Review: In Jails, Illegality Is the Norm

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By Mahtab Alam

barsSunetra Choudhury’s Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous highlights how different jail experiences can be depending on who you are and what you can pay.

When I met Santosh Yadav, a journalist from Bastar, for an early morning breakfast in Delhi a few weeks ago, he looked happy. There was a sense of relief and freedom in his eyes. Yadav had been recently released on bail after 17 months of imprisonment. He was arrested by the Chhattisgarh police in September 2015 from his village Darbha in Bastar. At the time of his arrest, Yadav used to report for two Hindi local dailies, the Navbharat and Chhattisgarh. He was accused of being a Maoist supporter and charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and other laws pertaining to crimes ranging from rioting, criminal conspiracy, murder, criminal intimidation and with being a part of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), among the other alleged offences. He was granted bail by the Supreme Court on February 26 this year, after his earlier bail petitions were rejected by the lower courts.

As soon as he started narrating his jail experiences, he assumed a different persona altogether. There was a sense of intense gloom and despair in his eyes. “What I saw and went through in jail was beyond my imagination,” he said, adding that “I used to think aisa angrezon ke samay hi hota hoga (things like this could have only happened during colonial rule).” Yadav said he was severely tortured and even kept in solitary confinement during his incarceration, apart from routine beatings by the other inmates on the instructions of the jail officials. Listening to Yadav was like re-reading journalist Iftikhar Gilani’s jail memoir, My Days in Prison. Gilani had been jailed in June 2002 on the charges of possessing ‘classified documents’ and booked under the draconian Official Secrets Act. The only evidence presented was a report he had downloaded from the internet. Eventually, he was discharged. In his memoir, Gilani writes, “I was beaten up many times while inside the prison. For 41 days, I worked as a labourer…” Read more

Source: The Wire

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