Books Reviews

‘Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous’ An Overview


India is a bizarre country where the criminal justice system operates in an awkward and partial manner. A ringside view tells you that you can ultimately buy the law and have the rules bent for you. For instance, if you are rich, you are free to do anything you want. The system will treat you like a king even in the jail. But if you are a poor, you are not supposed to err a little. The same system will do anything to make you realize that you’re hapless and do not deserve to live.

Over the years, India has seen a number of famous Indians going to jail. In most cases these famous criminals, the country has witnessed an open misuse of power and money. The misuse of power in the jail has often surfaced in the Indian media. An uproar emerges every time but nothing happens.

In order to record the tales of the rich and influential people in India, Sunetra Choudhury has come out with her book “Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous’. Sunetra has recounted the famous prisoners in the book through a number of interactions. The book is going to be an interesting read for those who wan to understand the country’s judicial set-up.

The following description on the ecommerce website will explain you a bit.

‘If you steal 1,000 rupees, the hawaldar will beat the shit out of you and lock you up in a dungeon with no bulb or ventilation. If you steal 55,000 crores then you get to stay in a 40-foot cell which has four split units, internet, fax, mobile phones and a staff of 10 to clean your shoes and cook your food (in case it is not being delivered from Hyatt that particular day).’

They say that prison can be a great leveler – but does this apply if you are a VIP inmate in an Indian prison? Maybe not.

Based on extensive first-hand interviews with some of India’s most well-known inmates, award-winning journalist Sunetra Choudhury gives you a peek into the VIP prison life. It includes some interesting anecdotes about the lives of the rich and powerful prisoners: What does Peter Mukherjea do all day in his 4 x 4 cell in Arthur Road Jail? How does a 70-year-old Doon school alumnus who has spent more than 7 years in jail find a will to continue petitioning the state and fight his cases? Who came to visit Amar Singh during those 4 fateful days and why this scarred him and his wife for life, determining his future friends and allies?

Apart from certain depictions in popular culture or the occasional news reports, there is little information about how rules are bent and law takes a backseat when it comes to people like Sanjeev Nanda, Vikas and Vishal Yadav, Anca Varma and Manu Sharma, who were given special benefits and often sent out on parole and furlough for their good behaviour.

For the first time, India’s most famous prisoners share their own stories – from terror tales of ‘bladebaaz’ to torture chambers, from air conditioners in cells to food from five-star hotels, from cushy beds to private parties – and how they negotiate life in prison or the so-called ‘jail-ashram’.

With unbelievable details of the life inside prison and the sorry state of hundreds of undertrials languishing in jails, this book questions the primary purpose of imprisonment – is it actually reform, punishment or just misusing the system we are a part of?

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