Sunetra Choudhury is a well-known journalist and a news anchor. Her latest book Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous is interesting and informative. The book highlights how different kind of people influences jail administration and make their life little comfortable in the prisons. Those who cannot influence the authorities have to suffer worse. The life in jail can become little smooth if your status is high in the outside world. The book gives an insight into the lives of the prisoners. Human rights of the prisoners are violated at every stage.
She narrates in detail how the following accused spent their time in the prisons. Few of them were acquitted. But, they had to spend few years in the prison. The issue is who are responsible for their sufferings? Is it the system or few individuals.
Politician-businessman Amar Singh.
Sushil Sharma, the sensational Tandoor murderer.
Anca Neascu wife of Abhishek Verma.
Rehmana, wife of a terrorist.
Ex-telecom minister A Raja
Television entrepreneur Peter Mukerjea
Wahid Sheikh of Mumbai
Somnath Bharti of Aam Aadmi Party
Maoist ideologue Kobad Ghandy
Early last year author received a phone call from Anca, a Romanian wife of arms dealer Abhishek Verma. She was in jail for various CBI cases along with her husband. She came out of jail and got in touch with the author. As a journalist Sunetra used to cover CBI but she had never met either of them before. She was in contact with their lawyers. One fine afternoon author met Anca in Hyatt. After the meeting and seeing her photograph wearing Louis Vuitton inside jail, author decided to write a book. She started looking for couple of other influential people, who were jailed for some or other reasons, who did not mind in telling what really happens inside our jails.
Anca frankly said,” If you steal 1,000 rupees, the hawaldar will beat the shit out of you and lock you up in a dungeon with no bulb or ventilation. If you steal 55,000 crores then you get to stay in a 40-foot cell which has four split units, internet, fax, mobile phones and a staff of ten to clean your shoes and cook your food.” She has also shown the contrast. The poor, who cannot influence, officials suffers. It is like different sets of rules for different kind of people.
Saharasri Subrata Roy met author but told her not to include him in her book. He said,” There is not even an FIR against me.” Supreme Court of India (SCI) had sent him to jail in 2014 for not paying back his depositors Rs. 20,000 crores. But, SCI also gave him benefits which had never been seen by anybody in prison before. Subrata Roy is the first person in the history of Tihar jail to have comforts of air-conditioning. Indira Gandhi was jailed during Janta Party regime there but even such comfort was not available to her.
The chapter The Four Days that Changed Amar Singh narrates how relations gets changed after somebody is jailed. As Amar Singh puts it, the Ambanis, the Bachchans, the ‘it crowd’, all ‘vaporized’. In such an atmosphere, when everybody started keeping distance from Amar Singh, film actor and MP Jaya Prada stood behind him solidly. It has made his bond stronger with Jaya Prada.
Rehmana is not much known woman. She gave a matrimonial advertisement in a leading daily in October 2000. She got lot of responses but unfortunately got married to Arif, a Pakistani national now on a death row for being a LeT operative convicted in the attacks on Red Fort on December 22 2000. Arif had told Rehmana and her family members that he was from Jammu. There are several unanswered questions about Arif’s role in the attacks on Red Fort. Rehmana and her family suffered a lot in the process. Rehmana’s brother was tortured. The guideline does not allow police to arrest women after sunset till sunrise. Rehmana and her aunt were picked up against the guidelines and when they were picked up there was no constable. She is acquitted.
The case of Wahid Sheikh of Mumbai is shocking. He was picked up for serial train blasts on July 11 2006. He was acquitted after a decade in prison. Wahid gave real names of his tormentors. Couple of them is well known in Mumbai. They are retired now. Court finally acquitted him in 2015. Judge in the order said,” Prosecution has not been able to prove any independent circumstance to show that A8 (Wahid) harboured any of the wanted accused in his house, that he took part in the conspiratorial meetings and that he had any role to play in the subsequent activities leading to the bomb blasts.” The life of Wahid and his family members shattered.
“No man is born a criminal,” said Sushil Sharma to Sunetra Choudhury. Sunil killed his wife Naina Sahni in 1995 and since then he is in jail. He never denied this fact.
Maoist ideologue Kobad Ghandy is in the prison since 2009. He knew Afzal Guru in his last three years. He told author inside the Cherlapally jail in Hyderabad in August 2016 that Afzal was not anti-national. Afzal and Kobad became thick friends from the moment Kobad walked into Tihar jail till February 9 2012 when Afzal was hanged.
Peter Mukherjea in his last note says,” Suffice to say – I wasn’t there, I didn’t know, I wasn’t involved in any way, I didn’t hate Sheena nor was I against their relationship and I did not lie to my son when I told him that Sheena had left him.” A Raja, Pappu Yadav, Manu Sharma and other influential prisoners did have comfort in jails.
In short, class division is a sad reality even in prisons
Title: Behind Bars
Author: Sunetra Choudhury
Publisher: Roli Books
Price: Rs. 395