NEW DELHI — India's Tihar Jail is a land of bakeries and carpentry shops, where inmates compete in music contests, take classes and perform intensive Buddhist meditation as part of their rehabilitation.
Tihar Jail is crammed with people awaiting trial who sleep on concrete floors, face daily threats from other prisoners and are shaken down for bribes from their poorly paid jailers, according to human rights lawyers and former inmates.
The two sides of India's most famous jail emerged this week when a man accused in the notorious rape of a woman aboard a New Delhi bus was found dead in his cell. Jail authorities said Ram Singh, 33, hanged himself, but his family questioned how he could have done that with three cellmates sleeping beside him. A magistrate is investigating.
The genius of Tihar officials is that they are able "to violate human rights, and have a brilliant camouflage," said Colin Gonsalves, a Supreme Court lawyer and the director of the Human Rights Law Network.
In the 1990s, Kiran Bedi, a reformist police official, took charge and tried to turn it around. She introduced yoga, brought in literacy and vocational classes and reined in some of the jail's worst excesses, a process she documented in her book, "It's Always Possible." A movie, "Doing Time, Doing Vipassana," praised the jail's intensive 10-day silent meditation program.
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