How Fatehgarh jail officials delegated work to prisoners according to their caste

22 July 2018

In September 1970, Ramchandra Singh, then a member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, entered the Hardoi District Jail, in Uttar Pradesh, as an undertrial Naxalite prisoner. He had been arrested for his involvement in the killing of an oppressive landlord in Bakhuara village, around 15 kilometres from his native village of Bangarmau in Unnao district. “We annihilated him,” Singh recalled in an interview. Singh was convicted and served 13 years of imprisonment in five jails across the state from 1970–1983. While serving his sentence, he wrote a diary recording in detail the everyday experiences of his life in jail and his interactions with other prisoners.

In 1984, Singh’s memoirs of his time in jail, was serialised in the Lucknow edition of the Hindi daily, Rashtriya Sahara. Seven years later, the literary magazine Samkaleen Dastavez published the diary under the title, Thehre Hue Terah SaalThe Thirteen Years that Stood Still. This year, the publishing house Navayana released an English version of Singh’s memoir titled, 13 Years: A Naxalite’s Prison Diary, translated by Madhu Singh, a professor in the University of Lucknow. Singh died on 2 March, as the book was going to press. In the following excerpt, Singh recounts the operation of caste within the jail. Though there was no such directive in the jail rules, Singh wrote, “The authorities did set work according to caste, owing to their Brahminical mindset.”

In the Fatehgarh jail, we were given a watery masur dal (red lentil). Some flour was added to make it thicker. Tiny worms floated in this concoction. We took them out and then dipped our rotis in it. I was disgusted to see inmates mash their rotis in this dal and eat it up nonchalantly. Once this stock of rotten dal was over, we were given rice for both meals during the cold months of December and January. I like rice but the kind we got here is hard to describe. It was difficult even to tell whether it was a handful of rotten boiled rice or a mashed gruel. Ants in the dalia were a common sight. One day as I was having my meal in the barrack, I found a piece of dried mango in the masur dal. In those days there were frequent power cuts and I couldn’t quite make it out in the dim flickering light of the lamp. I soon realised that it wasn’t a piece of mango I had been sucking on, but a dead cockroach. Sometimes, we had to eat just rotis and salt. In the name of vegetables, we got rotten smelly stuff unfit for consumption. As a result, most of the inmates suffered from serious stomach ailments. Diarrhoea and dysentery were common complaints. Batches of anaemic prisoners with pale, sickly faces would go to the hospital, from where they would be dismissed with some general pills or even spurious drugs while genuine medicines were secretly sold off by the doctors and compounders.

Ramchandra Singh was a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Red Star, and served on its central committee.

Keywords: caste Naxals prison