The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jails in Bihar have always been havens of decorum. If the topsy-turvydom which reigns at every level of the state administration has any discernible structure, then this structure is determined by a hierarchy of power and privilege, held in place by corruption and violence. Within such a system, the jails exist as microcosms of the state machinery, replicating in their small worlds the stratified abuses of governance which make Bihar the unique polity it is today. In this, the state assembly and Beur jail are complementary institutions, each providing grist for the otherís mill. Ministers and legislators often use one as an extension of the other, and the arrangements in either are ideal for such adaptation. There exist in these jails graded facilities ó necessities as well as luxuries ó suited to the political muscle of the individual, who could be either a convicted criminal or awaiting trial. Advanced, and freely available, technologies of communication are particularly useful in bridging the distance between jail and workplace. This mode of governance was perfected by, and remains enshrined in, Biharís first family, the Yadav household.

It seems that local panchayat leaders who are in jail are waking up now to their deprivations, compared to the lifestyles commanded by their legislatorial co-prisoners. Lesser institutions like Chhapra jail are aspiring to the conditions of Beur. After the panchayat polls, criminals and undertrials who have campaigned and been elected from the jails have started demanding corresponding rights and recognitions in prison. The jail authorities and concerned ministers are quite at a loss as to how these demands could be met, given that the manuals do not mention such liberties. Ordinary inmates spontaneously address their leaders as mukhiaji or bade neta, showing the effortless feudalism of the Indian polity. This is no mean triumph of the spirit of democracy. It might be an idea to send West Bengalís arrogant bureaucrats to Beur or Chhapra to restore their lost instinct for deference.

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