My Days in Tihar Jail

Mrs Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, represented the Rai Bareli seat in the Lok Sabha. On 12th June 1975 she was unseated on charges of election fraud and misuse of state machinery in a landmark judgement by Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court.  Fakhr-ud-Din Ali Ahmad, the then President of India, declared internal emergency on the 25th of June,  on the recommendation of a pliable cabinet presided over by Mrs G. The people of India lost all civil liberties for a period of 21 months.

Trade unions were emasculated, political opponents were arrested, newspapers censored, the only place where a semblance of freedom survived, for a short while, were the universities, most were in turmoil and were being singled out for special attention. Students unions were being banned and activists were being picked up and thrown in jail.

JNU, a new university set up in the first years of the 70’s as a post graduate centre for interdisciplinary research had emerged as politically the most involved and active university and those of us who were students then were part of this agitation and protest.  And so the news that the campus is going to be raided any day between the 6th and the 8th of July 1975 was received as a matter of fact. Our sources were reliable, they were police informers who had enrolled themselves as students in the university, some we had identified some we had not, a few had become friends and a few sympathised with our politics and it was through them that the likely schedule was communicated to us.

We made our own preventive arrangements. Those most likely to be picked up were moved out of the campus, others whose presence on the campus was necessary were put on a relay, taken to a different room every night and locked in till day break. Only a handful of us knew who was sleeping where. Before going off to sleep it was my duty, as the secretary of the Students Federation of India, to ensure that all our leading activists were ensconced in their assigned niches for the night.

It was well past midnight of the night of 7th– 8th of July and as I climbed into bed on the second floor of Kaveri Hostel I said to myself, if our informants are right then this has to be the night. I was a little worried because Ramesh, who had to lock me in, had not made an appearance.  I was not in my room; I was to spend this night in Roger’s room, who was away for the summer breaks and Ramesh Kaul had to come from Delhi University to lock me in before going off to spend the night at IIT. He was to return in the morning to let me out, so that I could let others out one by one and all this had to be done before day break so that no one found out about the hiding mechanism that we had evolved. Ramesh did not come, it was very hot and humid and eventually I dozed off.

I jumped out of bed with a start, someone was banging on the door and it was well past daybreak. I opened the door to look into the eyes of a tall CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) type. He grabbed me by the arm “come along” can I change? “Hurry up.” I closed the door, he resumed the door banging routine. “Hang on a moment”, I said. I began to slip into something decent even as I leaned out of the balcony to explore the possibility of jumping into the balcony below to try to escape. No luck there. I was looking down into the raised eye of a gun barrel signalling me to get back, the cops had encircled the entire hostel, they were huddled behind clumps of bushes, had taken positions behind outcroppings of rocks or were hiding behind the boundary walls. A little distance away there was another circle of armed policemen that had thrown a ring around Godawari and Periyar the other two hostels that were part of the first cluster of hostels that had come up in JNU.

The banging was becoming more persistent by the second and so I postponed my fanciful ideas of escaping the long and rather muscular arm of law and came out. I locked the door and made one more attempt to delay the inevitable; I need to go to the loo. “Hold on you can do it in the lock up”, he said. “I can’t hold on for so long”, “Oh alright, make it quick”. He stood outside and I tried to look out of the loo window even as I did my business, all I could see was a long, almost endless row of trucks and jeeps lined on both sides of the road. Even if I could free myself from hawk eyes, there was no way that I could escape. As I emerged from the hostel the size of the operation dawned on me, JNU resembled a maximum security prison, there were at least three rings around each hostel, then there were these gun totting, helmeted troops wearing bullet proof jackets and carrying huge shields. Most had their fingers curled around the triggers of their menacing and dangerous looking guns, carbines, I was to learn later.

