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Issue No.: 550 | April 2013

Death of a Rapist

Ashok Karnik
Ram Singh’s death became a sensation not because people cared about him but it exposed the inadequacies of our prison system. The prison system is an anachronism

The suspected suicide (March 10) of Ram Singh, a self-confessed rapist of the Delhi brave-heart, would not be mourned by many. Harsh but true! There are two inaccuracies in the above statement. Ram Singh was not convicted of rape yet and his so-called confession was open to retraction in court. The fact remains that most of us would suspend our humane inclinations and prefer to see all the six accused summarily hanged for the offence that shook the country. It is only our adherence to a civilized judicial system that compels us to give such accused a chance to defend themselves. Tihar jail where Ram Singh met his end is under a microscope to find out how Ram Singh could commit suicide or get murdered and escape justice. This is more an emotional response as proper justice could not have inflicted greater punishment than forfeiture of life. 

Ram Singh’s death became a sensation not because people cared about him but it exposed the inadequacies of our prison system. The prison system is an anachronism. It is intended to punish an offender by taking away his liberty and simultaneously nurse him through reformative processes. The fond belief of a civilized society is that a human being who has taken a misstep can be made to change his ways, given the chance. Prison systems try to devise ways to ensure that a prisoner does not escape and at the same time reforms himself. The Indian prison system is not much appreciated but Tihar jail, which is one of the largest in India, has tried out several methods like cultural activities, community festivities and training in yoga and crafts to make the prisoners fit to live a better life outside the jail. Even then, Tihar jail is in the news more for its failures than successes.

Mystery Behind the Death

Tihar houses 9,000 (some say 12,000) prisoners against its capacity of 6,000. Its occupants range from politicians involved in chicanery to terrorists and murderers. Its staff is accused of corruption and brutality as well as negligence. Those with political, financial or physical muscle seem to get preferential treatment in the jail. In the Ram Singh case, in spite of knowing that he was a suicide candidate, the jail could not prevent it. Of course, the suicide theory has a lot of holes in it. It is not known whether Ram Singh was really remorseful and suicidal; how could he hang himself when three of his co-accused were sleeping next to him? What did he hang himself with? The story goes that he ripped his durrie (mat) and used its threads to make a rope to hang himself. He is supposed to have done all this while his mates were sleeping a few feet away. The suspicion that the jailers might have got rid of him does not hold water as his cellmates would have raised a hue and cry. Does the needle point to his cellmates then? There was a grill door within the prison cell. Did it isolate Ram Singh from his cellmates? Or whether the cell mates helped him in ending his life? Wonder what the jailors were doing while all this was happening? Then there were specific reports that a prisoner was using a cell phone to suggest how all the rape accused could be killed. There was no love lost for the rape accused within the prison community as rapists are considered low even among criminals. Everybody seemed to want them dead!

Tihar jail also houses VIPs caught in scams and is a high profile institution. The difficulties in managing a township-sized jail are enormous. There is insufficient jail staff to keep track of life in the overflowing jail. Every half an hour or so, a guard is supposed to take rounds of the cells from outside. Can he do so regularly or does he choose to do so every 2-3 hours? The attention of the jail staff is on preventing escapes. Rape accused like Ram Singh are hated by most jail-mates and are in danger from within. That they have to be guarded from themselves is the last consideration. 

Need for Improvement in our Prison System

There are ongoing debates on how to improve our prison system. Utopian ideas are bandied about that there should be psychiatric evaluation of prisoners and counseling be made available to them so that their mental state would be understood better. In a country where honest citizens do not get life saving medicare, the idea of providing psychiatric counseling to prisoners would be hard to sell. We have to be realistic to set limited goals or we will fail badly. Ram Singh who died unmourned, except by his immediate family, did manage to start a debate on prison reforms.

The fear that Ram Singh’s death would jeopardize the rape-murder trial is misplaced. His confession would have implicated himself but not the other accused. They would face their retribution in time – hopefully soon. Unfortunately, their lawyers would cite Ram Singh’s case to seek security for them and our system would compel us to provide it. Ram Singh’s family would try to project him as a martyr with the help of TV channels. We have to guard against giving misplaced importance to rapists and keep remembering their victims to ensure that the guilty are punished adequately.   







Other Articles in this Issue


Water Thievery - Cause of Droughts in Maharashtra

Sharad Joshi

Main Feature

Budget 2013 – An Elaborate Exercise in Denial

M. R. Venkatesh

Twelfth Plan and the 2013-14 Budget - 3

Sunil S. Bhandare

Reflections: The Gang Rape and After

The New Delhi Protest

Nitin G. Raut

Justice Verma Committee Report

Suresh Sharma

Death of a Rapist

Ashok Karnik

Reflections: A Flawed Democracy

Are We Really Free?

Firoze Hirjikaka

A Travesty of Justice!

H. R. Bapu Satyanarayana

'Trousering’ a Brown Envelope in Myanmar and Communal Politics in Britain

Professor Christie Davies

Reflections: In the midst of Blasts, Turf wars continue

National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC)

Ashok Karnik

Foreign Relations

Terrorism Strikes Again, and Again, and Yet Again

B. Ramesh Babu


Preamble to a Farce

Firoze Hirjikaka

The Art of Giving

Firoze Hirjikaka

Point Counterpoint

Terror Strikes Again!

Ashok Karnik

Phone Tapping and CDRS

Ashok Karnik

The Helicopter Deal

Ashok Karnik


Disenchanting India: Organised Rationalism and Criticism of Religion in India By Johannes Quack

Reviewed by Prabhakar Nanawaty

Educating Adults

The Right to Education Act (10)

Suresh Sharma

Children First Party of India Debut

Dilip Thakore

My Mother Pramila

R. C. Saxena

Anandi Gopal Joshi

B. M. N. Murthy

Maha Kumbh: Time to Come Clean

Sunita Narain


Freedom First, this month in April 1956


In Memoriam

Professor P. V. Indiresan, R.I.P


Viren J. Shah, R.I.P


Remembering Hari Shankar Singhania


From Our Readers

Perpetuating the Status-Quo

Kaiser Ansary

Yet another Strike!

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India’s Growing Leadership ‘deficit’

Saratchandra Panda, Bhubaneshwar

In case you have not heard this one

The Hijacking of Wharton

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an African child
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