| The under-construction new building of Jehanabad Jail. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh |
Nine years ago, on a chilly November night, Jehanabad district, 55km south of Patna, witnessed one of the most organised strikes by Maoists till date.
As residents huddled closer for warmth, over 500 Maoists laid a virtual siege of the town. They broke into the Jehanabad divisional jail, killed 11 policemen and freed 130 cadres lodged there.
Shocked by the major security and intelligence failure, the state government decided to shift the jail to the town’s outskirts so that residents are safe should an attack recur. However, construction of the new jail at Kako, 8km from Jehanabad, is on for almost seven years now and its completion remains a distant dream.
Despite their brush with many gory massacres, residents of Maoist-hit Jehanabad do not want to rewind to that dreadful night. “We don’t want to think about it. Anyone new coming here asks about just two things — the massacres, especially Lakshmanpur Bathe, and the jailbreak. But one cannot miss the slow pace at which the government is building the new jail,” Ravindra Kumar Singh (65), who runs a grocery store, said.
The existing jail, which houses 550 inmates, is in an area named Gandhi Maidan — a city hotspot. A walk for a few metres through a narrow lane leads one to its main gates.
“This is a prison and not a park. How can we allow you in? You need authorities’ permission,” a guard yelled when requested to open the gate.
Some people waiting along the lane, were angry. “Why are you knocking at the gates? Our men are inside and we are waiting to meet them since morning. If your questions irk the guards, we will suffer. Normally, we aren’t even allowed to gather here in groups. Why don’t you just leave,” said a man.
Asked if they had to bribe the guards to get to see their kin or pass on something to them inside, they lost their patience. “Now you are crossing the limits,” said another.
Just then the gate opened and a policeman called out two names. Two men immediately rushed to him.
Residents are still haunted by the ghost of the jailbreak. “I was 21 then. I think it was 10 or 10.30pm. For almost three-four hours, we could hear only gunshots,” says Surendra Yadav, a small-time trader. He adds: “The bloodshed has just been ‘postponed’ for now. The caste divide in Jehanabad is stronger than in most districts. If the killings start again, massacres and jailbreaks will follow. One wonders why the jail is not being moved swiftly.”
About 7km from Gandhi Maidan, at Kako, the new jail makes for a magnificent picture. “It is almost complete. You will have to talk to senior officials for more information,” a middle aged man, who refused to give his name, said.
Jehanabad district magistrate Mohammed Sohail gave a clearer picture. “After the jailbreak, we felt to move the jail away from the town. Construction began in 2008. The state’s Infrastructure Development Authority started the work. But the project faced roadblocks. Work shifted from one department to the other and at present the building construction department is handling it. When construction began, the project cost Rs 15 crore. I can’t say by how much it has risen. But one can say that the construction is almost complete and the jail will house 1,000 inmates. It will take a couple of more months,” he said.
Raju Kumar (21), who has a grocery store right in front of the new jail, is happy. “I have been waiting for ages to see this come up. Once this complex is complete, several people will come to see their kin and my sales should go up. Hope there are no more roadblocks,” he said.