We were to learn much later, that our intelligence agencies had informed the authorities that they should go prepared for strong armed resistance, because according to their sources the leftist union had been preparing for a face off. The report was so ridiculous that those who took such cock and bull stuff seriously, needed to have their heads examined, but no, they became intelligence and security experts and laid the grounds of “intelligence gathering mechanisms” that have only now begun to flower into full scale operations where entire populations are treated as conspirators, entire communities branded enemy agents to be thrown at the mercy of vigilante mobs who unleash genocidal operations against unarmed men, helpless women and children.

But all this was in the future on that morning of July, this massive operation had yielded a crop of 25 students, picked up primarily from the  Kaveri and Periyar Hostels of the university. I was happy to note that except for a couple all the other student activists had escaped their net; our scheme had worked; from the core leadership of the SFI, only I was taken in, all because a young man could not get back that night to lock me in. Out of the 25 that were hauled in from among the students, faculty and non teaching staff only 10 had been politically active. They had also picked up three or four admission seekers. Even before they had had the opportunity to be formally enrolled these kids received this rather strange lesson in the openness of our institutes of higher learning.

The cops had a list of suspects and it included a certain professor of international relations, the worthy professor, a former member of parliament and the great white hope of the then Jan Sangh (later to emerge as the BJP), had panicked at the declaration of emergency, left Delhi and had declared at a press conference in Madras that he was no longer involved in politics and was just an academic. Not finding him, they arrested his cook. They also arrested the rather docile General Secretary of the Employees Association and the most popular singer of country westerns on campus, the poor fellow was preparing to be part of the elite Administrative Services. Poor pickings, considering that over a 1000 police personnel and officers were involved in this hush hush operation that everyone in the campus knew about for three days before it was unleashed. We were bundled into the waiting trucks and with sirens wailing we were driven to the Hauz Khas Police Station.

The moment we reached the Police station, we realised that no one had a clue, the regulars had been moved out, probably because a paranoid Mrs Gandhi did not trust the Law and Order Machinery of Delhi and she had brought in police from the neighbouring state of Haryana, ruled then by her trusted lieutenant Bansi Lal. These fellows were quick to act on orders but were a little slow in distinguishing an image of Karl Marx from that of Acharya Rajneesh, not to speak of their utter inability to understand the subtle differences between the SFI and the AISF, the former opposed to the emergency and the latter supporting it and they clearly had not the foggiest about the Stalin-Trotsky debate. The catch of 25 reflected all these diverse opinions and the cops were totally at sea about which of these tendencies were to be treated as enemies of the state and those that were to be allowed to go back, not that they would know  how to distinguish one tendency from the other, if they met two of them on the street.

We seized upon this opportunity and were able to convince the newly appointed in-charge that he had picked up a whole bunch of wrong-uns and when his superiors caught on they would surely cook his goose. And so, incredible as it may seem, before his officers arrived, he had allowed the cook and another 14 people to walk out of the lock up and into freedom. Had the top cop not arrived for a little while longer, all of us could have walked back to freedom and JNU. Unfortunately as I was warming up to the theme, the local intelligence guy, in charge of JNU, walked in and said to me “Ah Comrade so we caught you !”  All I could  come up with was a lame, “Now you have.”

Tedious paperwork, finger printing, mug shots, homilies about not wasting our times and our parents’ money and indulging in anti national activities instead of studying like children from good families etc etc followed and then we were informed that we had been charged under Defence of India Rules-69 (DIR 69, read with a host of sub sections, clauses and sub clauses).  All this meant that we had been conspiring to over throw the state and that the same state was now going to host us at the Tihar Central Jail. The exact meaning of Welfare State was gradually becoming clearer. Several hours were to pass before we were bundled off in a prison van and taken to Tihar Jail.

