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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 8.05.00
Munir Mohammad, 42, talks to Avijit Nandi Majumdar about the 18 years he spent in jail. Convicted for murder in 1981, Munir was released in 1999. The first blow came from the back. As I lay sprawled on the ground, my vision blurred by the attack that was splitting my head, I could barely make out that my tormentor was a tall, hefty figure. In the fading light of the evening, the buckle on the belt in his hand was glistening. "******, you have come here and not yet said salaam to me," the man rasped. "Every day that you are her, I will beat you black and blue till you bleed through the mouth unless you keep me happy..." Welcome to Presidency Jail. Half an hour ago, 11 of us were taken from the prison van and pressganged into the jail superintendent's office. Handcuffed, we waited in a corner as an abusive warder entered our details in the jail register. Eighteen years later, the words still ring in my ears: "Go murder your mothers and rape your sisters. Why do you have to bother me with so much work? You all really need to be softened up." What did he mean? I wondered. I didn't have to wait long. All of a sudden, a few warders and a couple of jamadars descended on us and beat us. This was an "initiation ceremony". I learnt later that it was meant to warn us of the consequences if we, all "first-timers", strayed. From the jail superintendent's office we were delivered into the hands of the "jail matrons"- veteran jailbirds - who had a complete run of the prison. The "bidding" for us was just about to begin. There was Kallu Goala, Stephen Anthony, Samsu, Bhola and Ram Dua, the "matron" who had struck me on the head. Leather belts in hand, they stood in a row. Still bleeding from the wound in my head, I was herded into the "aamdani" room, a dark cell where newcomers have to quote a price to be spared the daily torture. Inside, the head warder sat at a table, presiding over the "reception". Then the belts started swishing onto bare flesh. After a brief but hopeless attempt at bargaining, the deals were clinched. I went for Rs 5,000 a month; another newcomer, obviously much wealthier, fetched Rs 40,000. I had bought my peace with Ram Dua, I would, henceforth, be his keep. The money, once it arrived from my family, would find its way right up to the top. Later that night, I wondered what was worse: this, or being strung up from the ceiling in Lalbazar's central lock-up a fortnight ago while policemen kicked me and asked me to surrender my "murder weapon". A man had died at my hands over a scrap disposal dispute in Phoolbagan in August 1981 but it was an accident. The bhojali my rival was wielding got wedged in his chest while I grappled with him. He died on the spot and I fled to Bihar. The police picked me up from there. Once the matrons were paid off, jail life settled down to a routine. Up at four in the mornings, when the jamadars kicked us awake, we worked through the day doing sundry chores. But it was in the evenings that the jail came "alive." Every other evening, some jail warders and matrons would sit in a circle in a cell, glasses of liquor in their hands. A bunch of helpless prisoners (the "weak" ones) would be brought before them and then the "fun" would start. Hot iron rods would be poked into them and the warders and matrons would laugh while their victims screamed in pain. This would go on for about an hour, with the matrons and warders taking turns in hurting the prisoners. It was in Alipore Jail where I was sent a year later that I saw how a privileged few among the prisoners really lived it up. There was the colourful Gabbar, who strode up and down the jail with a cellphone in his hand. He would summon warders and bark orders at them and they would meekly oblige. He would have his gang members over at the jail and they would meet in his cell. Gabbar also liked his women, and jail employees - including the powerful union leaders, all of whom he had "bought over" - would work overtime to please him. Every other night we would see jamadars scurrying with clean sheets to the jail superintendent's office. They would make a bed there and then a girl would be ushered in and Gabbar would lock himself with her in the room. Alipore was more organised than Presidency. The head warder "sold" liquor contracts to the highest bidder among the inmates. They would then procure country liquor from outside -- bribing their way through -- and sell it every evening. I was mildly amused by the "entertainment centre" that Alipur Jail had developed. That is, until the incident a few years before my release. Two matrons, Jehangir and Shankar, pounced on a 16-year-old convict the day he was brought in. In full view of the other prisoners, they sexually abused him almost every day.s That, by itself, was no surprise. What complicated matters was when Jehangir took a "special" liking for the boy. He would provide him with good food and shelter him from other prisoners. This angered Shankar. One day, we had just finished lunch when a shriek cut through the jail from the ward in the far end of a corridor. By the time we reached the cell, the boy's lifeless body was on the floor and Shankar stood menacingly over it. The boy had been strangled to death. I am lucky to be alive to tell the tale.