A day in the life of Kalmadi, Raja in Tihar Jail
Contrary to common belief that celebrity inmates get 'special treatment', jail authorities say that they are not treated any different from other criminals. Sahim Salim takes a look.
The tainted czar of the Indian sports fraternity, who rubbed shoulders with the who-is-who of sports and political worlds, now eats the same food served to murderers, rapists and petty criminals. A former telecom minister, who rose to dizzying political heights from a small town background in south India, now interacts with murder convicts.
A billion-dollar entrepreneur, who slept only on five-star beds, now sleeps on the uneven, dingy floor of Asia's largest prison complex, with only a few used blankets as padding.
This is the story of once-revered celebrities -- Suresh Kalmadi, A Raja and Shahid Balwa, who, on the basis of their political connections and money, believed that they would go untouched. But now they find themselves cooling their heels inside the jail, and if authorities are to be believed, they don't get a VIP treatment and are looked at like just any other of the prison's inmates.
"There is no special treatment meted out to any inmates as wrongly reported by certain sections of the media. They have to follow the prison rules and will only be provided with facilities provided to others," Tihar's Law Officer, Sunil Gupta, told rediff.com.
When former Union Communication Minister A Raja was first shown his windowless 15x10 feet cell on February 17, he was given seven blankets to sleep on. There were no beds or pillows inside his cell, which housed a small, dingy, toilet. It was still winters then and Raja used two blankets to cover himself up, used four others to sleep on and used one as a makeshift pillow.
With the advent of summers, the number of blankets has gone down to three and on most nights, he uses all three to sleep on. Recently, he also asked for a mosquito net, which has been given.
The Tihar houses several high-profile undertrials after the Supreme court directed the Central Bureau of Investigation crackdown on recent corruption cases - Raja, Suresh Kalmadi and entrepreneur Shahid Balwa to name a few. Used to comforts, money and political connections, these gentlemen nowadays find themselves following the stringent timetable of the Tihar.
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Image: Inmates at New Delhi's Tihar jail, one of the world's largest prisons, prepare food
Follow the rules, boys
All of them are woken up at 5.30 am for the morning headcount. An hour later, they are seen waiting in queue for their breakfasts - two bread slices and tea. After breakfast is reading time.
Raja and Balwa read all the English dailies that Tihar subscribes to -- the Times of India, the Indian Express, the Hindustan Times and Mid-Day -- while Kalmadi goes through some Hindi dailies along after reading the English ones. The newspapers are delivered into their cells, unlike other prisoners, who go to the Library to read them.
"The library is outside their ward and they are not allowed outside due to security concerns. They are only allowed to take a walk within their ward. Magazines, as and when they come, are delivered to their cells too," a senior jail officer said.
Raja had recently put in a request for some Tamil newspapers, which jail authorities are considering. Sometimes Balwa and Raja put in orders of omelettes from the prison canteen, which they can purchase with their Rs 500 coupons.
Image: Former Telecom minister A Raja is escorted by policemen as he leaves a Delhi court
Lunch is roti, daal and sabzi
There is no much time gap between breakfast and lunch, as inmates have to collect their meal (rice, roti, dal and one dry-vegetable) by 9.30 am. They are usually bathed and changed into morning clothes by that time.
"They don't have to wear prison clothes as they are just undertrials. They wear their own clothes," Deputy Inspector General (Tihar), R N Sharma said.
Like any other inmate, they are allowed visitors twice a week. "As per the jail manual, Raja is entitled to home cooked food inside the jail. As long as he is in jail, he can have home cooked food. Other than the home-cooked food, his medicines, some books and his reading glasses, we have not put in any other requests," Raja's counsel, Ramesh Gupta said.
Gupta explained that they can move court to put in requests and then the court directs jail authorities to consider the pleas according to the jail manual. If the manual allows it, their requests can be granted.
Kalmadi's usual visitors are his wife and children. They had paid him a visit on Wednesday noon and provided him with some change of clothes, a senior officer said. Kalmadi also keeps some books, reading glasses and his diabetes medicines with him.
Balwa is allowed an orthopedic pillow inside his cell. He had requested the CBI court for both a pillow and a bed by furnishing a medical certificate showing he suffered from back pain, after which jail authorities allowed him his pillow. He also keeps his medicines.
After the visits, they are locked back into the prison until about 3.30 pm, after which they are given tea and two biscuits. "They can watch television or read their books from inside their cell. They can see and hear the TV directly from their cells," Sharma said.
Sources said that Raja mostly read his books, while Balwa and Kalmadi watched TV, which has some 18 channels, mostly news.
Image: CBI officials escort Shahid Balwa at the CBI headquarters in New Delhi
'They are well-behaved prisoners'
In the evening, they are allowed to take a walk around their ward. Access outside the ward is still prohibited to them for security concerns. Raja mostly does not interact with others. A jail officer says that if at all, he talks to co-accused R Chandolia or former telecom secretary and Raja's aide, Sidharth Behura. These three are in Jail number 1 in ward number 4. Raja usually goes for a stroll around the ward in the evening.
Kalmadi is in Jail number 4 of the same ward and normally interacts with fellow accused Lalit Bhanot and V K Verma.
By 6 pm, they have to collect their dinner, which is almost similar to what they had at lunch. The day ends after inmates are sent back into their cell by 6.30 pm after a head count.
"Both Kalmadi and Raja have no airs about them and are extremely disciplined and follow the prison routine properly. They have not thrown any tantrums yet," Sharma said.
The prisoners are allowed to read or watch televisions from their cells from 6.30 pm to 11 pm. By 11 pm, 'lights-out' is announced and our celebrity prisoners go to sleep, only to follow the same routine all over again in six and a half hours.
Image: Suresh Kalmadi arrives at a court in New Delhi
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters