A former official at Delhi’s Tihar jail has voiced the suspicion that the death in prison of Ram Singh, one of the accused in the December 16, 2012, gang rape and murder of a student on a moving bus in the Capital, may not have been a case of suicide.
Sunil Gupta, who was the prison’s only law officer for 35 years until his retirement in 2016, has written about his suspicion in his new book Black Warrant: Confessions of a Tihar Jailer, co-authored with Hindustan Times national political editor Sunetra Choudhury, and published by Roli Books.
Ram Singh, the main suspect in the rape and murder of the 23-year-old female physiotherapy student, was found hanging on March 11, 2013, and the police said he killed himself. The other four men accused in the case were subsequently convicted and sentenced to death. A fifth suspect, a juvenile, was tried separately and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in a reform facility.
Gupta writes that the police should have registered a first information report (FIR) and investigated the case as one of murder because Singh’s viscera report, which he saw, mentioned alcohol content in the man’s body.
“There is no written evidence anywhere and I do not have a copy of the post-mortem report but I do believe that Ram Singh did not kill himself. For one, his viscera report, which I saw, mentioned alcohol content in his body. That alone should have raised suspicions about his death and made the police register an FIR – how could an inmate get access to alcohol?”
Inside Tihar, the country’s largest prison, alcohol is prohibited, as it is in all Indian prisons.
Gupta writes that the second reason why he suspects Singh was murdered was because of the height of the ceiling from which Singh was found hanging. “… the ceiling from where he had been hung was at least 12-foot high. Considering that there were three other inmates in the same cell as him, I felt that it was not possible that Ram Singh had managed to quietly hang himself from such a ceiling. He had apparently used his pyjama cord to hang himself. Next to him was a plastic bucket. To me, it looked like he was made to drink and then hanged.”
Gupta said that to this day, he is surprised as to how the other four convicts — Mukesh Singh, Pawan Gupta, Akshay Thakur, and Vinay Sharma — survived inside the jail.
“I know they were severely beaten when they first came to jail but how they escaped being lynched is beyond me.”
He wrote that as Tihar’s law officer, he had insisted that the prison officials increase the security of convicts and make special arrangements for them. But then prison director-general Vimla Mehra turned down his request.
“In fact, she (Mehra) would get a little carried away. She made it clear that in this particular case, if they faced the ire of the jail mob, she was fine with that,” Gupta wrote in his book.
Mehra, now retired, was the prison’s director-general between 2012 and 2014. She denied that there was any reason to suspect that the Delhi gang-rape convict was murdered. “I am surprised that he (Gupta) has written this. I visited the spot where Singh was found hanging. There was no evidence to suggest that he was murdered. He must be writing such things to sell his book,” she told HT.
In response to Gupta’s claims that during a meeting, the former prison chief had turned down his request to increase the security for the convicts, Mehra said: “How could I have dismissed such requests? Those who know me would know that I could never have made such suggestions or ignored the security of a prisoner.”
Advocate VK Anand, who represented Ram Singh at the trial court, said he believes Singh was murdered.
“I had met him a day before he was found dead. He seemed happy with the developments in court. He had even met his family members. There was no reason why he would take his life. There was a threat to his life. We asked for the records of the judicial inquiry that was held to probe his death. We never got the records,” he said.
The book also chronicles his interactions during the three decades of career with prisoners such as serial killer Charles Sobhraj, Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and other prisoners in high profile cases.
The December 2012 gang rape, torture and murder sparked widespread outrage and triggered street protests in Delhi and other cities, prompting the governments at the Centre and the states to announce measures to reinforce the safety of women, and led to tougher laws to deal with offences against women.