Murders in Jail
By Dr Swati Jindal Garg
It is said that the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons. Indian jails, which are already overburdened are yet again facing new allegations in the light of the gruesome murder of gangster Tillu Tajpuriya in Tihar jail by the members of a rival gang. Jailed gangster Sunil Balyan alias Tillu Tajpuriya, an accused in the Rohini court shootout case in 2021, was allegedly beaten to death by rival gangsters inside a high-risk ward at Delhi’s Tihar jail recently.
Despite multiple CCTVs, prison guards and special security arrangements at South Asia’s biggest jail, four inmates—gangsters Yogesh Tonda, Deepak Titar, Rajesh Singh and Riyaz Khan—allegedly used hand-made weapons, including iron rods and knives to eliminate one of the top gangsters in the city who had been heading a gang in his name for over a decade and was involved in over a dozen cases of murder, attempted murder, dacoity, carjacking and extortion, according to the police.
Even though Tajpuriya was arrested in 2016, it has been said that he continued to operate his gang from inside the prison and had sent the two assailants who gunned down his rival from an opposing gang, Jitender Gogi, at the Rohini court. Gogi, who was also in custody at the time, was shot dead during the hearing. The incident was a result of the gang rivalry that had started from a student union election at Swami Shraddhanand College, Delhi University, way back in 2013. The rivalry then culminated in multiple murders and attacks inside and outside jail which claimed over 22 lives, including that of the gang leaders—Gogi and Tajpuriya.
The murder of Tajpuriya itself was pre-planned and executed despite high security in the prison. Tajpuriya was reportedly shifted from the Mandoli jail to Tihar jail over security concerns. The DG Prisons’ office released a statement saying: “At around 6.10 am, Tillu who was lodged on the ground floor of High Security Ward was attacked by four inmates affiliated to rival Gogi gang who were lodged on the first floor of the same ward. They had cut open the iron grill using improvised ‘sua’ (blade). They jumped on the ground floor using bedsheets. The injured inmate was immediately rushed to DDU Hospital after giving the required medical attention at the Central Jail OPD at around 6.45 am. The injured inmate expired during the course of the treatment at DDU hospital.”
Even though the matter will now be investigated by prison authorities, Delhi Police and NHRC committee, the question that remains is how can a prisoner be brutally stabbed within a high-security cell despite the presence of security personnel? A prison official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that disciplinary proceedings have been initiated against jail officials who were on duty in jail number 8, when the murder took place. “These officials have been asked to provide the details of their response time and to explain the reasons for the delay, if any. The jail administration has also issued a show cause notice to these officials to explain why they did not intervene at the time when Tillu was stabbed inside his jail cell,” the official said.
The role of officers of the Tamil Nadu Special Police (TSP), who had been deployed at the prison, has come under the scanner after the Tajpuriya murder as CCTV footage purportedly shows that when Tajpuriya was being stabbed, the police personnel did not act in time. In fact, the Director General of Prisons in Delhi wrote to the Director General of TSP regarding the incident and the laxity observed by the personnel, after which the force suspended seven officers and called them back to the state. It is also being said that strict punitive action will be taken against them for not acting on time. Meanwhile, a jail official said: “An enquiry was conducted and we also found that the siren button inside jail number 8 was not working at that time. It appears several inmates had tried to press the button and alert police and jail officials, but it wasn’t working. We are checking this and will take legal action.”
The TSP carries out security duty at Tihar jail. These personnel are deployed to create a language barrier for Tihar inmates, a majority of whom are north Indians and hence not well versed with languages from south India. The actual reason for the deployment of TSP, however, is that in 1976, 13 prisoners escaped by digging a tunnel in Tihar jail whereafter, a team of TSP was deployed there. The aim was that the TSP would not know the language of the inmates and staff in Tihar, and the staff would not know their language either. It was also believed that the TSP would be able to handle prisons better than the state police in such circumstances. The intention was that the presence of the police from a distant state would reduce the possibility of corruption and ensure better control over the prisoners. But now, it seems that all this is going wrong.
Sunil Gupta, a long-time law officer at Tihar jail reportedly said: “The TSP was deployed in Tihar jail around 1980. The aim was to work better without directly knowing and understanding each other’s language. There are more than a thousand TSP personnel in Tihar. Their job is to conduct a thorough search of all the inmates arriving in the antechambers of the nine jails in the Tihar complex, so that no inmate can carry items like drugs and mobiles into the jail.”
But it seems that with time, the state and the language barrier has also been crossed and either the TSP is now well versed with the north Indian ways or the other way round. We can also conversely draw the conclusion that above all money and power has no language!
Even though seven employees have been suspended in connection with the killing of Tajpuriya and action has been taken against those who were present at the time of the murder, it is shocking as to how despite the presence of these personnel, the gangster was brutally stabbed.
This is not the first case where a prisoner has been attacked/murdered within the Tihar premises. On August 14, 2023, Prince Tewatia was stabbed to death inside the prison while on August 4, 2021, Ankit Gurjar was murdered in jail no 3 with the alleged involvement of the officials and the employees of the jail. In April 2022, more than six inmates were attacked brutally with blades and knives.
New problems give way to newer solutions and the endless quest continues. The murder of Tajpuriya has raised questions on the security deployed inside the Tihar jail and the officials too have geared up their action to combat any other gang war inside the prison. Prison officials have said that they are now checking dossiers of criminals in order to classify them on the basis of their affiliation to different gangs and lodge them separately to prevent gang violence.
A senior Tihar official, who asked not to be named, said: “We have started checking dossiers of at least 7,000 inmates to classify them on the basis of their affiliation with different gangs. Since we have seven jails for men and around 15 high-security wards, it will be a tough task to allot separate jails or wards to members of different gangs. To minimise the chances of clashes, they will now be kept in separate wards. If needed, we will shift gangsters to jails in Rohini and Mandoli. Security measures will also be enhanced in wards.” He also added that officials have been deployed to check the live feed from CCTV cameras installed across the jail. “Earlier, we used to monitor it twice a day. But now, the dedicated staff will keep a round-the-clock vigil on the video footage,” he said.
Tihar Jail, which is one of the largest prisons in South Asia, has recently been in news for all the wrong reasons. Despite known for being a high security jail, criminals and gangs for years have kept operating from inside Tihar, giving rise to questions on the involvement of jail officials and the security apparatus of the prison that houses some of the most dreaded criminals of India. Apart from the Tajpuriya murder case, the plot of the killing of Punjabi popular pop singer Sidhu Moosewala in Punjab’s Mansa district, is also believed to have been hatched from inside Tihar jail by a gang led by Lawerence Bishoni, who has been lodged in this high-security jail in Delhi.
According to sources who have worked in the Tihar jail, it is impossible for gangs to function without the involvement of jail officials responsible for guarding the prisons. Communication networks like cellphones and other modes of communications can freely flow within the Tihar premises if an inmate has got “connections” with the right people within the jail, said an officer who has earlier worked in the prison. Dr Kiran Bedi, former IG of Tihar jail, also reportedly said: “Nothing irregular can enter inside prisons without an internal nexus at any level. Anything can be gotten inside the jail at a price which is determined by the demand of that item. The price also goes up based on the need or the paying capacity of the inmate. Higher the risk, higher the cost.”
All said and done, it cannot be denied that the system that operates from within is perhaps even more dangerous than the one that exists outside. When the protector becomes the aggressor—the system needs a rehaul and only time will tell if the new tactics employed by the jail authorities will prove to be a success or not.
—The writer is an Advocate-on-Record practicing in the Supreme Court, Delhi High Court and all district courts and tribunals in Delhi