Today Laxman Gole is a changed man.
The 30-year-old once had 19 cases of assault and extortion against him. He now swears by non-violence.
The transformation, much like the character of Sanjay Dutt in the blockbuster movie Lage Raho Munnabhai, is thanks to Mahatma Gandhi.
The son of a mill worker and a Ghatkopar resident, Gole got involved with a local gang early in his life. The first case against him was for assault at the age of 15. Gradually, he moved on to bigger crimes and became an extortionist. The police arrested him in 2005.
As an undertrial at the Thane jail, Gole decided to confess his crimes after he read an abridged version of Gandhi’s autobiography My Experiments with Truth.
“The book made me analyse my life and what I was doing with it,” says Gole. “Gandhi’s life was all about truth and non violence. When I introspected, I didn't find any of these qualities in myself. In today's troubled times, it is better to walk on the Mahatma’s path,” he says.
Of the 19 cases against him, Gole was declared innocent in 18. In the pending case of kidnapping and assault, the judge was so moved by his confessions that he was awarded a reduced sentence of two years under sections 384 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code. The judge allowed the two sentences to run concurrently.
Gole has already spent 14 months behind bars at Nashik Central Jail. He will complete serving his sentence in May. Until then, he is propagating the Mahatma's word from his barrack, which he shares with 13 others.
With help from the Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal, Gole conducts orientation programmes for convicts. The mandal sends books on the Mahatma and holds classes for the prisoners on Gandhian philosophy.
Gole has also written to a victim's friend seeking forgiveness before he starts life anew. When he is out, Gole, who can read and write English and Urdu, plans to start a computer-training institute for the needy in his village near Nanded.
“One thing I have learnt after reading the Mahatma’s book is that hate and violence beget nothing. I want to live the rest of my life on this principle,” says Gole.