Friday, April 22, 2016

India: My Learning in Tihar Jail by Kobad Ghandy

Democracy and Class Struggle says Kobad Ghandy writings on prison and the lumpen elements reminds us of Kevin Rashid Johnson - both are thinkers for our movement and write under the appalling pressures of prison life one in India one in the USA.

The walls of Tihar shut out not only the warmth of the sun, but also of society. The high walls of the high risk wards block out the sun and also most facilities, OPD and entertainment in jail.

The inhumanity of the atmosphere within the jail is even colder. Extreme levels of manipulativeness and selfishness would make even our politicians look like gems.

Truth is a rarity, falsehood the norm, naturalness a casualty, pretence is natural.

Tihar reflects, one could say, the microcosm of today’s society outside, only the dregs of it. Of course, in the dirtiest muck, one finds some diamonds, but that is rare. To live by principles is near impossible, to live opportunistically the main principle. Simplicity is considered naïve, nay foolish. The cunning and the ruthless are the models.

Seven years in such an environment acts to dehumanise anyone. It tends to numb one’s sensibilities. Yet, besides this ordeal of extreme confinement, that too in a jail within a jail, Tihar has been a great school of learning. Why crime continues to rise in Delhi, why Delhi is the rape capital of the world and why the criminal justice system appears so unjust.

One could say Tihar has four categories of inmates — the petty thieves who would comprise the bulk of the inmates; those in jail as a result of personal/ family conflicts; the professional big-time criminals/ gangs; and, finally, the white-collar inmates, the cheaters. Rapists come from all four categories.

The last two have the highest status in jail, with all saluting them. The petty criminals have only one goal — to join the league of the big-time. The more the murders, the greater your status; the greater the loot, the bigger the status.

The petty criminals are a product of the excessive poverty/ unemployment in the vast jhuggis and impoverished colonies of Delhi. With no labour laws in place, I have met many who earlier worked 10-12 hours in back-breaking labour and earned barely Rs 3,000-5,000 per month.

What is more, the youth are affected by the five-star culture promoted day and night and so aspire to a slice of the cake.

In the second category, personal feuds are partly the result of the oppressive activities of powerful elements ignored by the local police due to a nexus with these elements. This forces the victim to take the law into their own hands or act in spontaneous anger.

Prompt police action would eliminate over 50 per cent of such cases where the accused is probably far less guilty than his/ her oppressor.

The rise in big-time criminals in Delhi, more particularly in the outer Delhi/ Haryana belt, is linked in many ways to the real-estate bubble. In my first few years in jail, there were few of such elements, but from 2011-12, there has been a spurt.

The line between “property dealers” and criminals is thin and the bulk of the money is black (said to be 90 per cent of any deal). Most of these gangs, for whom a few crores is child’s play, have a nexus with politicians and the local police.

So they get protection. Kishan Phelwan (INLD) and his late MLA brother were one example. Rival gangs have formed to take revenge for their supposed earlier misdemeanours. The rise of the Jhajjar group to counter the reported terror of a powerful sarpanch of a Rohtak village (said to be linked to the Congress) is another example.

 Now there are numerous such gangs from Delhi and outer Delhi (Haryana and UP) flourishing on the vast illegal wealth in the NCR.

Finally, the cheaters are also linked to the vast black money in Delhi, where those in positions of authority (big or small) use their position to dupe others. Only a small percentage of these are in jail; those with the right connections are rarely touched.

One of the crime syndicates from outer Delhi/ Haryana informed me that when farmers get crores for their land, the money goes in the purchase of SUVs, revolvers, and investment in cable TV, gambling and money-lending.

All this goes on in black money, the nation be damned (no tax). We see them attired in the latest Adidas, Reebok, etc, and they speak of nothing less than five-star hotels, malls and saloons.

So, we find a market (upmarket) for goods being generated not from labour and employment (manufacturing) but through wealth creation by the financialisation of the economy.

According to a government report (December 2013), the black economy in India is as much as 75 per cent of our GDP. This massive amount is robbing our country of its wealth and criminalising the economy.

It is no wonder that in 2014-15, the amount of property stolen in Delhi was a gigantic Rs 44,055 crore — that is, Rs 3,000 crore more than the Delhi budget. Of this, a mere Rs 2,783 crore worth of property was recovered.

The number of thefts has increased over twofold in just one year to one lakh in 2014.

The incompetence or unwillingness of the police to recover the loot is a major cause of encouragement for these crime syndicates.

With their money intact, they use it to either weaken their cases or come out on bail. No amount of extra policing will reduce the crime rate as long as the criminalisation of the economy continues apace.

And as for rape, in the three years since the Jyoti Singh incident, the number of rape cases in Delhi has increased three-fold and molestation seven-fold. New laws, CCTVs, more policing are going to make little difference as long as the mindset of people (including authorities) continues to be the same.

As long as the feudal approach, coupled with the Westernised commodification of women, exists, there can only be an increase.

This is apparent from the type of talk one hears regarding women in jail. Reform is unlikely as long as the mindset exists and is promoted by the media. There is no repentance for all the talk regarding the juvenile in the media.

And as far as the criminal judicial system goes, it functions purely on the whims of the police/ public prosecutor (PP) who can weaken cases (Salman Khan syndrome) or delay cases with false accusations and delaying tactics.

Many crime syndicates (perhaps Chhota Rajan too?) belong to the first category, mine belongs to the second.

The PP/ police have dragged my case on for six-and-a-half years in Delhi, clamped fake charges all over the country (many places I have not even heard of), and made sure that these cases do not proceed simultaneously by preventing my attending cases in other states.

At over 68, with numerous health problems, this is nothing but the police utilising the system for judicial murder. With my heartbeat often falling below 40, who would be responsible if anything serious happened to me?


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