Dr. Kiran Bedi

In November 1993, the first Vipassana course was held in India's largest prison. "The environment," in the words of the Inspector General (Prisons), Dr. Kiran Bedi, "was waiting for Vipassana. We urgently needed a method of behavioral change like this. There was not other way we could find."

Mrs. Bedi had already laid the groundwork by introducing a series of multidimensional reforms. They included detoxification programs, improved nutrition and sanitation, literacy and language classes taught by prisoners, yoga, prayer, meditation, legal advocacy by prisoners who are lawyers, treeplanting to create a "green zone" inside the prison, and the active involvement of the outside community. An atmosphere of mutual respect and trust developed when the prisoners saw that they were able to air their grievances without being punished. As described by the Superintendent of Jail No. 2:

"She started a system of direct access by circulating a sealed complaint box once a day, and she made it a point that all complaints were read by her personally on the same day, and action taken immediately...She encouraged the inmates to gather every afternoon and speak their concerns into a public microphone. She told them not to consider her a jail official but, rather their sister, and the superintendents, their brothers. Many took this opportunity to criticize some officers or the administration. No action was taken against them...The result was that, within two months, the entire atmosphere at Tihar had changed."

Nevertheless, Mrs. Bedi felt the need for a method which would solidify the changes which were already being made. She found this in Vipassana.

"I had been looking all along for a behavioral methodology which would make a real change. I would say things to the prisoners, and also to my staff, and they went in one ear and out the other. We would spend so much time talking, yet ultimately it made little difference. After Vipassana was introduced, it went deeply into them. It provided the environment for the other reforms to take deep roots. It made them more at peace with themselves. They became better human beings to work with. The Vipassana courses alone brought lasting changes."

After Mr. Goenka inaugurated the new Tihar Center on April 15, Mrs. Bedi was one of those who addressed the assembly of over 1,100. This excerpt, translated from Hindi, is from Mrs. Bedi's remarks:

"We have all received a new direction in our lives. We have found our way, the Path. The only thing the remains is to walk on it. We have to walk with our own feet...For those who showed us this path, we all thank them with every breath...

"The training center for Vipassana that we have opened here is for ourselves and many others. After some time, you will return to society, but those who come here later will be as disturbed and ignorant as we were before. This center will guide them to a new and proper path. You can also return for a refresher course. May your deeds become so good that you return back to society, sooner rather than later...

"Take care and spread happiness in society. A short time ago we chose our motto: 'Be happy and give happiness.' We never expected that Vipassana would teach us the same thing. Don't look back now. Go forward in society, distribute happiness, and lead a model life."