Both the officers of the Bhopal Central Jail and the court staff would avoid confronting the jailed 29 SIMI undertrials who were lodged in the prison as they would abuse and heckle them and the policemen when being taken to court or when they were denied amenities in prison. Twenty-one of them are still alive, after eight of them, who had escaped, were killed in an encounter with the Madhya Pradesh police.
The Sunday Guardian spoke to police officers, court officials and the relatives of two undertrials who are presently lodged in the jail to find that no one wanted to confront the SIMI men because of the ignominy they would subject them too.
“Their cells were not searched as frequently as that of the other undertrials as they would create a ruckus, spit on our faces, shower us with the choicest of abuses and threaten us that they would kill our family members once they got out. The situation was so bad that we would remove our identification badges when we would enter their cells. We could not use the ‘other ways’ we generally use on other undertrials to discipline them, as these people would then claim that they were being subjected to third degree torture and would file private complaints against us in court. Once they sat on a hunger strike after we searched their cells,” claimed a police officer with the Bhopal Central Jail.
On Tuesday, post the jailbreak, when the police entered the cells to carry out search operations, they were subjected to verbal abuses and spat on. The jail officials were aware that the SIMI undertrials had taken aluminum and steel utensils used by prisoners to have their meals, into their cells, but could not muster the courage to ask them to return them. The SIMI undertrials, as per the police, turned these utensils into sharp knives to slit the throat of a prison guard before escaping.
In May 2014, when 15 of these SIMI undertrials were taken to the Bhopal district court for hearing, they had started shouting pro-Taliban slogans apart from slogans like “Ab Modi ki baari hai (Now it’s Modi turn)”. After this, the police decided to do a video conferencing of them for their trial rather than take them to court physically.
“They had no qualms and would abuse the policemen even before the judge and would talk amongst themselves that they had already killed a policemen during the Khandwa jailbreak and would repeat the feat again. Unlike the other undertrials, they would stare at the judge and even the judges would avoid confronting them. Even the policemen who accompanied them would appear helpless,” said a court official with one of the judges who was hearing the cases of the SIMI undertrials.
The relative of an undertrial, who had met him after the prison break, said that the men would not mix with other prisoners and stayed in their own group. “They were seen as special cases. The prison officials were forced to treat them like special prisoners as they were part of a huge group and had already killed a policeman and would openly say that they would take the hisab of every prison official who confronted them after they got out of prison. Even the other prisoners were terrified of them. It is most likely that even if some of the prisoners had seen them escaping, they would not have raised any alarm,” the relative said.