Compassion for prisoners makes a difference – two stories from India

I recently came across two instances of a compassionate bureaucracy.  If that sounds like an oxymoron, let me tell you I was surprised too.  Express News Services’ Riyan Ramanath reports that in the east Indian state of Orissa, yoga masters have been invited to teach the inmates of a jail in Balangir various meditation and spiritual practices to help them handle their post-incarceration trauma.  Half the prisoners in the jail are lifers and there are inmates from all communities and classes.  All of them, irrespective of their religion or social standing, have been very sincere in their attempt to seek the help of spiritualism to reform themselves.  Raja, a Hindu, a key accused in a murder case, and Hyder, a Muslim, a mastermind in a case of kidnapping, are two of the most interested participants in this reforms-through-yoga programme says the jail superintendent, B K Paikaray.

In a south Indian state, Karnataka, two women, Shakuntala and Shashikala, who had been lodged for life in a prison in Belgaum, but released in 2006 on account of their good behaviour, have been employed in an Anganwadi, reports Sarjoo Katkar of the ENS. Anganwadis are government-sponsored child care centres in India.  As none of the family members of the two women came for them on their release, the then deputy commissioner of the district, Shalini Rajaneesh, decided to intervene and help them join the mainstream society.  Three years on, the Woman and Child Welfare department in the state is so impressed with the former inmates’ commitment to good work that they have decided to repeat the Belgaum experiment in other anganwadis in the state!  Shakuntala, who has completed her school education, and is employed as a teacher in the anganwadi, says that she is very happy to be in a respectable government job.  Shashikala, who never thought she would walk out of the jail alive, says she considers her new life as an attendant at an anganwadi a re-birth.  Both women say they owe a special debt of gratitude to Shalini Rajaneesh.

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