The place: Tihar Jail.
The date: 3 May, 1995.
n the jail’s sprawling mud compound, bare except for a few tall trees,
the 600 inmates from the 12 wards, each in his striped jail uniform,
waited patiently for the new Inspector General (I.G.) to appear and
address them. They all expected to see a tall, burly, rough-tongued
officer, baton under his arm, in full uniform, medals all in place.
Instead, they saw on the podium a small, slim woman, her hair cut boyishly
short, wearing a full-sleeved pathan suit topped by a waist-length Nehru
jacket, and flat walking shoes. She wasn’t even wearing the I.G. uniform.
They stared blankly, murmuring their surprise to each other. They noticed
the wardens all around them, waving their sticks threateningly, no doubt
to show concern for the I.G.’s security. But, surprise of surprises, the
petite woman signalled to the wardens to stop doing this. Her voice,
though soft, was commanding.
More surprises awaited these ragged, thick-skinned, rude-mannered
prisoners, hardened by the rough treatment meted out to them. For even as
they waited for her to speak, she broke the silence by asking them a
strange question in Hindi: "Do you pray?"
Pray? They looked at one
another, utterly confused, not knowing how to reply, when in the same
soft voice, the woman repeated: "I’m asking you, do you pray? Please
The prisoners, through force of habit, looked towards the wardens
as if to ask them whether they were permitted to speak. Sensing their
bewilderment, the woman moved closer to them and directed the same
question to the prisoner nearest to her. He answered, looking down:
“Yes, sometimes,?and nodded his head. The woman then directed the
same question to another prisoner who, hesitantly, glancing in fear at
the wardens, said: “Yes, I also do. I recite the Path (the holy
prayers). Most of us pray at our own timings.?br>
Then the woman asked them: “Wouldn’t it be better if we all pray
together? Would you like it??One of them raised his hand, saying yes.
And the others too nodded their heads, wanting to be part of the
The prayer she chose for them was from a popular film: ?i>Aye Malik,
tere bande hum, aise hon hamare karam, neki par chalen…” (“Oh,
Lord! We are your creation, may our actions be worthy...?
They sang with gusto. The wardens seemed not to understand what was
happening. They didn’t know how to react, unsure whether they too
should join in. It was the first time such a thing had happened in
Tihar Jail. And then they knew, and so did the prisoners, that this
was an unusual I.G., and a most unusual woman ?Kiran Bedi.
Let the lady speak for herself, as she does most movingly and
informatively in her provocatively titled book, It’s Always Possible:
“The posting at Tihar Jail was an opportunity for me to focus on the
kind of work closest to my heart ?reaching out to people in dire
need, understanding their needs, addressing them; providing the
environment which initiates introspection, when they choose to look
within, without being told to do so.?br>
She believes in performing ?and her performance almost resulted in a
miracle. A cesspool of drug abuse, gang wars, corruption and extortion
by both guards and inmates was transformed, slow step by slow step,
into a place where, today, thousands of inmates gather in clean,
tree-sheltered courtyards for prayer and meditation. For the first
time in 35 years, visiting groups are allowed into Tihar Jail to
provide counselling, meditation classes, vocational training, and so
on, to make the prisoners?lives worthier.
Among the means Kiran Bedi employed to make this transformation
possible was a “Petition Box? Its daily distribution enabled inmates
to air, under condition of anonymity, grievances, to name wardens
extorting bribes and others who inflicted beatings upon them.
What about the women prisoners? Kiran Bedi didn’t forget them. The
Women’s Ward was a total contrast to that of the men. The women
promptly gathered around her, wanting to interact with her and hear
what she had to say. It was obvious they were putting up a cheerful
appearance for her sake, for she sensed each one of them needed a hand
on her shoulder, to help her cry out her grief and achieve relief. She
asked them: “Do you read and write here??br>
“Would you like to??br>
So Kiran Bedi promised them that they would begin lessons right away
and, before they left, they would be literate.
A wooden system was gradually transformed into a responsive and
sensitive administration. Small wonder, Tihar Jail came to be known as
Courtesy: It’s Always Possible, by Kiran Bedi,
published by Sterling
Publishers Pvt. Ltd. An uplifting book, worth reading and remembering.
A lady and her baby get on a bus. The bus driver looks
at the lady and then at her baby, and exclaims, “Ah! That’s the ugliest
child I’ve ever seen in my life!?/i>
lady, totally disgusted, marches up to the back of the bus to sit down.
As she sits there absolutely furious, a man asks,
“Are you okay, dear??/i>
The lady replies, “I’m so angry, that bus driver
just insulted me.?/i>
The man says, “You go back up there and give that
bus driver a piece of your mind, and I’ll watch your monkey.?/i>