A suicide in a high-security jail is guaranteed to set off speculation. But when the person purported to have committed suicide in Tihar Jail is one of the six accused in the December 16 Delhi gangrape case, all sorts of conspiracy theories are bound to follow.
The death of Ram Singh on Monday, some say it was murder, seems at first glance to be one caused by negligence on the part of the authorities. Going by Singh’s behaviour in the past two months and the past experience of jail inmates, there were plenty of indications that such an incident could happen.
In January, all the five accused were put under “suicide watch” after they stopped interacting with other inmates and even among themselves. The sixth accused in the case is a juvenile and is lodged separately. Despite such warnings, jail authorities failed to take requisite measures.
According to a news channel, there were no CCTV cameras outside Singh’s cell even though Tihar is one of the better-equipped jails in India. This raises questions since the Delhi Police had written to the prisons department to keep these undertrials under watch. How Singh’s death will affect the case will only be clear at a later stage, but his death will shift the focus from the gang rape itself and delay the proceedings.
The 55-year-old Tihar jail, which includes nine separate facilities, is one the largest in Asia and the country’s foremost high-security prison. It houses more than 12,000 inmates although it has an official capacity of about 6,000. It is equipped with CCTV cameras, mobile phone jamming devices, scanners and metal detectors. In the last few years, it has also had well-publicised rehabilitation programmes for prisoners.
Yet, it seems while outwardly the facility changed from being a ‘prison’ to a ‘reform home’, inside Tihar still remains a world with its own set of ‘community’ rules. It is said that those arrested for sexual offences are looked down upon by other prisoners and are often subjected to attacks by other inmates. Singh’s alleged suicide in the jail is the third such incident in the last 15 months.
On Monday, Ram Singh’s family and his lawyer claimed that Singh could not have killed himself because he was in a positive frame of mind when they last met him. Human rights organisations have said that the “number of custodial deaths in India is disproportionately high, and it raises questions about the kind of security the jail authorities are providing”.
There will be many more uncomfortable questions and the best way forward now would be to conduct a proper investigation, come out with a report and recommendations of how to prevent such incidents in future.