“We cannot tie anybody’s tongue” - A first person account

Jun 26, 2023
By Radhakant Saxena

Radhakant Saxena served as Jail Superintendent, central jails of Jodhpur and Jaipur for 19 months during Emergency (June 1975- March 1977). He retired from the Jail services after becoming IG Jails, the highest post at the point in the Government of Rajasthan  for Prisons. He joined the PUCL In 1997 and later on, was also its Vice President. He was also the director of the Justice Mulla Commission on prison reform, the only commission ever constituted on prisons.


A Gandhian by principles, he never let the government-provided staff do the ‘menial’ tasks in his house and was well known for doing household chores himself, including mopping and sweeping the floors. Now 88 years old, he shares his experience as the jail superintendent of two jails:


During the emergency, the Rajasthan government jailed members of the Jan Sangh, the RSS, the Gandhians, the left leaders of the CPI (M) and young men from radical left organisations. The largest number of detenus were from the Jan Sangh and the RSS. There were a couple of hundred in the two jails of Jodhpur and Jaipur, where I was superintendent, in the 19 months of the Emergency.


This was one of the worst periods of being in service in the Government, as I was determined that I would not allow the violation of any rules and not be a party to any violation. There was no doubt that their political pressure was very high, in just about everything including throwing people in prison and getting special favours in Jail.


Basically, there were two types of people in Jail:  those who could not bear being in jail and were ready to apologise at the drop of a hat to be released; they also wanted special food and other special services. In the two jails that I was there, this lot was from the RSS and the Jan Sangh.


The second lot were from the Intelligentsia, the leftist and some Gandhians, who refused to take any extra services. They held protest meetings inside the jail and mostly stayed the full 19 months.


I want to report two instances about the first lot.


I have no hesitation in stating that the RSS / Jansangh lot even while in jail, could pressurise the government into letting them choose their own diets. Many people got dry fruits prescribed for themselves as Ayurveda medicines. They also got other medicines like Swarnabhasma, Hirakbhasma also prescribed. These were very costly. But since they were prescribed by doctors, the Government had to make it available. These detenus would  apply in the court and the court used to approve that Ayurvedic medicine should be given to them. The written order said that Ayurvedic medicines be provided. So they would get after the jail doctor that they really needed the Swarnabhasma. Now no matter how much we would dissuade the doctor, we had to call in Ayurvedic doctors who were more than willing to prescribe medicines of their choice and food supplements.. Now, in food supplements, if cashew nuts was mentioned, what could I have done? They had to be provided ! It used to come at the government’s cost. We ordered it and implemented the court order to the hilt.


I would like to share a few more instances of that period.


In the jail, if prisoners break rules, initially we are careful and try counselling them, but when they still brazenly violate the rules, then we punish them.


An ex-MLA of Kota called Harish, while I was on leave, told one of my jailers, that he would strip him and other functionaries naked if we did not comply with some unreasonable wish of his. So, I did send the person to the lock up. I told him, If you have something to say then tell me, if you have any complaint, then complain to me but we will not permit this kind of intimidation of the staff. He, of course, threw names but I was firm that no jail staff could be treated in this fashion. Similarly, the jail staff too could not intimidate or misbehave with any prisoner.


In those days, senior Gandhian leader, former PCC chief, Gokul Bhai Bhatt was sent to my jail in Jodhpur. He was frail, but a straightforward person. He was one of most respected Gandhians, a member of the constituent assembly, a freedom fighter and an erstwhile CM of the princely state of Sirohi. He  later led the anti-alcohol movement in the state, but he too was not spared.


In protest he went on a fast, I asked him whether there was anything we could give him while he was fasting, he replied that he would eat four boiled potatoes. Which became his regular meal.


I could not bear to take this frail fasting man to any of the jail wards of cells, so I just made him stay in the rest room attached to my office room. Rest rooms have a bed, so did mine, I asked him to use that. I didn’t let him go inside the jail.


