Inside Tihar Jail: How prison where gang-rape suspect died turned from a notorious jail to a model institution


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The Independent Online

The sprawling Tihar Jail in the west of Delhi, home to around 13,000 inmates, was once notorious across the region.

Known for its corruption and brutality, it was a place from which prisoners such as the serial killer Charles Sobhraj were able to bribe their way to freedom. But in the last 20 years the jail, which houses some of India’s highest-risk prisoners, has been the focus of a remarkable project to turn it into a rehabilitative model for other institutions.

These days, long-term prisoners and those awaiting trial can take part in yoga, painting, music studies, computer science as well as literacy and drug rehabilitation. There is a shop selling everything from bread to incense sticks made by the inmates.

“Nobody is born a criminal. However, many a times, a person commits crime due to certain circumstances,” says a large sign in the shop. “Instead of stressing retribution and deterrence, contemporary penology favours reformation and rehabilitation.”

The effort to transform the jail was started in the early 1990s by Kiran Bedi, who was India’s highest-ranking female police officer and also served as the jail’s inspector general before she retired. Ms Bedi said it was vital that an inquiry into the death of Ram Singh was completed.

Yet she said both jail officials and the lawyers for Mr Singh were in apparent agreement that he had not displayed any outwards sign that something was troubling him. “If the lawyers said he was fine then they are in tandem with the jail,” she said.

The investigation into Mr Singh’s hanging will have to determine not just whether he took his own life but whether or not anyone helped him. The three other prisoners who were sharing his cell are being questioned.