teaches them to tread on the right path of life," she added.
Like Gabriel, two murder convicts - Rama (38) and Hari Prakash (40) - have also felt a change in their lives.
A mother of three, Rama (name change on request) was jailed for life in 2011 for killing her husband.
"I had an illicit affair with a man and murdered my husband when he tried to separate us," Rama told IANS.
"I would always justify my action by blaming my husband, but now I have come to terms with reality and accept my mistake," she added with a lump in her throat and tears in her eyes.
She dreams of completing her 14-year imprisonment and going back to her two sons and a daughter who are at present living with her sister in north Delhi's Bawana area.
"I am confident that I will be able to sustain my family with the skills that I have learnt here," she said proudly, seated inside jail No. 6.
Taking spiritual enlightenment to another level is 40-year-old Hari Prakash, who said that he no longer feels that he is in a jail and considers Tihar to be an ashram.
"The spiritual classes here have changed me. When I leave this place I won't think that I was in jail, but in an ashram," Prakash, who has been lodged in the jail since 2002 for murdering his neighbour over a property dispute, told IANS.
"I will earn from whatever I've learnt here," he added.Gabriel, who arrived in Delhi in 1976, said he had read the Bible several times earlier, but it is only now that he has truly understood its meaning.
He had come in search of employment and resided in the Nizamuddin area of south Delhi. He entered the world of crime at the age of 23, allured by easy money, but now wants others like him to find the right path.
"I have learned from my mistakes. I was earning good money, but I was always living in fear of being nabbed. I considered money was everything. Now things have changed. I have finally found peace," Gabriel said.
The spiritual and yoga classes are among the many reformatory activities conducted at Tihar. These include a bakery, a furniture making unit and a tailoring unit, apart from art classes.