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No security, medicine or protection: The horrors of living in Tihar jail

“No treatment is given at the right time until and unless one suffers to the extreme conditions close to death. Am I an animal? Even animals in the zoo have better treatment and doctors unlike this substandard treatment. Truth about this place is never known to the outside world, but I am tired, if these people want to kill me then this murder should be known to the public” wrote a former Tihar inmate in a letter to authorities.

While the outside world is shocked by two deaths in Tihar jail within a span of four days, the incidents may not have come as a surprise for the inmates of one of Asia’s largest prison complexes.

Tihar is replete with mysterious deaths, almost all of which are passed off as suicides. Many inmates could foresee their deaths in the prison, and alerted both offices inside and outside the prison about their deteriorating health. But such alerts have become so 'normal' that they are routinely ignored.

 No security, medicine or protection: The horrors of living in Tihar jail

AP

Ram Singh, prime accused in Delhi gangrape case was found hanging inside his cell early Monday morning. Singh’s post mortem report suggested he might have killed himself. On Thursday afternoon, a woman inmate allegedly committed suicide in jail number six.

There has been at least one suicide a year in Tihar between 2001 and 2011 except in 2004 and 2010 which witnessed four suicides.

The death of ‘Biscuit King’ Rajan Pillai in 1995, was the first such incident which put Tihar authorities in the dock. Sixteen years later, Delhi High Court attributed his death to medical negligence on the part of the prison management.

"The non-availability of specialist doctors on call coupled with the inability to promptly refer Rajan Pillai for treatment to a hospital nearby, the failure to have a properly equipped ambulance, the failure of the doctors to correctly diagnose the problem and treat it, were the factors that cumulatively caused the death of Rajan Pillai," the court observed in May 2011.

By then, two more incidents had raised questions on Tihar jail’s monitoring systems. Sanjay Babu, accused of murdering seven members of a family, hanged himself in 2006. The following year, drug peddler Naquibullah Ali alias ‘Cocaine Ali’, was found dead under mysterious circumstances.

Last year, the death of VK Santosh Kumar, a physically challenged inmate once again exposed the indifference of prison officials. Kumar used to consume food and water through a feeding tube. He lost 30 kilograms during his two years stay in Tihar until his death on February 25, 2012. Kumar’s two letters to the Additional Sessions Judge before his death, reveal, “ a crystal clear picture of the relevant point of time that he was in need of better food, better medical treatment, and better treatment in jail,” said the Court which found lack of medical care responsible for Kumar’s death. When last measured, Kumar’s weight was 28 kgs.

Apart from absence of medical care, the prison culture is also responsible for such deaths, says Moushumi Basu of People’s Union for Democratic Rights, a civil society group which did a study of living conditions inside Tihar. “It’s a hierarchical structure. Authorities get work done by prisoners. To resolves disputes, the dadas in the prison are called and not the jail officials. There is no protection at all for those living in custody.”

Reports of fellow inmates attacking Ram Singh in his initial days in the prison and then sodomising him match the pattern of other anecdotal evidence offered by inmates. Their personal histories point to violence, sexual abuse and corruption facilitated by an inmate-officials nexus, which can drive anybody to suicide. More than ten such testimonies form the basis of a PIL being heard by the Delhi High Court, alleging torture and corruption in Tihar jail.

Describing the collusion between one convict and the jail superintendent to violate jail policies, one of the inmates wrote, “This axis of evil had extorted money from the convicts, allowed free-flow of drugs, tobacco and misappropriated funds from the Prisoners Welfare Fund. The Superintendent even ensures that money is collected for inmates changing cells for personal gains.”

For raising his voice against such practices, he says, “I was severely beaten up by the officers and transferred to the high risk ward of the jail with inmates who are confined here for heinous crimes or inmates who scar faces of others with blades and other sharp objects. This is the price one pays to fight against corruption in Tihar Jail.”

About an inmate who supplied drugs in the prison, a fellow inmate said, “He is a scapegoat who gets paid a sum of money for this offence along with a daily delivery of drugs contraband which will be delivered to him every morning, afternoon and night making his stay at the ward comfortable.”

Tihar authorities will have to explain Ram Singh’s death and the so-called modernisation of Tihar, one of the key aims of which was to make it a secure prison.

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Updated Date: Mar 15, 2013 11:01:55 IST