In many of Delhi jails, inmates are finding rehabilitation through meditation. On International Yoga Day, almost 15,000 prisoners are practising yoga.
Swami Ashutosh is on a stage in Tihar Jail. He has been running a prison reform programme in 10 jails since 2015.
“What the mind fears the most is its own darkness. Yoga is a slow release from that fear. Confinement is reconciliation. Prisoners have accepted that they have done wrong, and that is the key to the door of reform. Our belief is in our slogan: yog yukt bharat, apraadh mukt bhaarat (a nation that has adopted yoga has chosen to free itself from the clutches of crime)” he says.
The seeds for this were sown in 2015, when CBI director Alok Kumar Verma was the Director General of Tihar Jail. Ashutosh was encouraged by jail authorities to organise a two-month long yoga rupantaran or ‘social transformation’ training programme for the inmates.
A massive programme was organised on 21 June — International Yoga Day — at the Tihar Jail. More than 10,450 inmates participated in the event.
Subsequently, Yoga Teachers’ Training Course (YTTC) was offered to prisoners serving life sentences. This course allows them to become professional trainers and spread the spirit of yoga. At that time, regular yoga programmes were started in seven jails. Today, yoga training takes place in 10 jails, including the high-security jail in Mandoli.
Mishra and Shukla (names changed to protect their identity) are former inmates of Tihar jail. Mishra says yoga helped him cope during his time in jail, aligning his mind and body. Shukla talks about the suffocation and depression faced by inmates and how yoga helps keep an even keel.
“It was nearly impossible for me to accept that I am a criminal. I wanted to cry and run away from myself. Yoga has given me a new life,” Shukla says.
Janak Puri, one of the deputy superintendents at Tihar Jail, says, “Yoga is more popular than meditation courses like Art of Living, which requires a trainer be brought from outside. Once the inmates develop an interest in yoga, they teach others and want to practice everyday.”
Will meditation prove the cure for recidivism? Time will tell.