Stomach this: Tihar inmates caught swallowing mini phones to beat ban
Several Tihar Jail officers that HT spoke to said the trend of prisoners smuggling mini phones into the complex was on the rise. At least 19 other similar cases have been reported in the last month alone.Updated: Aug 26, 2019 07:17 IST
Since August 20,Tihar Jail inmate Surender Rajaram is at the Deen Dayal Upadhyay hospital because a miniature mobile charger and a micro SIM card are stuck in the 27-year-old’s stomach. The two objects remain lodged even as prison authorities managed to recover a mini cellphone, measuring not longer than 4cm, from inside his body.
Rajaram, arrested last year for robbery and theft, smuggled the Chinese-made phone inside the central prison by swallowing it, the charger, and the SIM card. He was caught after a prison officer received a tip-off. The phone was eventually retrieved through his anal cavity, but the charger and SIM card remain in his body.
As doctors at the west Delhi hospital try to remove the objects, officers inside the country’s largest prison said they are figuring out ways to stop this new menace.
The officers added that prisoners swallow these tiny phones to violate one of their key prison terms — the rationing of phone calls to five minutes per day from the prison’s landline phone bank. There are phone booths across the jail from where prisoners can make calls. Each prisoner gets only 5 minutes for the call, after which the call gets disconnected automatically. The phone number of the relatives are verified by the jail superintendent.
Several Tihar Jail officers that HT spoke to said the trend of prisoners smuggling mini phones into the complex was on the rise. At least 19 other similar cases have been reported in the last month alone.
In the 400-acre jail campus, which houses over 16,000 prisoners, a prohibited item such as the cellphone is in great demand not just for personal use but also for use by others for a charge. There have been many cases in which one cellphone is shared by many prisoners to make calls.
Here, size matters — the smaller the better.
Most phones confiscated over the past few weeks were not more than 5cm in length. While some common-use phones, such as Redmi Note 7 Pro, Apple iPhone XS, and OnePlus 7, measure about 15 cm, these mini phones are not commonly available in all markets. However, prisoners have told jail authorities that, these phones manufactured by small Chinese firms, are available online for less than ₹800 (about $11) if one knows where to look.
On August 12, a prisoner in the Mandoli campus of Tihar Jail had to be rushed to the hospital after he complained of stomach ache. At the hospital, doctors were shocked when the man told them that he had a cellphone in his stomach. Doctors conducted an X-ray examination and found his claim was true.
“In the past, many prisoners would insert different parts of a cellphone in their body cavities and smuggle the phone inside. Sometimes, many prisoners would smuggle different parts of a cellphone from their contacts during court visits outside and get the phone inside by hiding it in their body cavities. But now, with these Chinese phones flooding the market, prisoners have started swallowing these mini-sized phones. In the absence of a body scanner, it becomes difficult to detect these phones,” said a senior jail officer who asked not to be named.
Another jail officer said that some of these mini phones are also thrown into the complex from the road outside. “It is easier to throw small phones from the roads outside the prison walls. Jail nets have been placed at corners where we have found cellphones in the past. The bulky phones would be stuck but these mini phones pass through the holes in the net.”
One Chinese cellphone company — one of its phones most commonly recovered inside the prison — advertised the device as the “world’s smallest phone” on an online platform. The manufactures have, in their specifications, said it weighs only 22 grams. In contrast, Redmi Note 7 Pro weighs 186 grams, Apple iPhone XS 177 grams, and OnePlus 7 182 grams.
A Tihar Jail spokesperson confirmed that prisoners been found with mini phones. “The fact that we are recovering phones shows that our officers are actively detecting cases to end this menace. Also, the prison director-general has asked jail superintendents to get in touch with the police and find out about the cellphone calls from the jail complex. We are also working to install the latest 4G jammers at the earliest that will work to jam all types of phone signals.”
The officer also said that in several jails, prisoners have been counselled and advised by superintendents that swallowing a phone with its components could be fatal.
“Sometimes prisoners smuggle tobacco or drugs in their stomach and vomit it out. We strongly advise prisoners not to indulge in such a thing. We keep reading about cases of drug mules who die because of the drugs bursting in their stomachs. Imagine what a cell phone could it,” said a jail official who did not wish to be identified.
Prison expert, Sunil Gupta, who was Tihar jail’s law officer for 35 years until his retirement in 2015, said, “ Prisoners have been orally smuggling prohibited items for decades. I remember a case in 1996 when a prisoner, who had smuggled heroin in his stomach, died after the drug capsule burst inside. In the past also there have been cases of prisoners trying to insert cellphones in their body cavities, but if they are smuggling such mini phones then it is worrying. The prison officers must expedite the process of getting body scanners. About a few years ago, when I was in service, we had sent a request to the government for body scanners.”