By Amarnath Tewary
Shyam Narayan Sharma is a bedraggled man noticeable for his garland of old shoes and for wearing sandals and clothes made out of torn jute bags.
Sharma says he committed 16 murders [Photos: Prashant Ravi]
He confesses to having murdered 16 people over the years.
He wears his filthy attire around his village in the Indian state of Bihar as a way of atoning for his criminal past.
Sharma, better known now as Dayasagar (Ocean of Pity), has been out on bail for the past two years.
On his release, he sold his double-storey home to set up a tin shed private school for the poor called Nai Subah (New Morning) in the Mansoornagar area in Bihar's Nalanda district.
Some 60 children of the neighbourhood come for free education here.
Life in crime
So why the strange clothes and garland?
"I took a vow to repent my criminal past publicly. I will only shed this when the local district magistrate comes to my school and blesses it," says Sharma, 42.
It is all a far cry from just six years ago when Sharma says he was running an illegal gun factory and carrying out contract killings in the area.
Nalanda is infamous for its illegal arms factories. Police say gun making is a cottage industry in up to 60 villages.
Counterfeit pistols, rifles and AK-47s are available for anything from $9 to more than $2000.
"Weapons made in my factory were the most sought after for their near originality and sophistication,", says Sharma matter of factly.
He says he began a life in crime at the age of 15 when he carried out his first contract killing.
"I never murdered anyone out of my personal enmity. The big guns hired me and my friends to eliminate their enemies," says Sharma.
Ask him how many killings he carried out and he says "16 murders in different places".
"I did the crime as a hired killer, so escaped the attention of the police," says Sharma.
In 1986, he kidnapped a 10-year-old child of a gold merchant in a sensational case. The child was released after three weeks "out of sympathy".
Sharma's only mission in life now is to teach poor children
The police never caught him.
He first surrendered before a court in 1989 and was sent to jail for five days. He surrendered again in 1995 and spent six months in jail.
Eventually tiring of his criminal life, Sharma, father of eight children, turned himself in November 2000 and was sent to the local district prison.
It was inside the prison that he read what he described as a "revolutionary" book, written by a relatively unknown writer Kushwaha Kant, and "my approach to life changed".
Sharma also read up all religious texts and says he was influenced by the Bible.
Then he began teaching prisoners. "I made 600 inmates literate and gave myself a new name - Dayasagar."
When Sharma was granted bail in February 2004, he refused to leave the prison unless the authorities promised they would make arrangements for education of the inmates.
The authorities said he had to be forcibly evicted from the jail.
Since then he has worn his garland of shoes and clothes of jute bags as he continues his mission to teach the poor.