Thursday 26 May 2022
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Lapse In System

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[stextbox id=”info”]The incident of jailbreak in Bhopal calls for revision of Indian prisons’ standard operating procedure[/stextbox]

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he sequence of occurrences that led to the fleeing of 8 alleged SIMI terrorists from the Bhopal Central Jail and their subsequent killing by ‘encounter’ point towards glaring flaws in the security arrangements in Indian jails in general and those in Madhya Pradesh in particular. Both the allegation that the whole affair was stage-managed to suppress the possible future testimonies of the accused in court, which could have discomfited the authority, and the mob frenzy on social media that is equating the incident with the plot of the film, A Wednesday, are unfortunate, irresponsible and fact-defying theories. While a competent investigating agency and the judiciary will have the last word on the story, neither the fact that guard Ramashankar Yadav was killed by the fugitives nor the description of the tools and weapons they used to escape from law indicate choreography by the jail management or the police. Well-researched documents and documentaries on prison-breaks from across the world detail how ingenious desperate inmates turn with the otherwise innocuous utensils they are provided with. Media reports clearly say that the sharpened plates and spoons were used by the under- men to flee the scene in the deep of the night and not for fighting the police nine hours later in broad daylight. Second, not one but several bed-sheets were used to scale the walls. These facts punch big holes in Asaduddin Owaisi’s conspiracy theory. More significantly, the suspected terrorists — Mohammad Aqeel Khilji alias Abdullah, Mehboob Guddu alias Malik, Mohammad Khalid Ahmad of Sholapur, Mujeeb Sheikh alias Akram of Juhapura (Ahmedabad), Amjad, Mohammad Salik, Zakir Hussein Sheikh alias Vicky Don and Abdul Majid of Ujjain — who were slain had known links with Islamist outfits; nobody has established even a tenuous link of theirs with Hindutva outfits of Owaisi’s imagination.

That said, the Madhya Pradesh administration cannot be spared condemnation for its abject laxity in securing the jails — in light of the fact that the incident follows a case of decampment from the Khandwa jail and, more astonishingly, a similar incident that happened in this very jail of Bhopal. One may recall that Charles Sobhraj has acquired the status of notorious legends, but he isn’t the only one who thumbed his nose at the Indian security apparatus. Sher Singh Rana from Delhi’s Tihar Jail, Jagtar Singh Hawara from Chandigarh’s Burail Jail, the Bettiah prison break and the escape of Natwarlal aka Mithilesh Kumar Srivastava at the of 84 while being taken to a hospital for medical treatment, among others, make a dubious laundry list. Among the easily fixable things, the Bhopal jail authorities ignored the dysfunctional CCTV cameras and did not care for the fact that their searchlights left huge parts of the gaps between the walls unlit. That the fugitives were finally spotted shaven and in regular clothes point at the possibility of a conduit that coordinated their plans with an accomplice outside. Doctors, among other visitors allowed to visit the inmates in various prisons, say that helping the prisoners in establishing such communication with the world outside is a cakewalk. Whether a sinister plot to engineer the encounter or the laidback attitude of the guards was responsible for the sordid saga is beside the point. The system should be such that humans cannot manipulate it. These lapses pose a serious threat to society; the holes in the state armoury cannot be permitted to stay unplugged.

As for politics, the incident yet again finds the opposition in an unenviable position. On the one hand, it cannot let the opportunity of blaming the government pass. On the other, they end up being on the side of enemies of humanity, which terrorists are, when they question the regime. After sounding like the voice of Pakistan post-surgical strikes across the LoC, the Congress and other rivals of the BJP are once again provoking a nationalistic backlash from the people. They know it, but can’t help it.

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