Book excerpt

The famous political journalist of India, Kuldip nayar recorded his personal observation while he was in Tihar Jail in his book “In Jail”.

According to the author, there was nothing which money could not buy within the recesses of the prison campus. Giving a factual narrative, Shri Nayar wrote:

The special service of money order

‘One could get as much money as one wanted from outside-again at a price. There was a money order and mail service that perhaps was more dependable than what the postal department could offer. For instance, when a prisoner in my ward wanted two hundred rupees, he sent a note through a warder to his people in old Delhi and in less than twenty-four hours he had the money. He paid sixty-six rupees as collecting charges-thirty-three per cent was the prescribed “money order charge.”

Extra special facilities for rich people in Tihar

Dharma Teja, the shipping magnate who served his sentence in Tihar, for instance, has thousands of rupees delivered to him, we were told. And if one could pay the jail functionaries one could have all the comforts one sought. Teja had all the comforts-he had an air cooler in his cell a radio-cum-record player set and even the facility of using the phone.

Haridas Mundhra, a businessman who was convicted of fraud, was another rich man who spent some time in Tihar. Not only did he have all the facilities, but he could also go out of the jail whenever he liked; at times he would be out for several days and travel even upto Calcutta. All this of course, cost a lot of money.

An even richer prisoner was Ram Kishan Dalmia, he spent most of his jail term in hospital. He was known for his generosity to jail authorities, and one doctor received a car as a gift.

The enjoyment of wine and whiskey

But more than businessmen it was the smugglers jailed in Tihar who were lavish spenders. Their food came from Moti Mahal and their whisky from Connaught Place. They had not only wine but also women “Babuji, not tarts but real society girls,” one warder said. The women would be brought in when “the Sahiblog” went home for lunch, and their empty offices became “recreation rooms.”

Systemised Corruption in Tihar

Corruption in jail was so well organised and so systematic that everything, went like clockwork once the price had been paid. Jail employees at almost all levels were involved, and everyone’s share was fixed. There was never a dispute; there has to be the proverbial honour among thieves.

Milk Supply to Higher officials

The higher officials also have their finger in the pie, almost everyone had his cut was most evident in our milk supply. It came in bulk to the main gate (phatak) there, enough milk for the top officials was taken out of the cans, which were then topped up with water. And as the cans moved to the wards, all those who handled hem appropriated their share, again topping up with water.

Child Slaves in Tihar

Even more shocking than the corruption was the ingenious “slave system” we found in the jail. The slaves were buys between ten and eighteen employed as ‘helpers”, and there were scores of them. They cooked, washed utensils, cleaned rooms, fetched water and did much back breaking labour to “help” the men who were paid to do these chores.

They would be woken up before 6 a.m. to prepare the morning tea and would be allowed to sleep around 10 p.m. after scrubbing the pots and pans-they were herded into a ward which had no fan and no proper sanitary facilities, but was always well lit, with many bulbs on all night, to enable a sleepy warder to check at a glance that they were all there.

These boys were undertrial prisoners, many had been there for eight months and at least one had been there for two years. They were taken from one court to another to be tried under one charge or another and kept in jail all the while. The aim was to keep them in as long as possible, for without them the people employed to do the menial duties would have no time to relax.

Arrest just to be a slave

One morning I was woken up by the sobbing of a boy, and found some other “helpers” trying to console him while a warder stood by quite unmoved. I went up to him; his curly hair reminded me of Raju, my younger son. The boy had been picked up the previous evening from Defence Colony in New Delhi, kept in a police lock-up for the night and brought to jail in the morning.’

The warder explained that whenever the number of prisoners in jail went up, the police were asked to bring in boys to help with the chores. For the past several days, the warder said, jail authorities had been pestering the police to get more helpers as the number of detenus had gone up.

The evening before, when the boy was buying paan (betel leaf) from a Defence Colony shop, the police had hauled him up as a vagabond; they were responding to the jail authorities’ appeal to book more helpers. “This is nothing new, it has always been like this,” the warder explained.

Several undertrial boys later related to me their tales of woe, how they were arrested on trumped up charges and how they were being held in detention on one pretext or another.”