A complaint was lodged against me that some prisoners were being provided with a lot of comfort. Gokul Bhai Bhatt was of the age of my father, I knew about him very well. So whenever I used to go inside I used to touch his feet; he was an elderly person. The IB (Intelligence Bureau),  which roamed around the entrance of the jail, complained to the government that I used to touch the feet of these prisoners. The government asked me to explain. I wrote back fearlessly, that if my father was to be locked up in a jail, that would not end my relations with him. I would restrain him, not let him flee. But I would still be respectful of him and touching feet is part of that respect that a son should give his father.


After that, I did not receive any reply, and they were satisfied.


Several other complaints were also filed against me. One young 15/16-year-old RSS chap, lost his father. In those days I didn’t have anything but a scooter. I never used the car provided by the  government. I made him sit behind me in my scooter  and took him to his father’s cremation and after the cremation was done, brought him back to jail. A complaint was lodged about this as well.


So I replied to him that it is not written anywhere in the law or in the warrant that he should be kept inside the jail with handcuffs; it is written that he will remain in the custody of the superintendent. So, he was in my custody all the time, I had taken him in my custody, his father had died, and it would have taken a long time to get the permission, so this was necessary. Since he belonged to Jaipur, I could take him for the cremation, let him participate fully and then brought him back.


What were the other  highlights? Firstly, the RSS people wanted to live and eat well. They used to come up with all the arrangements as they wanted. They, more than the left lot, approached the courts for favours.


While I was very tolerant towards all prisoners, I also disapproved of  their ways. Nothing in their conversations or interests showed that they had ever been close to any values of the freedom struggle. It was so obvious that they had not imbibed anything of that period. The freedom struggle had touched a large section of India. I had come from a semi rural part of Mathura, and we were influenced by it in a big way, though we were in our early teens at the time of independence.


The RSS lot always talked about Hindu-Muslim issue.  They did not talk about the end of the Emergency as something about the restoration of the Indian Constitution or the rule of law, or democracy. They spoke about how they would get home and never again, be in public life protesting the Congress Government, which was contrary to the resolve shown by the intelligentsia who were always planning to fight back.


I know of two senior leaders who used to literally howl and cry and could not take the incarceration.


One was advocate Guman Mal Lodha, President of the Jan Sangh, Rajasthan, Ex MLA who later became a judge of the Rajasthan High Court in 1978 , in the Janata Government period. He was later elevated as Chief justice of the Guwahati High Court in 1988. After retirement, he was elected three times as a Lok Sabha member. He sent two apology letters to the Government of Rajasthan. Although the letters written by them were sealed and forwarded to the Government. But we know that they had promised that, if released, he would not do any anti Congress or anti Indira Gandhi activities. He himself told me that!


In Jaipur Jail, there were some young leftists, very argumentative but creative. I remember two of them – Vijay Chawla and Anil Srivastava. I know Anil Srivastava passed away some time back. They were constantly under the watch of the intelligence bureau, they were not allowed to meet visitors even on a one-on-one basis, except in their presence. The state feared the leftists and  the intelligentsia, they did not fear the RSS.


They did not indulge in intimidation tactics or indiscipline. They would of course scold us once in a while but never compromised. There was a lot of idealism, they were very young too. They would regularly protest, every evening, against their incarceration. I did not stop them when I was there, as it was their right.


Of course, I remember one of the complaints against me was regarding allowing these protests. But I sent back a reply, that as detenues their right to protest was constitutional. What was wrong in raising slogans? We cannot tie anybody’s tongue.


Nowhere in the jail manual was it written that people could not protest. We have to be very careful and cannot thwart people’s dreams and aspirations, inside the jail. Jails are not police institutions. Indian jails are correctional homes and here these people were political detenus.


