on Feb. 21, 2009
Inmates of Rajasthan's Bharatpur Jail chant kirtan.
Members of ISKCON’s prison outreach team in Vrindavana, India, were in for a surprise when they paid their regular visit to Bharatpur Jail in Rajasthan this February 13 – they arrived to find a group of fifty inmates holding their own Srimad Bhagavatam class.
The group organizes two classes daily, and many of its members chant sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna maha mantra a day, with some chanting thirty-two.
Their classes are usually held in the jail factory, where they work and learn various skills so that they can support themselves without resorting to crime after serving their terms.
“As soon as they saw our party arrive, they prostrated themselves on the ground, offering their respects to the Vaishnavas,” recalls Dina Bandhu Dasa of the ISKCON Vrindavana prison team. “They joined us in jubilant singing of Krishna’s names for more than half an hour, and then listened attentively as our head of prison outreach Jankinath Dasa gave class on the Srimad-Bhagavatam verse they were studying that day.”
After the class, it was the jail’s warden himself, Mr. Ashok Gaur, who distributed subsidized Bhagavad-gitas to the inmates for a nominal fee. Many took three, four or more books, explaining that their visiting relatives had developed an interest in what they were doing and had requested literature. Inspired by the prisoners’ enthusiasm, Mr. Gaur also handed out chanting beads to many of them.
“Most wardens are very happy to facilitate us,” Dina Bandhu says. “Many have told us that since we started our programs in their jail, inmates are behaving themselves more and there are much less fights and problems. At Bharatpur even Gopal, a convicted murderer, personally inspired fifteen inmates to chant sixteen rounds a day!”
The efforts of ISKCON Vrindavana’s prison outreach look set to increase steadily in the coming months, with Joint Managing Director Shri Pradeep Dhoot and vice president Shri Naveen Mandhana of the consumer electronics company Videocon recently donating funds and an official vehicle to the program.