How did the Delhi gang rape accused die in prison?

 
Indian policemen stand guard as an ambulance leaves the main entrance of Tihar Jail in New Delhi on March 11, 2013. Tihar is a high security prison

Delhi's Tihar prison promises "safe and secure custody" of inmates, according to its website.

But the death in prison of a man accused in the gang rape and murder of a student in Delhi has raised questions about security in what is South Asia's largest prison.

Ram Singh's death is also a huge embarrassment for the authorities. "So, one can commit suicide under the watchful eyes of the Tihar Jail. Great!," tweeted writer and activist Meena Kandasamy.

The 55-year-old jail houses more than 12,000 inmates, although it has an official capacity of about 6,000. It is also India's most high-profile prison, where a number of prominent politicians and businessmen facing trial in corruption cases are being held.

Authorities say Tihar is one of the most secure and modern prisons in India. It is equipped with CCTV cameras, mobile phone jamming devices, scanners and metal detectors.

The sprawling campus hardly looks like a jail. Visitors are shown a model prison where inmates make bread, shoes, furniture, paper and clothing, among other things.

In January, lawyers representing the accused in the Delhi gang rape case had complained that their clients were being tortured. Tihar spokesperson Sunil Gupta had then told the BBC that the safety of the five men was "guaranteed".

So what went wrong?

Mr Gupta says Ram Singh was not on suicide watch, and that he "used a blanket in his room as an improvised rope" to kill himself.

Mr Singh's lawyer and family don't seem to believe the official account: they have been telling the media that he was "murdered" in prison.

His lawyer told the BBC that his client, who had pleaded not guilty, appeared to be in good health the last time he saw him on Friday, and that he had no reason to commit suicide.

Ram Singh Ram Singh's death is a huge embarrassment for the authorities

Suicides and murders in Indian prisons are not uncommon.

A total of 1,436 inmates died in 1,393 prisons in 2010, the latest year for which figures are available. Ninety-two of them died of "unnatural causes", including suicide and murder.

Most of the "unnatural" deaths were due to suicide (68) and murder by fellow inmates (12).

Tihar does not have a spotless record either on suicides of prisoners in its custody. There were 18 inmate deaths, including two suicides, last year, according to the prison chief Vimla Mehra.

Inmates have died because of lack of medical care too. In 2011, the Delhi High Court ordered the authorities to pay compensation to the wife of biscuit tycoon Rajan Pillai who died in Tihar in July 1995 for lack of proper medical care.

The court also said deaths at Tihar were not an "uncommon phenomenon".

A report by the People's Union for Democratic Rights in 2011 raised questions about the rights of prisoners in Tihar with "respect to receiving visitors, access to medical care".

Senior prison officials I spoke to say they are surprised to hear that Ram Singh was not put on suicide watch.

They say high profile prisoners - usually on trial or convicted in murder or terrorism-related cases - are often kept under suicide watch and given more protection as they face massive media coverage and are deemed to be at risk from other inmates.

In many cases fellow inmates are instructed by their jailors to keep a watch on such prisoners, I am told, and guards are posted outside the cell, which may also be under CCTV coverage.

Some years ago I remember sitting in a jailor's room in a Calcutta prison and watching grainy black and white CCTV footage streaming from a tiny cell housing Aftab Ansari, who is serving a death sentence for his involvement in a 2002 gun attack on a US cultural centre in the city.

More than 10,000 inmates have died in prisons in India since 2000, hundreds of them in "unnatural" ways. Deaths in custody are a terrible blot, and clearly a lot more needs to be done to protect the lives of inmates.

 
Soutik Biswas, Delhi correspondent Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 87.

    @ 84 Nayna Desai. It is sad many Indians cannot read any news from India, positive or negative, without reading it through their corruption eye glasses.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 86.

    @Nayna Desai - I agree. I doubt this is a clearcut suicide incident.. this article should be about something other than prison security. It's with good reason that the likes of Shrien Dewani don't want to get extradited to a developing country - http://www.wonkie.com/2010/11/24/anni-dewani-gugulethu-murder/ - there's too much corruption in the legal system and opportunities for vigilante justice.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 85.