I remember the Jan Sangh leaders, Ujala Arora, Bhanwar lal Sharma, Manik Chand Surana in the Jaipur jail.  They were not poor in spirit as the Jodhpur ones. Of course, they all became ministers later. Girdhari lal Bhargava became an eight time MP from Jaipur. Manik Chand Surana, was very disciplined, coming from a socialist background. He never took extra favours.


When I took over as Superintendent in Jaipur, Jitendra Daaku was an inmate. He had threatened Sanjay Gandhi, the son of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who behaved like the de facto prince of India. According to him, Sanjay Gandhi was a womaniser and had eyes on his sister. I remembered that he was from the city of Banaras, he wrote Daaku, in front of his name. One ordinary morning we had a visit by a team of seven people who came from Delhi to take him. It was led by a DIG, I think Shri Ram Singh ji was Home Secretary in those days, so they told me that they had taken permission to take him to Delhi. They came with so much authority, that they barged into my room.


I called the boy. In front of the boy, I asked them if they had brought the permission letter with them. They said that the Home Secretary had granted permission verbally. I refused to accept this so-called verbal permission. I refused to comply.

Sternly, I was told that I should know that these were madam’s (Indira Gandhi’s) orders. I replied that was something that the Home Secretary and the madam would know. It was not my business. But if the state Home Secretary wanted to release a person, he would have to give it in writing. They got upset and could not believe that I was challenging their orders and madam’s orders. They were almost abusive and started personally targeting me. I stuck to my ground and said that it did not matter what kind of person I was – whether I am bad or good – but I would not accept the verbal order. I called the state home secretary and just asked one thing of him, that if I do hand him over, should I mention his, Mr. Ram Singh’s name in the record at the exit gate. Mr. Ram Singh, ofcourse, said that I should do as my conscience says. There were no instructions from him.


He then told the team, that if I let him off without entering the name of who had taken him, on whose orders and why, what if your jeep has a collision with a truck on Agra road then, where would I show him killed – in jail or outside? We all knew that his life was at high risk. So, I refused to hand him over. They left disgusted with my stand.


But later they came back with court orders and proper documents, before the emergency ended and they took him away to Delhi. We later learnt that he was killed. They tried to show him as having drowned in the Yamuna. The run up to how he was killed we cannot affirm, but it was said that after taking him to Delhi they had hung him upside down in a drum of water that caused his death, after which he his body was thrown close to the banks of the  Yamuna, saying that while he was being taken to UP, he bolted and sank in the Yamuna.


I was clear from day one, that I have to implement the law and keep my prisoners happy and also not let the Government bully me for their vested interests.


Similarly, there was a person named Tej Singh from Uttar Pradesh. A delegation of High powered Jats in the Congress, had come to take him in the same way. I refused. After the emergency was over, one day it so happened that a line of several cars stopped in front of my house and Tej Singh ji got down from a car. I greeted him and he told me that he had become the Minister of Sugarcane Production of Uttar Pradesh.


During the emergency, all prisoners were political prisoners. But there were some who were VIPs. The latter was on the basis of a special order which would come for them that they needed special treatment. That used to be obeyed. Which of course consisted of getting a mattress and cleaner toilets etc. Apart from the dry fruits in the name of Ayurveda etc


Books and Libraries were made available to everyone and prisoners had access to the library. I remember we would also buy books that people wished to read. Obviously, not Das Kapital! I cannot recall who asked, but one prisoner did ask for it. We were told that we could give Discovery of India but not a copy of Das Kapital!


I was completely relieved when the Emergency was lifted. And very happy that the rule of law was restored.


But in today’s context, I am not sure whether the rule of law will ever be restored. Unlawful ways and means are being used to pass laws and arrest people, suppress ideas and deny the right to hold views. The RSS and Jan Sangh were never committed towards India. We had a first hand experience with them.  I shudder to think how much more damage they will do, now that they are  in power. The decline of Institutions and processes has almost become irretrievable.


(Excerpts from an interview. The full interview will be uploaded on the PUCL website)