The Intelligence Bureau (IB), Tihar jail authorities and the Delhi Police’s special cell are working together on a de-radicalisation programme for prisoners, a government official familiar with the project confirmed. The programme will also focus on ensuring that prisoners booked in terror cases do not succeed in radicalising other prisoners.
Senior prison officials, who did not wish to be named, said that in the past few weeks, they have held a series of meetings with the Intelligence Bureau and the special cell. With at least 16,000 prisoners, Tihar is the most populated prison complex across the country. There are over 200 prisoners in jail who have been incarcerated in connection with terror cases, the Arms Act, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and the Explosives Act.
The officials said that though the idea was first proposed by the home ministry about two years ago, the work on the project gained momentum after senior BJP leader Amit Shah took over as the home minister three months ago.
“The superintendent of Tihar’s Jail 1 was recently called to a meeting with the IB and special cell officers. He made a presentation on the de-radicalisation initiative,” said a jail officer who asked not to be named.
“Prisoners like Yasin Bhatkal, convicted in the 2013 Dilsukhnagar Hyderabad blasts, are masters at brainwashing,” said another jail officer.
“Two months ago, he managed to convince other prisoners to join him in a hunger strike because we did not allow induction cookers inside prison. It took us over two days to convince the prisoners not to follow his footsteps,” the officer added.
During a meeting last month, officials also discussed the possibility of finding jobs for vulnerable prisoners or engaging them in skills development programmes to ensure their rehabilitation. The Bureau of Police Research and Development has also suggested regular training and sensitisation of prison officers who handle violent extremist prisoners.
“The prison administration will conduct a psychological profile of prisoners before starting the programme. Psychologists have already come on board,” a third jail officer said, asking not to be named.
Jail officers have in their presentation attached case studies of how prisoners get influenced. One of the case studies involves Delhi gangster Neeraj Bawana, who was inspired to become a Delhi don after his meeting with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim’s close aide Fazal-ur-Rehman. Rehman and Bawana, then arrested in a robbery case, were lodged together around 2008-09. Bawana’s interrogation records show he was inspired by Rehman.
Sunil Gupta, who was Tihar jail’s law officer over for 35 years, says that some years ago, the Centre sent inputs about some separatist leaders lodged in Tihar who were radicalising other prisoners. “We changed the cells of many prisoners then. A jail is a vulnerable place. Hardcore criminals take advantage of vulnerable prisoners by offering to help them pay bail money or give them legal help and then lure them into their nefarious activities. Inside the prison, such vulnerable prisoners give in. It is very important to have de-radicalisation programmes.”
Explaining the importance of such initiatives, Gupta said that Sikh militant Harjinder Singh Jinda, who assassinated former army chief Arun Vaidya, was radicalized in Tihar. “Jinda was a small-time robber when he came to prison. When he came out, he became one of their top militants.”