The Huge Iron gates opened to let in the van and clanged shut with a strange finality, the demeanour of the guards inside the jail is the first thing that hits you, gone is the mocking almost friendly banter of the cop in the police station, replaced with a crude almost brutal attitude, the baton that the guards wield somehow appears more menacing and the way they move towards you, chills your blood. At least that is what I felt. I had asked for a copy of the jail manual and the senior warder told one of his minions, he wants the manual, should we give it to him and the minion said, let it go brother, he will collapse and faint. My colleagues asked me to shut up and that was that. We were taken to Ward No 13, this we were to realise had been turned into some kind of a ward for political prisoners, though, as we gathered over the next few days the jail authorities need not have bothered. The barrack that we were assigned to, consisted, before our advent, exclusively of junior R.S.S functionaries, who were kept in line by a certain Mr Jain and we were to soon learn that we needed to go to him for a whole lot of things, primarily because as far as our barrack was concerned, the jail authorities to preferred to deal with him and asked to sort out minor niggles instead of wasting their time in these matters. Fortunately his reign did not last for too long and we were happy that we had had something to do with the pulling down of his tiny empire.

Ward 13, like all the other wards, was a rectangle, enclosed within a 10 feet or so high wall, the wall had sharp pieces of glass jutting out at the top, inside there were seven large enclosures, three to each long side, one at the far end and facing this was the barred door, kept locked at all times and opened only to let out or admit inmates. The enclosures consisted of huge iron rods fixed in an iron frame, rising from the floor to support the roof. Inside were cement beds each with an inbuilt small locker, Each enclosure had one or two rows of such beds and they had all been monopolised by those who had arrived before us. So we slept on the floor, each prisoner was given two sheets and a blanket, the idea that a mattress or dari could make life easier for the inmates had probably not occurred to the jail authorities or perhaps it had occurred to them and was denied for that reason. Since we were “undertrials” we were not given clothes and had to live in the ones that we were brought to jail in. In the sticky June heat this required some getting used to. But one was soon to realise that cleanliness and daily baths are acquired tastes and human beings can be easily disabused of these fancy habits. Out of the seven enclosures one diagonally opposite ours and the one next to  it were still being used for common criminals, another enclosure had been divided into two solitary confinement cells and two rather ferocious looking serial killers paced up and down inside these.

Aside from these three enclosures the other four were reserved for political prisoners, the single enclosure at the far end of the ward had been taken up as the temporary residence of the seniors of the R.S.S. and Jamat-e-Islami. This was an interesting meeting of minds; on the outside these two seemed to be sworn enemies, though inside they were thick as thieves. Across the communal divide they shared their lifestyles, interests, habits and much more. They whiled away their time playing chess or cards, cracking vulgar jokes, waking up early, noisily clearing their throats, so loudly that they woke everybody up. They wanted to be served before everybody and insisted on long siestas after lunch. Many of those arrested in the wake of the declaration of the emergency were housed in this ward probably because it had some room to fit in prisoners, this of course did not include the high profile prisoners like Dr Piloo Modi who were kept separately.

As more and more politically active elements got into this barrack they began to flex their muscle. They talked to the non political prisoners and told them that if they support the political prisoners, they will also reap the benefits of better facilities in the ward. There was a couple of days of beating plates before meals as a protest against the quality of food and then one day no one ate the food. I can’t say now if only one meal was missed or the fast lasted an entire day, but the result was a promise, of improvement in the state of affairs, made by the management and things did improve. The politicos now betrayed their mass base and asked the authorities to remove non political prisoners from this ward and keep it exclusively for Political Prisoners. Though the jail authorities refused to accept this demand point blank but the news that it was made reached the other prisoners and war was declared.

All this had happened before we arrived and we only got to hear the accounts of the “struggle” from the politicos and of the bad blood it had created from those described as criminals. Prior to this betrayal the assets of the ward were common property, but now the regulars controlled two of the four hand-pumps, and we made the mistake of using one of them at rush hour. There would have been mayhem, had a white haired man from our barracks not intervened on our behalf and explained to the leaders of the opposite side that we had only recently arrived and were unaware of the arrangements.

When we arrived, we were received very warmly by the political inmates, all of them assumed that we were part of their movement and we were too tired and hungry at that time to bother about explaining the political niceties and complexities of the situation to this effusively warm bunch. I do not remember the first meal, the dinner at about 8 or even earlier in the evening. We had had nothing to eat except the matthis and tea that the new SHO at the police station had got us at about 8 in the morning. So we ate what we were given and sprawled on the floor, trying to sleep on a hard concrete floor.

