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The Tihar Tea Party
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The Swedish prison system is not generally severe. The emphasis is on humanitarian treatment of prisoners and rehabilitation in favour of deterrence. Sentences are generally short and prisoners enjoy a high material standard. In his autobiography, Catch Me If You Can, master forger and con man Frank W. Abagnale Jr recounts how the time he spent in a Swedish prison was on par with the experience he had in any of the numerous luxury hotels he swindled his way into.

If that other master con man, CWG OC chief Suresh Kalmadi, were to write his autobiography any time soon, he might recount his days in Tihar in much the same light. Not that the Indian judicial system (in general) or the Tihar jail authorities (in particular) have suddenly decided to treat prisoners with any humanity and leniency, but then VIP prisoners were never really actual prisoners, were they?

So whether it be Kalmadi playing dollhouse and sipping tea with the Jail Superintendent, or Vikas and Vishal Yadav (who are serving a life sentence for the murder of Nitish Katara) treating the jail garden like their very own back lawn, examples of sycophancy on the part of jail authorities have suddenly burst on to national consciousness. Newspapers have given sufficient space to these cases, and then some more to inform us about the aftermath.

Actions have been taken against those involved, we are told. The Jail Superintendent from the Kalmadi incident has been shipped away to Port Blair. Kalaa paani. Three jail officials including two assistant superintendents and a head warden have been suspended. Jitters, anyone?

It is assumed that we should be thankful for the actions taken. We as a public are supposed to feel satisfied that the justice system does work and is in good health. After all, the guilty have been punished, haven’t they?

While on one level that might be true, if we stop to question what just happened here, we might be able to observe a rather disturbing trend of toadying and passiveness within the judicial system.

Take the example of the formerly-Honourable OC chief. His crime? Abuse of power for personal gains. Action against him? Chuck him into a high security prison, the Tihar jail. And then what does he end up doing inside the jail? Oh no, answer is not ‘repent’. He abuses his former power for personal gains. Sure, a cup of tea has nothing on the crores he reportedly embezzled, but where is the sense in convicting someone for a particular wrong-doing, and then letting him brazenly continue with that very same act? Apparently some khakhi’s urge to have tea with the high and the mighty is more important than the nation’s need for a sense of justice.

What is needed is an active crackdown on such toadying inside jails. Maybe a vigilance cell which is actually vigil should police the ones policing the jail. Every inmate is equal, and every inmate should be treated thus. Why exceptions?

This post first appeared as a Feature on the SIMC Wire.

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