“If you steal 1,000 rupees, the hawaldar will beat the shit out of you and lock you up in a dungeon with no bulb or ventilation. If you steal 55,000 crore rupees then you get to stay in a 40-foot cell which has four split units, internet, fax, mobile phones and a staff of ten to clean your shoes and cook your food ( in case it is not being delivered from Hyatt that particular day)-Incredible India! – Anca Verma (a high profile prisoner)
Prisons reflect the social realities of Indian society and it has been shown in one of the most insightful books on life behind prison walls, “Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous” by Sunetra Choudhary. The book narrates the story of famous prisoners who were sent to jail for their misdeeds. Their influence allowed them to tell their stories without fear of consequences. It also tells the story of some innocent people who got entangled in this maze. The book humanizes the story of these prisoners and shows how even powerful people feel ashamed because they have to go to jail because they committed some crimes. The author not only tells the story of these prisoners but also the realities of living in these jails. What a challenge it is for poor people to survive in jails. How powerful and rich people misuse their wealth and power to live an entitled life even while serving a jail term. In this book, she writes about the following people:
- Amar Singh: Everyone who follows Indian politics knows him. He was a power broker in Indian politics. He landed in jail because of his special quality of networking. He was sentenced under the ‘cash for vote scam’ which rocked the UPA government during the signing of the 123 agreement between India and the USA.
- JP: He was the American Mallu whose life was turned upside down when he was arrested and sent to Tihar jail.
- Sushil Sharma: He is the famous tandoor murderer who not only shot his wife point blank but also disposed of her body in a tandoor. He was with the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) at the time when this horrific incident happened.
- Anca Verma: She was a high-profile prisoner with major political connections. She was arrested along with her husband Abhishek Verma.
- Rehmana: She was sent to jail on her wedding day because she married Arif, a Pakistani from Abbottabad who is currently on death row for firing at Delhi’s Red Fort.
- A Raja: He was the Telecom Minister and the face of the 2G scam which rocked the UPA II government and finally led to its defeat in the next General Elections.
- YB: YB is a juvenile who was sent to jail for committing rape. He was later acquitted.
- Peter Mukherjea: The former CEO of Star News was arrested for murdering his daughter Sheena Bora along with his wife and business partner Indrani Mukherjea.
- Wahid Sheikh: He was an English teacher at the Maulana Anjuman-i-Islam Abdul Sattar Shoaib School. He was arrested by ATS for being a suspected SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) activist. He was tortured by decorated police officers.
- Somnath Bharti: The infamous political leader from AAP who was sent to jail for domestic violence. According to his wife’s allegations, he used his pet dog Don to attack her when she was pregnant.
- Khushi: She is a trans bar dancer who was gang-raped in police custody. What more to say when protectors themselves become the perpetrators.
- Rajesh Ranjan (Pappu Yadav): His life in jail was full of surprises. He fought the election from jail, became a notorious gangster, and also fell in love and got married.
- Kobad Ghandy: A 69-year-old man who is accused of being a member of the banned organisation, CPI(Maoist). He is the only person who spent substantial time with Afzal Guru before his hanging. He wrote a detailed letter to the author of this book describing the events leading to Afzal’s execution.
Anyone who is interested in the concept of state and violence must read this book. It shows how the rule of law is there to control poor and vulnerable people. Rich and powerful people can always get away with doing whatever they want to do in their lives.
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