That night and all subsequent nights in Tihar were a pain. We spread the blanket and a sheet on the floor and kept the other sheet aside to be used if it got cold at night. But before you could sleep the mosquitoes assailed you, so you used the sheet to wrap yourself and then you began to sweat so you removed the sheet and the mosquitoes blanketed you. It was the same story every night, sometime later you gave up and began to pace up and down and then the guards shouted at you, eventually you leaned against the bars, wrapped the sheet around you and tried to catch the early morning breeze and your quota of forty winks.

Next morning, our first in jail, we were all asked to come out, a roll call and sometime, in the open grounds within the ward, later, we were told to gather for breakfast, all of us sat in two rows facing each other, aluminium plates that must have been bought new when the jail was founded were handed out perfunctorily. If you did not catch the one meant for you fast enough it would fall in front of you with a clatter.  Most were not quick on the draw and that explained the moonscape design of the plates. Two rotis, uncooked on one side and burnt on the other were thrown in each plate and everyone was given a glass full of a very hot, mud coloured fluid, described by the management as Chai.

The ten of us were sitting together and as we got our supply we bent down to eat, but before we could discover how delicious the food that we were served in JNU hostel was, we were stopped. A rather grim looking gentleman of the saffron brigade reminded us that prayers must be said before we eat. The Gayatri Mantr was recited in a sing song tone and then we were told to eat. The same happened at lunch and as we were trying to lie down for a shut eye in the blistering heat of the afternoon, Mr Jain asked everyone to sit up and announced, for our benefit, that   from the time they have been brought here, the inmates had been holding these afternoon sittings, everyday one of the inmates speaks and the speech is followed by a discussion. A rather rotund pracharak rose to speak about the relevance of the message of Gita in times of national crisis or something along these lines. It was there and then that we decided that this practice cannot be allowed to continue. The decision was prompted by two compelling reasons for one we did not want to be told that solutions to all our contemporary problems lay in mythological texts and for another we wanted to sleep after lunch, A plan was promptly put into place and we decided to include the demand for doing away with the recitation of the Gayatri Mantra before meals in the charter also.

The senior most among us was Ramesh Dixit, he was a senior Ph D. Student and did not look like an immature youth like most of us and so we asked him to raise the issue before Mr. Jain. Ramesh Bhai as we all called him suggested that he would propose an expansion of the topics of discussion and would volunteer to speak on the JP movement and that the issue of prayers before meals can be taken up subsequently. Mr. Jain agreed readily, Ramesh Bhai held forth the next day and spoke at length about the need to involve the working class and the peasantry in the movement and to bring these forces in the leadership if we were serious about really Total Revolution. Ramesh Bhai’s talk had a magical effect, from next day the afternoon discourses were discontinued, the pracharaks were probably instructed to stay away from us and no one asked us to join in the singing of the Gayatri Mantra.

Most of the R.S.S. types were traders who also doubled up as ideologues, some we were told had been caught on charges of black marketing or selling spurious goods. They insisted that the charges were false and politically motivated and that the real reason for their arrest was their support to the cause of Sampoorn Kranti (Total Revolution) that Jaiprakash Narain was leading.  Ramesh Bhai’s effort to point to the direction in which the revolution could really be made Total had obviously not been well received by the leadership of the barrack. The protestations of being falsely accused as blackmailers could well have been right. Many of the initial arrests were made on a whole lot of false charges including the charges against us, except that the conduct of some of these supporters of Sampoorn Kranti made us think that maybe in their case the charges were justified.

