On 10 July, the Central Bureau of Investigation informed the Delhi High Court that it had registered a preliminary enquiry into an attack on 18 inmates of Tihar Jail’s high-security ward. The jail’s security personnel had severely beaten the inmates, a majority of whom were Kashmiri Muslims, after prisoners allegedly objected to their pillow covers being seized, during a routine search in November last year. In May, the court directed the CBI to conduct an inquiry to ascertain the culpability of the jail officials and security personnel involved. According to RK Gaur, the CBI’s public-relations officer, the investigating body’s report merely states that a “preliminary enquiry has been registered and the investigation is going on.” Gaur refused to disclose any details about what the CBI had done in the past two months.
The pace of the CBI investigation is surprising because of the context in which the court mandated the inquiry. After a damning report into the incident by one court-appointed committee, which described the attack as a “gross violation of fundamental human rights,” the court appointed a second committee to conduct a “more serious probe.” This committee, too, minced no words in its report—explicitly detailing the inconsistent testimonies of the jail officials, the culpability of the security personnel, and identifying individuals against whom a first information report ought to be registered. The report is a serious indictment of the jail’s administrative, security and medical staff, and describes their alleged complicity in both, the custodial violence inflicted on the prisoners and the subsequent efforts to cover it up.
Yet, Chinmay Kanojia, a lawyer and the petitioner in the case, also told me that the CBI’s report “only mentions that a prelim enquiry is underway, but doesn’t give any detail.” Kanojia had learnt of the incident during a visit to Tihar Jail to meet his then client Shahid Yusuf, one of the prisoners assaulted in the jail. The National Investigation Agency arrested Yusuf, a former employee of the Jammu and Kashmir government’s agriculture department, in October last year, in a seven-year-old case of terror financing. He has been lodged in the high-security ward ever since, while the case shows little sign of progressing—the court is yet to hear arguments on the framing of charges against him.
When Kanojia visited Yusuf, on 22 November, he was made to wait for over two hours at Tihar Jail before he met his client. Yusuf immediately handed him a blood-soaked vest and recounted, as described in an order passed by the Delhi High Court, a “horrific tale” of the custodial violence inflicted on the prisoners the previous night. The next day, Kanojia presented the vest before the Delhi High Court and filed a writ petition expressing his concern with regard to the “life and safety of the prisoners lodged in Jail No. 1.”
The court appointed a three-member preliminary enquiry committee, or PEC, which submitted a report four days later. The PEC’s findings, which I reported for The Caravan in January this year, described the attack as “acts of unilateral aggression against unarmed prisoners.” Noting that the PEC’s report were “extremely serious in nature,” the court constituted a second fact-finding committee comprising Brijesh Sethi, a district judge, Mrinal Satish, a professor at National Law University Delhi, and Sumeet Verma, a legal-aid lawyer. The fact-finding committee submitted its report to the court in February, and spared nobody—indicting the police personnel responsible for the attack, the jail officials in-charge during the incident, and the doctors who attended to the prisoners.