New Delhi: It seems being forced to keep mum despite being sexually assaulted has turned into a bitter reality for many inmates in Tihar Jail.
Authorities at Tihar, the largest prison complex in South Asia, have been reluctant to lodge cases of same-sex rapes by jail inmates.
In fact, Tihar authorities are often unwilling to even share details of such incidents, said sources at west Delhi's Hari Nagar police station under whose jurisdiction the Central prison falls.
As per police data accessed by IANS, one case of rape with a male inmate was filed at the police station on May 10, 2015 while seven cases were registered last year.
Surprisingly, in 2013, 2011 and in 2010, no case of same sex rape was lodged. In 2012, police registered just one such case.
Sexual abuse is a real nightmare in the prison, according to Tihar jail sources.
"In spite of several prison reform sessions organised for inmates by Tihar jail authorities, the prison is a cruel place, especially for those who cannot defend themselves against bullies and predators," said a former Tihar inmate, who was raped by other inmates during his jail term in a case of robbery.
Mukesh Prasad, the deputy inspector general of police (DIG), prisons, told IANS, "Cases of sodomy do occur in Tihar but the number is very low unlike the assumption in the outside world that it's a rampant practice."
The DIG said the overcrowded prison did not have space for such abuse.
"As the jail is overcrowded, it is very difficult for such kind of incidents to take place. But whenever we get a complaint, we take action and lodge a complaint with the police station," he said.
A murder accused, who is out on bail, claimed that organised gangs were operating in Tihar jail who rape inmates at will.
"Rival gang members do not lose a single occasion to take revenge on other gang members. Inmates have to stay in groups while stepping out of cells to avoid getting caught by rival gangs or by an aggressive inmate," he told IANS.
Former Tihar jail director general (DG) Kiran Bedi, known for her prison reforms, blames the authorities for the rape cases inside jail premises.
"Incidents of coercive sex and sodomy do take place in Tihar. CCTV cameras installed inside the jails ensure that all inmate movements are recorded. If rapes still happen, it means that the CCTV footage is not being monitored properly," Bedi told IANS.
She said prisoners from a prosperous background manage to pay their way through and stay safe. But it is a different story for the poor and the physically weak.
"We have used education, sports and yoga to keep prisoners busy. They (prisons officials) are distracted with too many rich people there (in jail). Their attention is diverted by these rich people.
"Some people are bought out completely. When people are bought, what can the leadership do? Prisoners have to be kept in a normal routine to keep their focus away from negative thoughts," Bedi added.
She said the authorities should also interview each prisoner so that such criminal acts can be stopped.
Apart from the money and muscle power of gangs, the culture of hyper-masculinity in prisons makes a sodomy victim the target of derision among fellow prisoners.
"Many learn to live with the pain and abuse and keep silent because of being threatened with dire consequences. Others sometimes become 'prostitutes' trading their bodies for protection. Some do it to earn cash or drugs," a police officer told IANS on condition of anonymity.
The source said prisoners are tortured in a variety of ways apart from sodomy.
"Some dreaded and habitual offenders (inmates) always search for new victims. Other inmates cheer while watching the rapes," the source said.
For some unfortunate ones, the torture never stops.
A prison official, who handled the December 16, 2012 main accused Ram Singh, recalls him trembling while asking the guards about his safety: "Will I be safe there in the prison? Will the inmates do something to me?"
Singh's lawyer complained a number of times to the court that his client was being routinely raped in prison. Vinay Sharma, another accused in the same case, also said that he was raped on several occasions.
Eventually, Singh committed suicide due to unknown reasons. Last year, the Delhi High Court had asked the Delhi government and Tihar authorities to hold consultations and suggest ways to improve the prisoners' condition.
A National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) report, based on data collected from Indian prisons between 2007 and 2011, revealed that a majority of suicides in the jails were because of same-sex rapes by fellow prisoners.
The report was prompted by the suicide of an accused in the Delhi gang rape case of December 2012 in Tihar jail.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)