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Reforms, in the name of Krishna

Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai | December 23, 2003 05:24 IST

They were unclean, unshaven, appeared tired and ill-fed. All of them have a common friend that is a 20-feet high wall, which surrounds and cuts them off from the rest of the world.

No wonder than that over 500 inmates of Arthur Road Jail turned up on Monday morning for an hour-long meditation course organised by International Society for Krishna Consciousness with the help of Anagha Charitable Trust. The jail in south Mumbai was reverberating to the chants of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna.

"It gives me a great feeling," said Hariram Jaiswal who is accused of murdering his friend and is an undertrial (a court is seized of his case). "I never participated in such programmes so far. But after spending three months in jail, I feel this (the meditation course) is the best thing that has happened to me ever," he said.

Shailendra Tripathi, another murder accused, said, "So far, I did not know the meaning of Bhagwad Gita. But now I know the importance of the Gita in my life and more important, my religion, of which I had no clue till date."

The organisers had set up a stage and loudspeakers that spewed slogans praising Lord Krishna while some ISKCON members explained the meaning of the Gita to the inmates.

ISKCON organises such functions for jail inmates across India in 23 states every year in the month of December.

"We have found that these kind of programmes help prisoners realise their mistakes. The quality of their life improves if they continue to follow the teachings of the Gita," says Amit Vyas, a trustee of Anagha Charitable Trust, which had arranged for distribution of copies of the book free of cost to the inmates.

R N Parde, Deputy Superintendent of Arthur Road jail, says, "We want more and more inmates to know about religion and God. It will help them to lead a more decent life after they are released from jail."

The impact of the event on the inmates could be gauged from their reaction when one of the organiser took to the stage and announced the distribution of copies of the Bhagwad Gita in various languages.

There was a clamour and inmates could be heard saying: "Please pass on a Marathi Bhagwad Gita."

"For me a Gujarati," shouted another.

Bhim Das, president of the Hare Krishna Temple in Juhu, explained, "The common man feels more attached to the Gita when he reads it in his mother tongue."

Asked if there was any lasting impact on the lives of the prison inmates, Vyas says, "There are many examples of jail inmates reforming after participating in our programmes. Two years ago, we held a programme in Nashik Jail. One of the inmates was so moved by the teachings in the Gita that he dedicated two years of his life, after his release, to our trust and went on to become a life member."

Concludes Parde, "We are just trying to build a better future for the inmates. A drug addict won't give up his addiction overnight. But he may change his viewpoint or his habits if he attends such programmes. We encourage such events hoping the inmates will continue to follow the good path after their release from here."

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