    Justice must be done, and the culprits must be punished if they are found guilty. Ram Singh may have been murdered. The remaining perpetrators of the rape/murder should now be guarded with even more security, and their case expedited. If found guilty, their punishment must be carried out. They should not be allowed to cheat the hangman.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 84.

    In a country where corruption is so rife and spread through the ranks of the judiciary and police - http://b24.in/20130198/corruption-in-india/ it's a wonder that the main issue here is considered to be one of prison security! Especially given the high profile nature of the case, and the political pressure surrounding it, I somehow doubt it was as straightforward as a suicide.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 83.

    82 Ram K Chopra

    I take your point that India is a nation of 1 billion in comparison to the 60 million in the UK.
    The UK has around 100,000 people in prison at any one time.
    What is the figure in India?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 82.

    @ 81, SW ---1,436 inmates died in 1,393 prisons in 2010. That is @ 1 inmate /Prison/Year/In a nation of one Billion - It does not seem alarmingly high. Please don’t read 10,000 Deaths - read 0.6 inmate /Prison/Year since 2000. Irrespective of how low the average, it must be tracked, analyzed and reviewed, negligent jail officials identified/punished and steps taken to eliminate unnatural deaths.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 81.

    There seems to be far too many deaths in custody in India.
    I wonder why that is?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 80.

    Disturbing! - so many posts are in favor of this man's death.

    I feel bad we have been robbed of an opportunity where a large number of civil society is emotionally and intellectually participating in the processes of delivering justice, learning, questioning and thinking of improvements and hopefully getting involved.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 79.

    I want to respond to PJ Walton's commnet "those who celebrate this man's death today are in fact no different to the rapists in this case" - I respecfully disagree. People who are celebrating knows that Indian legal system is incapable of punishing these rapists (many reasons for that). So, that is the reason common people are celebrating - the rapist and murderer finally got punished.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 78.

    So what went wrong? Nothing.
    Singh's death is also a huge embarrassment for the authorities ? No No No - this too will pass.
    Chalta Hai attitude is every where in India. Recall police response to rape incident, Safdarjang Hospital emergency staff respons to rape victims, Stampede deaths at the railway platform. Governance in India requires a big dose of "Process Improvement" everywhere.

  • Comment number 77.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 76.

    Certainly these men deserve to die, there is no doubt about that, however I also think that members of the public who prescribe cruel and unusual punishments for rapists and those who celebrate this man's death today are in fact no different to the rapists in this case. They themselves are seem quite capable of barbaric crimes.

  • Comment number 75.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 74.

    I'd thought Ram Singh was driver of bus in which victim & her friend were seriously assaulted before being thrown out of moving bus to die.
    I'd also thought 4 other prisoners were in the same cell when Ram Singh hung himself; there was some doubt that he could hand himself because of injuries sustained years before in a car accident.
    Was this prison justice? Something very peculiar here...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 73.

    Had these guys been sons of a politician then some Ram Jehtmalani would have been defending them in court. I am not saying they are innocent, instead I am trying to point that justice of our society is completely different if the accused is someone powerful or not. All these guys and their families are definitely facing a great social boycott, so no wonder he has committed suicide,which is a pity.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 72.

    71. FelipeinSpain
    Everyone in the world except the US, UK and Swedes know that Assange is innocent. The case shows the backwardness of UK judicial system (according to the definition of 67.Silvia)

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 71.

    @70.
    nicky
    Assange has nothing to do with this story; he will get his cum-uppance in due course

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 70.

    67.Silvia,
    So then, do you think the trial of Mr. Assange is a result of a forward thiking Justice system??

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 69.

    an abysmal reality of India with a ever blurring demarcation into what form of justice is delivered by the smoldering judicial system to those entrenched in the enmeshed despotic self righteous group of justice givers ,thank-god i am not one of them!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 68.

    Prejudice & political inertia allow backward systems to continue until a tragedy such as the present occurs. The facts of which were so horrific it hardly needed 'hyper-reporting'. These cases constitute a wake-up call to a political system to take action & reform its justice. It happens to all countries at diffierent points in time. This is India's time, as Indian public reaction has made clear.

 

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