Jain Saheb ran a very tight ship, relatives of inmates came to meet them and every time someone came they brought sweets and fruits and food for their relatives, jain sahib had made very strict rules for dealing with this manna that seemed to descend when you least expected it.  Jain sahib had ordained that all eatables will be equitably distributed among all the inmates of the barrack. He supervised the distribution himself and did it rather efficiently, if 8 mangoes arrived, he wouldl cut them in thin slices everyone got one slice and the inmate whose relatives had got the mangoes, got more than everyone. All left overs were kept in his locker to be shared later when more supplies arrived. This carefully crafted edifice of equitable sharing of resources, collapsed when one inmate whose favourite plums brought by his  sister were appropriated and kept in Jain Saheb’s locker. The plums were not distributed because they were not enough to go around and Jain sahib said they will be distributed later along with other goodies that might arrive with later visitors. Unfortunately there were no more visitors and we went to sleep without dessert. The inmate whose leader had denied him his favourite fruit, was unhappy, Very Unhappy.

Confinement does this to you. When even small requirements are not met and insignificant creature comforts become a distant dream even minor irritants can drive you to distraction and it was thus that this pracharak could not sleep and then he saw, late at night, Jain sahib raiding the larder, opening the locker that was built into his bed and removing a plum to eat, the man who had been denied could take it no longer and created a ruckus. Fortunately others woke up and things were hushed up before the guards got wind of it. The man got his plums and Jain sahib was served his just desserts. By next morning  his little empire had crumbled.

The Jail manual that I had unsuccessfully asked for, lays down the duties and rights of inmates and we were to discover that those who had studied up to graduation or above were entitled to draw their daily rations and could ask for the services of a cook.  9 out of the 10 of us were not only post graduates, we were all research scholars studying for our M.Phils or PhDs and were therefore entitled to many facilities and our arrival had generally enhanced the average educational level of the prison. Those who had arrived before us knew how to take advantage of all this, we realised after about a week that all our rations were being drawn by a certain Mr Jain and his cohorts. Our rations included fire wood, 400 ml of milk per head per day, 25 gms or so of butter, two eggs, cooking oil, wheat flour, pulses, legumes, potatoes, fruits, sugar, tea leaf etc. All this was being drawn and was being sold in the black market inside the prison while we continued to be fed half cooked rotis and dal that had an equal quantity of small pebbles mixed in it. By the time we found out the extent of the racket and began to make a noise it was time for our mandatory court appearance, the 15 day remand was over and since virtually the entire university faculty arrived at the court to bail us out we were all released.

But the 15 days taught us many things and made us look at life in jail in a typically new light. You are not allowed to keep razor blades in jail, for good reason too, they are used less often for shaving the stubble and more for carving up other inmates. A barber came in each morning to give you a shave but all of us started growing a beard the day we heard that he had used his razor to despatch two of his erstwhile clients in his village to meet their maker.

Aside from the ten of us there were a few others that we spent our times with and I remember a few of them, each one of them was remarkable in his own way and what I remember about them might throw some light on life inside a prison and also help underscore the fact that trying to place people in watertight compartment is an exercise that will sooner than later cause you great discomfiture.

There was this pracharak, the white haired man, who had rescued us from the seething anger of the regulars when we had unknowingly encroached upon their territory. I do not remember his name clearly, perhaps it was Dev Raj or Dev Dass or something similar, but I am not sure. This man hated Muslims but was great friends with me, probably because he loved Urdu Poetry that he would ask me to recite. He hated the restrictions that were put in place by Jain Saheb and had little interest in the legend of the Mahabharat and the message of the Gita, though he sat dutifully with head bowed whenever asked to but his heart was not in it. Now in his 60s, he longed for the land that he had left behind in his youth. He recalled the great poetry of the medieval Sufi poets of Punjab and Sindh like Baba Bulleh Shah, Abdul Lateef Bhitai, Waris Shah and others. He sang the love legend of Mirza and Saheban with great feeling and in his gravelly voice communicated the horrible pain and the tragedy of Saheban, forced to see her beloved killed by her own brothers. I and Ramesh Bhai spent long hours with him and we always wondered what was he doing in the RSS? The memories of having lost some of his family to the mobs, did not allow him to forgive those who had done this and his anger was directed to their co-religionists and yet he sat with one of those and talked of his loss and talked of the Sufis, whose poetry alone acted as a salve on his wounds, that he would carry in his heart as long as he lived. He did not see the contradiction; many did not then and do not even now. In fact I think the numbers of those who do not see the contradiction in loving a language born of the coming together of two traditions and hating one of the traditions is only growing.

