Ex-Tihar Jailer Opens Up About Afzal Guru, Sobhraj, Nirbhaya Cases
How much do we really know about Tihar Jail, its prisoners and the process of executions? Tune in to this podcast!
Tihar Jail is India’s largest prison complex and has not only held high profile prisoners but also been the scene of some controversial executions. And yet, there’s a lot we don’t know about what really goes on inside this high-security prison.
What kind of lives do prisoners lead inside the jail? What kind of a relationship do they share with jail authorities? And most importantly, what happens in an execution?
In this podcast, we catch up with Sunetra Choudhury and Sunil Gupta who give us a peek inside Tihar jail, its inmates, its rituals and executions in their book “Black Warrant: Confessions of a Tihar Jailer” published by Roli Books.
Click on the player below to listen to the podcast.
Sunetra has been a journalist for many years and is currently the Political Editor for the Hindustan Times and the “confessions” that she writes about are Sunil Gupta’s own from his time in Tihar, where he was a jailer for 35 years.
In this podcast Gupta recalls the first day of his job when he bumped into none other than one of India’s most feared serial killer Charles Sobraj.
During his time in Tihar, Gupta also witnessed eight executions including those of terror convicts Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon and rapists Billa and Ranga. The last execution that Gupta had to oversee in his career was that of Afzal Guru’s on 9 February 2013. Much has been reported on Afzal’s controversial hanging and a lot is still being reported.
In the book, Gupta talks about the controversies in detail. He says, “Every aspect of Afzal Guru’s case was controversial. To start with, the Supreme Court itself admitted that Afzal Guru was not part of any terror group, not part of Jaish-e-Mohammad which was behind the Parliament attack.”
In his book, Gupta talks about how he sat down with him for a cup of tea on the day of his execution.
“As we sipped it slowly, Afzal spoke calmly about his case. He told us he was not a terrorist, and that he was not even a wanted person. All he wanted, he said, was to fight against corruption but ‘who listens in India?’”
One important aspect of Afzal’s case was that he had named J&K DSP Davinder Singh in his confessions. And in the recent days it is becoming clear why that detail should have been probed.
“Afzal named someone called Davinder Singh, a deputy superintendent of police in the Jammu and Kashmir Special Operations Group. He said his involvement in the entire attack came about because Singh asked him to take Parliament attacker Mohammed to Delhi and provide with him all the help he needed. This allegation was important because, as activists and writers like Arundhati Roy pointed out, this was the same officer who dealt with Afzal when he had surrendered as a JKLF militant.”
In his confessions, Afzal Guru had also accused Singh of torturing him in police custody and Singh in his turn, had proudly accepted those allegations on national television. And the same man is now back in the news after being caught red-handed travelling with two Hizbul terrorists to Delhi in January 2019. All of this only reinforced the polemics around Afzal’s hasty execution.
Does Gupta think executions are necessary or should India do away with it?
“I am against death sentence. In our approach we believe in reforming, rehabilitating and reintegrating a criminal into society. Executions are in contrast to this reformative approach. Plus, hangings are not bringing about the desired results,” he says.
In the coming days, India is about to conduct the hangings of the Nirbhaya rape and murder convicts who have already been handed their death warrants. The last hanging was five years back on 15 July 2015, when 1993 Mumbai Blasts convict Yakub Memon was controversially executed overnight.
The Nirbhaya gangrape case has dragged on for seven years and the perceived delay in justice has hardened attitudes of the public towards the criminals – whose brutal crime had already brought many citizens into the streets.
But will this book that brings forth a humane perspective into the lives of criminals help journalists to report better on such cases?
“I think one of the things that this book makes me learn and I hope for other journalists as well, is the importance of asking questions. In the Nirbhaya case, it was said that one of the main accused Ram Singh committed suicide in 2013. But now the Supreme Court has taken notice of the revelations brought by Sunil Gupta and Black Warrant which say that Ram Singh was murdered, based on clear facts. Why didn’t we ask to see the visceral reports then? Even now, it’s not too late to ask questions,” Sunetra says.
Tune in to this podcast, for the full interview with Sunetra Choudhury and Sunil Gupta who share anecdotes about prison superstitions, fetishes and the anatomy of an execution!
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