Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Mohammad Shahabuddin is learning a new language to converse with reticent prison guards who don’t speak Hindi and are watching over the controversial politician inside Tihar Jail in Delhi.
The strongman of Siwan — notorious for allegedly threatening guards and holding lavish “durbars” for his followers behind bars in several jails in Bihar — has been trying to strike conversation with guards from the Tamil Nadu Special Police (TSP) who speak little Hindi.
“When he is able to catch a Tamil word, he notes it down on a paper. Later, he uses the same words with the TSP guards who keep their reaction limited to smiles,” a senior jail official told HT.
Awarded life imprisonment for abduction, Shahabuddin sleeps on a mattress on the floor, eats regular prison food and has made no special demands.
This change of heart, Tihar authorities say, is an attempt by the former parliamentarian — who has 45 criminal cases against him — to stay “low profile”.
“Neither has Shahabuddin sought any preferential treatment so far, nor are we going to give him any. At the same time, we won’t deny him his basic human rights,” said Sudhir Yadav, director general of prisons.
The RJD leader was shifted to a high-security ward of sub-jail number 2 in Tihar two weeks ago and prison authorities deployed the TSP to counter any possibility of the politician browbeating the guards. As none of them speak Hindi and Shahabuddin doesn’t know Tamil, interaction is kept to a minimum.
The TSP has guarded Tihar for three decades, their lack of proficiency in Hindi making them less likely to be threatened or influenced. However, some of them had picked up limited communication skills in Hindi, forcing jail officials to deploy a fresh batch for Shahabuddin.
Shahabuddin has been spending most of his time reading books on philosophy and law. “He seems to be a voracious reader and has taken six books from the prison library. He also spends a considerable part of his morning reading newspapers,” added the jail official, who wanted to remain unnamed.
“Unlike most prisoners who look for every opportunity to visit hospitals outside the jail, he has been content with medical treatment inside jail despite receiving treatment for several medical issues,” another official said.
He is allowed to meet visitors twice a week, same as every other inmate in his category of high-security prisoners. So far, his visitors have been limited to friends and lawyers, having been visited by an immediate family member only once.
Shahabuddin is lodged in the same sub-jail that houses other high-profile prisoners like former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala and gangster Chhota Rajan.
Since Chhota Rajan too is produced in court through videoconferencing, the two are lodged in close proximity to each other, but there has not been any interaction between Shahabuddin and the gangster so far, said sources.
“We are ensuring that the Supreme Court orders in connection to his stay in jail are strictly followed,” said Yadav.