New Delhi, March 11: The prime accused in the Delhi bus gang rape and murder allegedly hanged himself in Tihar jail early this morning but his family and lawyers cited several unexplained questions to claim he was murdered.
Jail officials suggested Ram Singh, 35, fashioned a noose out of threads torn from the mat he slept on and the clothes he wore and tied it to the grille of the ventilator in his Jail No. 3 cell. He then stood on a bucket to slip the noose round his neck before kicking it away from under him.
What this version doesn’t explain is:
How a man with his right arm deformed by an accident could have torn out the threads and fashioned a noose;
How a 5-foot-3 man with a deformed arm could have reached a nine-foot-high grille even if he stood on a foot-and-a-half-high bucket;
How all this activity — especially the final kick to the bucket — could have failed to wake up the three undertrials who shared the 15ftx10ft cell with Ram; and
How the police guards posted outside the cell could have missed everything.
Prison sources said everything was fine during the 3.30am change of guard but Ram was found hanging during the next change two hours later. The jail’s official statement times the discovery — by a guard from Tamil Nadu police — at 5.45am.
The death raises questions about the monitoring of inmates at the high-security prison, whose authorities allegedly failed to protect the five bus-rape accused from torture by fellow inmates and ignored a recommendation to put Ram under “suicide watch”.
Sources said the Delhi police had warned the jail administration to strengthen the bus-rape suspects’ security and that a psychological evaluation in January had suggested Ram was suicide-prone. An inmate under “suicide watch” is kept alone in a cell under 24x7 observation and subjected to regular psychological evaluation.
Jail officials admitted that Ram was beaten up and slashed with blades on his first night at Tihar and he and the other four were later slapped around at least a dozen times. Ram’s father Mangelal claimed his son had been raped by inmates and threatened by the guards.
Claims of torture and a social boycott of the accused at Tihar prompted some lawyers to question society’s tendency to “demonise” high-profile accused. The girl’s family, however, said they were “not saddened” by the alleged suicide.
“We are surprised at the suicide but we are not sad,” one of the brothers of the gang-rape victim said.
“He (Ram) would have been hanged even otherwise. We wanted him hanged publicly. He might have hanged himself because of shame. Now we are waiting for the four others to be sent to the gallows.”
Ram was declared dead on arrival at the jail hospital. The post-mortem will be conducted at AIIMS tomorrow.
Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde accepted the death was “a major security lapse”. A magistrate’s inquiry is under way and forensic experts have collected evidence.
Ram’s family and lawyers have demanded a CBI probe and dismissed jail officials’ claim that Ram had been depressed and refused food last evening.
“He has not committed suicide. He has been murdered and then hanged,” father Mangelal said, adding that when he visited Ram four days ago, he had appeared fine and given no hint of any despair.
Ram’s lawyer V.K. Anand too alleged “foul play” saying: “He was under no mental stress. He was very happy with the way the trial was going on.”
Security has been beefed up for the other four bus-rape accused: Ram’s brother Mukesh, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Akshay Singh. All of them, charged with murder and gang rape, face a possible death sentence. The sixth accused is a juvenile and is at a detention home.
Prison sources said Singh’s cellmates and the two guards on duty at the time were being questioned.
National Women’s Commission chairperson Mamata Sharma said the Tihar administration’s failure to protect the accused was “shocking”.
Tihar, considered the country’s most secure and modern prison, has CCTV cameras on the premises, mobile phone jamming devices, scanners and metal detectors but no provisions for electronic watch on individual cells. The jail has now witnessed three suicides in 15 months.
Official figures show that 68 prisoners committed suicide in India in 2010 and 12 were murdered by fellow inmates.
A senior jail official said: “We all know how sexual offenders are treated in jails and how frequently Ram and the others were abused in Tihar. I won’t be surprised if he had been helped on his way (to killing himself) by others.”
Senior lawyer K.T.S. Tulsi said that Ram’s death highlighted how important it was for society not to demonise people who have been accused but not convicted of crimes.
“It is so unfortunate that the media goes on to presume that they are guilty and goes on to condemn them and demonise them to an extent that it makes the life of these people not worth living,” he said.
Former Tihar director-general Kiran Bedi cited reports that the accused were ostracised within and outside the jail.
“Where an inmate loses hope and knows he has no chance of getting away, he does look for opportunities to take his own life inside jail,” she said.
“Here is a person who is in a small cell and would probably be living as long as the watch remains. So the moment he can give that watch the slip, he has the chance to escape the gallows. Such cases are very vulnerable for the prison and very challenging.”