There was another man, probably in his mid forties or a little older, his name was Afsar. He was a Pakistani and he told us the story of his life. A story that I have not gotten used to even now, after 37 years of hearing it. In the early fifties, Afsar, a young man then, came to India with his mother to meet his maternal aunt, whose husband had recently died. The aunt with a grown-up daughter asked her sister for Afsar’s hand in marriage for her daughter. Afsar’s Aunt said, my husband is dead, I only have this daughter, and there is no one else who would look after me when I am old. Afsar is like a son and she would be his second mother, he would live with them, she would be freed of the worry of finding a suitable groom for her daughter. Won’t you do this for your widowed sister who has no one left in India.

And so a marriage was quickly arranged, the local police station was informed and a letter delivered to the concerned authorities about Afsar Khan or Mohammad or whatever, now having married his widowed aunt’s daughter was going to reside in India. No one told him that he could not do so, no one said he could and so he stayed, sometime later he took a shop on rent and started a small business, gradually the business grew and he prospered, his wife and mother in law were very happy, he had a child or two by the time India had a border dispute with China and we went to war. One night, rather late, there was a knock at their home,  Afsar was arrested for being a spy for China. He remained in jail for a few months and was later released. He came back and carried on with his business, where he had left it. A few years and another child later the 1965 war with Pakistan happened and Afsar was in again, this time for spying for Pakistan, the same routine followed in the 1971 Indo Pak War as well. Arrested, charged for spying for Pakistan, a few months in the cooler, released after a few months. Each time the officers of the concerned Police station and few juniors got promotions and a few medals for foiling enemy conspiracies. They also earned some illegal gratification from Afsar’s family for promising early return. With the declaration of the emergency Afsar was back again, this time on charges of working for unnamed forces that were inimical to India.

All these years, no one had ever told him to go back. He was convenient, every time there was a war, the local police could arrest this sitting duck and he continued to pay this periodic tax for staying beyond his visa. How many Afsar’s have continued to pay for the follies of those who wanted separate nations to lord over, is anybody’s guess.

In the enclosure opposite ours there was a young man, someone very well connected and probably from one of the island nations in the far-east, he was serving his term for trying to smuggle some very hard, very small and very expensive rocks into India. His term was coming to an end and he was slowly winding up his business empire inside Tihar. He ran a lending library of pornographic literature; if I may be permitted to use the term. Since many of his clients were illiterate he also provided them with graphic novels. But this was not the most lucrative of his trades; he also controlled the drug distribution network in Tihar and gave loans to needy inmates at interest rates that would have made shylock look like an apprentice in the business.

A day after our court appearance 9 out of the 10 were bailed out, there was some problem with my paperwork so I had to spend an extra day, those being bailed out did not know why I was not being released and fearing the worst and not knowing how long I was going to be in everyone left all their money with me. Everyone in the ward knew that from the students only one has been kept back and they were all very sympathetic, to the extent that the warder of No 13 allowed me to take a walk outside the ward and to go to the jail canteen, I jumped at the opportunity, being locked up inside the ward for a fortnight had begun to be a little depressing. So to the canteen I went. It was not a canteen really, more like a road side Dhaba, being run by a former wrestler turned dhaba owner who had wiped out an entire family in a land dispute and had also done in the sole eye witness when out on parole to attend his mother’s funeral. So when he was sentenced to life, the jail authorities gave him the responsibility of running the canteen. I arrived at this canteen/dhaba had something to eat, had a cup of tea, paid and returned. As I entered the ward I realised that my pocket was unusually light. All the pickpockets used to hang around the canteen and someone had done it to me. I narrated my tale of woe to my friend the smuggler, drug lord smut king and ward mate and he said, “Do not worry you will get it back, I’ll get it for you, they can’t touch any one from my ward, we have a deal. I’ll stop all their supplies.”

