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 The Power of Name

Dr. Gautam Chatterjee


Article published in monthly magazine "U can Change the World" Vol. 1 No. 7 May 2003

 Gods and Goddesses are believed to be the embodiment of some specific quality or power. By chanting their names and eulogising their qualities it is believed that devotees are blessed through the medium of phonetic pulses created by the magic of mantra. One wonders whether the sacred name can really efface sins and mend human behaviour. The author undertook a year-long field research. It was a case of self-reformation of convicts of Indore Central Jail.

Satsang in progress at Indore Central Jail

Following a small news item in a vernacular daily of Madhya Pradesh, I went to Indore to explore a 'mystic' reformation which was taking place in Indore Central Jail. For a change I found convicts walking around with rosary beads made of wool! They were uttering 'Ram naam' They greeted me with folded hands. They were smiling and their eyes were sparkling. I watched them walk down to their 'barracks'.

Everybody rises early to do the morning chores and then they listen to 'amritvani', a melodious kirtan (devotional song) played through a sound system fitted in the prison barracks. The convicts meditate and practice yoga and then they go to the workshops to do their allotted work. Every evening they do their japa (rosary) before bedtime.  During the day there were no noisy brawls or abuse. Every one was getting silently reformed. There was no personality like Kiran Bedi to make this unusual happening an international news item. Yet, convicts were engrossed in deep sadhana.

Before we address this wonderful reformation system we need to understand the minds of these convicts.

Convicts with Dr. Vishwamitter Ji

Sociologically speaking, vengeance, insult, infliction of pain and lure etc., often lead one to commit a crime. Sometimes even innocent people are convicted. In jail they face the gloom of darkness and societal seclusion. One convict, Ramesh (name changed), landed in jail along with his two brothers and father facing the charge of murder. First Ramesh attempted suicide and then went into depression and became an introvert until 1997, when he started he started his japa and became a different man. Likewise, many convicts fight out a deadly battle within themselves. During several interactions with convicts it was found that, faced with the prospect of nothing but pain and pathos, most of them nurture suicidal tendencies. In most jails this is the overall picture where reformation is only a bureaucratic fancy. But Indore Central Jail tells a different tale where the reformation spirit is working with no reformation thrust on them.

Jails are fertile ground for spiritualism once they are used for the purpose. It so happened that Dr. Vishwamitter Ji, Head of Shree Ram Sharnam was conducting a sadhana satsang at Jhabua, a tribal belt inhabited by the Bhil tribe, in Madhya Pradesh. There he learnt that the son of one of his disciples had landed up in jail though he claimed to be innocent. He went to meet him at Indore Central Jail.

News spread like forest fire that a guru was coming to meet a disciple in prison where even near and dear relatives seldom come because of the stigma. A guru coming to visit an inmate facing trial under IPC 302 raised many eyebrows. The other convicts expressed a desire to listen to a discourse by the guru. Dr. Vishwamitter Ji agreed. He started his discourse by saying that in this world there is nobody who has not committed any crime in his lifetime. "For your one fault you are imprisoned. But you are not the only convict! In fact all those holding the highest office are in perpetual imprisonment and all are caged in the concept of birth and death."

After the discourse many queued up to get initiated. This was year 1997. Since then the atmosphere of Indore Central Jail has undergone a sea change. "Convicts who used to fight among themselves and abuse each other over trifling matters turned to meditation and japa," said Mr. Khanna, Superintendent of the jail.

One should take a look at the list of prisoners released on parole. It may be kept in mind that recommendations for parole is subject to the personal improvement of the convict and only when this is ensured does a jailer moves the file for parole action. The following figures will speak for themselves:
Year Persons released on parole Convicts released
1994 10 -
1995 43 3
1996 72 5
1997 120 3
1998 303 51
1999 257 51
2000 (Jan. - March) 97 not available

There were two convicts, Sarnam Singh and Shivraj Singh. Both were convicted for committing seven and a half murders! They were referred to as "sare saat murdari" because they had killed seven people and the eighth victim had luckily escaped death. In 1990 it so happened that Sarnam SIngh's daughter got married against his wishes. Both the brothers, out of sheer anger, killed seven people. Since then they have been in Indore Central Jail. Several Wardens confided that Sarnam Singh was very ferocious and frequently picked fights. Once he even caused self injury to initiate a fight with fellow inmate. However, in 1997, he was moved by the Ram naam discourse and was initiated. His behaviour pattern changed. Nevertheless, both the brothers languished in jail when, finally, on July 30, 1999, they were sentenced to death. The brothers spent most of their time in japa as they awaited the gallows. Sarnam Singh used to say that even God could not deprive him of heaven as he had uttered the name of the paramatman 18 to 19 hours daily. On 27th January, 2000 Sarnam Singh wrote a letter to Dr. Vishwamitter Ji saying that on January 2, 2000 the death sentence had been changed to life imprisonment.

Very shortly they will be out of jail and Sarnam Singh declares that he has discovered an oil which helps hair growth. He has successfully experimented with it in jail. He plans to make this discovery his future occupation after his release from jail. He also plans to run yoga classes for the benefit of society. Such is the positive transformation of a convict who was waiting for the gallows.

I further interacted with a few life convicts. I found that due to the influence of spiritualism their creative urges had come to the fore. Some were writing lyrics and some giving tune to them. They sing as well in melodious tune. An inmate, Suresh (name changed) from Maharashtra one day picked a fight with another person. Out of sheer rage he killed the person and so landed in jail. In jail he continued his dadagiri picking quarrels with other inmates. However, Ram naam japa made him a different man. He has composed music and made a cassette. He also took to painting, selecting subjects on social awareness. He even bagged a prize for one of his paintings on AIDS awareness.

While interacting with the convicts I found that many of them aspired to play a positive role in society once they were out of jail.

According to V. Raghavan, it is recorded in Kalisantaranopanishad that, at the end of Dvapara Yuga or era, Narada asked Brahma how he could cross the Kali Yuga. Brahma prophesied: "You can shake off Kali by reciting the name of Lord Narayana, the prime being."  Moreover, Vishnu Puran proclaims that "Meditation in Krita (Satya) Yuga, sacrifices in Treta Yuga, worship in Dvapara Yuga and chanting of name in Kali Yuga remains the mode of attaining salvation."

Jhabua Bhils with Dr. Vishwamitter Ji


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