Tihar Prisons

Kiran is known to be and the highest-ranking and the only woman to have headed a pre-dominantly male prison of the dimension of Tihar (over 9700 prisoners then). The Prison Administration took path-breaking steps during her tenure as the Inspector General of Prisons.
She converted the high-security prison into a “Reformatory”, a transformation of a magnitude unparalleled in the history of Prison Administration anywhere in the world. Her courageous and holistic approach towards prison governance became a major factor in her earning the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service in the year 1994. The process of transformation of Tihar is documented in Kiran’s book “It’s Always Possible” which is accompanied by a CD ROM. Evidence shows that Kiran had introduced a “Godly approach to jail inmates” with the introduction of yoga, meditation, and discourses by various sections of religious groups to inculcate spirituality and human values amongst the undertrials and convicts, men and women.
The prison became an open school. The illiterate inmates were made literate and the literate were encouraged for higher studies. Indira Gandhi National Open University and National Open School set up their centers inside the prison. Alongside various vocational training courses were introduced for the adolescents, men, and women prisoners, both under trial and convicts for their rehabilitation in collaboration with the government and non-governmental agencies. Inmates having vocational knowledge were allowed for the first time to work for the local entrepreneurs, resulting in the inmates utilizing their prison time to keep in practice with their trade and be of help in the prison. The inmates earned wages through innovative activities and were in a position to contribute to their families outside while they were inside the prison. She made de-addiction facilities for addicted prisoners very comprehensive. A bank was opened inside the prison which facilitated the prisoners in banking their wages. Of the many other facilities ever introduced in any prison, the following are worth mentioning:-
Mobile Canteens, Mobile Library, Art & Culture Groups, Computerised Enquiry, Sports Programmes, Prison Bulletins, Patient Prisoners care, Seminars by Prisoners, Festival Celebration (All religions & All National Days).
It is obvious that in a prison as large as Tihar there was always a scope for legitimate complaints with regard to errant supervision, corrupt practices, diet quality, the partisan attitude of subordinate staff towards less-powerful prisoners, medical facilities, complaints against police, matters pertaining to the courts, special family or personal needs and suggestions emerging out of participative management.
In order to enable the prisoners voice their concerns and complaints, a revolutionary system of a “Mobile Petition Box” was introduced. Prisoners wrote their views and put it in the box which was opened by a Petition Officer, directly under Kiran. Kiran monitored these letters closely and in necessary situations, passed on directions to her staff. Each complaint was acknowledged by a “Pink Card” by the I.G. herself irrespective of whether the complaint warranted any action or not.
This helped both the prisoners as well as the Prison Administration iron out deficiencies and develop mutual respect for each other’s views and inculcate faith in each other’s actions, resulting in the eradication of corruption, drug & liquor peddling, and other evils from the Prison.
It also gave an alternative system of feedback to the prison headquarters. “Panchayat System” — a unique system of internal self management and prisoners participation was introduced in the prison.
Few inmates were nominated by the prisoners themselves and were made responsible to coordinate and manage activities like education, mess cooking and distribution, internal discipline, library management, mobile canteen, sports activities, vocational training, prison bulletins, Yoga therapy and essential & Medical services,horticulture, Administrative assistance, festival celebration etc.
Special attention was given to the women prisoners, nearly 300 in number, with approximately 40 children. Entrepreneurs were invited from the outside community who provided the women prisoners with job work.
A ‘Children’s Crèche’ was set up within the premises of the Women Prison for the overall development of the children living with their mothers. Innumerable Community support groups were got involved in supporting the reformatory activities in the prison hitherto never done. This provided much-needed transparency and accountability to the prison administration. It swung public support for an institution, which was considered hitherto impenetrable and secret.
However, the best gift Tihar got was Vipassana, an ancient form of meditation. In fact, a Vipassana course was organized in Tihar in which over 1000 inmates sat together for the first time anywhere in the world. Inspired by the experience, Tarsem Kumar, former superintendent of the prison, scientifically researched, analyzed, and documented the transformation in his book “Freedom Behind Bars”.
Vipassana worked wonders for the destructive and deviated mindsets of the prisoners and they confessed that they have become better humans. Vipassana Meditation has been successfully tried and is practiced in various prisons of India and abroad namely the UK, USA, Taiwan, and under consideration in various other places. It’s been researched and the results are extremely encouraging.
Two films, one Indian, “Doing time, Doing Vipassana” and an American “Changing from Inside” to be conducted in a correctional facility was held in November 1997 at the minimum security North Rehabilitation Facility (NRF) of the King County Jail in Seattle, Washington is shown all around the world. Kiran’s prison work has moved on and progressed not only in Tihar but impacted all over the country and even prisons abroad.

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