I was bailed out that evening, a few months later the smut king came to meet me at JNU, one felt very embarrassed sitting in the canteen with this character with Bruce Lee hair, pink and green flowery shirt, black drain pipe held up with a thick belt covered in chunky steel studs and looking every-inch the crook that he was. As he slipped in to the steel chair and drew on his fancy cigarette he asked me “Did you get your money?” “No”, I said, “Who did you give it to?” And he said, “I called a meeting of all the pick pockets and I said to them whoever has picked  my elder brother’s pocket had better own up or I’ll fix the swine. Later that evening a boy came and gave me back the money, he had spent 15 rupees and smoked one of your fancy cheroots, all the rest he gave back”. Who did you give it to? “Oh you remember that Islamic fellow, that young man who argued about Islam all the time, he was bailed out the day after you left. I gave him the money and he promised to deliver it to you. He said he knew where JNU is and all that.” This was rich. Here was a smuggler, smut king, drug pusher who had taken the trouble to travel to JNU to tell me that he had sent me my money and somewhere out there was this man of God who had pocketed the money that did not belong to him and that he had promised to deliver.  As far as I am concerned the smut king was not a crook. What can I say about those who stole our rations in Tihar and my money outside Tihar except to say that they were so morally upright, god fearing and squeakily honest that they were repulsive.

The case against us dragged on till March 1977. The sole witness for the prosecution was a resident of Ber Sarai who had stated on oath that he had gone to the campus in search of his buffalo that had gone missing while grazing on the campus and that he had heard all of us calling upon the students gathered for a meeting to overthrow the government. We informed the poor sod that the university was going to prosecute him for trespassing on the university land with his cattle. Next hearing he turned hostile and the case was dropped, so much for the justice delivery system of the largest democracy.

(An abridged version of this article first appeared as ‘The Class of 75” in Motherland magazine.]  

9 thoughts on “My Days in Tihar Jail”

  1. Thanks for writing this very interesting account of your experience as a student during the Emergency in Delhi. A few years later, in 1981,I had a similar experience when I taught at a university in Islamabad, and ended up spending time in Rawalpindi jail. Our prison cultures at the time, seem to have been quite similar, and the jail manuals were almost the same. Ours also stipulated that if you had a BA you could have help in cooking your own food, and have access to a bed, a table, and a chair, all chained to each other. The entrance to the jail, shown in the picture here, was similar too. With fond hopes for peace and social justice to prevail in our countries, tariq.


  2. A beautiful, humorous narrative, untinted by ideology, that I enjoyed reading a second time. Sohail presents a realistic but entertaining picture of a few segments of our society during Mrs. G’s Emergency rule. I myself had attended a meeting of JP on a University campus in UP, which preceded a fist fight between two groups of young socialists on the question of who would preside. My attendance was noticed by a friend (!) associated with AISF who made a big deal of it. He was keen to get me arrested once Emergency was declared, not because of our ideological differences which were none, but due to me belonging to a rival caste. I managed to escape every attempt, as I was alerted in advance by the Head Clerk of DIG. About twenty years ago, while flying from Moscow to New Delhi, I met a politically well-informed wonderful cotraveler Sohail who bought me drink. I wonder if I can reciprocate that courtesy to the writer of this blog, even if he is not the same Sohail.


  3. Thanks very much for writing this. I was in JNU myself while I was doing my PhD, and I’ve heard stories of how JNU students and research scholars on the Left stood up to Mrs. Gandhi and her goons during the Emergency. It’s heart-warming to read a first person account of this, and I am proud to be – in some small way – part of that legacy, for being an alumnus of that same University. Kudos to you all!


  4. That was very nice Sohail! I remember the time when students in JNU courted arrest in 1982 or was it ’83? Remember going to Tihar with a banana cake! Someone I know remarked that there was running water in Tihar, not so in JNU.


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