Black Warrant: Confessions of a Tihar Jailer is a book waiting to be turned into a TV mini-series. The working title for the mini-series could be Behind Bars: Life On the Other Side. The book, a collaborative effort between former Tihar Jail staffer Sunil Gupta and journalist Sunetra Choudhury, is a racy read. One that, apart from giving readers an insight into the minds of some of the most dreaded killers, particularly those on death row, also delves into why our prison system hasn't exactly become a reformative system that it was expected to be, and has, instead, turned out to be a place from where small-time offenders come out to be hardened criminals, often the result of torturous, inhuman treatment at the hands of corrupt prison staff, who expect to be paid for everything, even if it is to be granted to the inmate as a matter of routine.
For many of the millennials, who might not have ever heard of 'Bikini Killer' Charles Sobhraj or possibly the most infamous rapists-killers Ranga-Billa or the securitymen who gunned down Indira Gandhi, the prime minister they were charged with securing, or Maqbool Butt, founder of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, the book is a must-read if they want a quick tutorial on the history of crime in Delhi in the past four decades.
It is also true that Gupta might not have even got his job at Tihar if not for the helping hand of Sobhraj, who, incidentally, escaped prison only to be caught and brought back again.
Gupta doesn't try to sugarcoat or explain away the inefficiency and corruption that have become the hallmark of Tihar. Instead, he provides a clear narrative as to why Asia's largest prison has a culture almost on a par with another area in India that is Asia's largest slum: Dharavi. If in doing so, he allows some of his personal biases to creep into the narrative, it can be ignored.
In doing so, he doesn't shy away from taking names-of his senior officers who were responsible for much of the rot, of his colleagues who looked the other way while prisoners were almost running the jail, of criminals who were larger than life and of politicians who aided and abetted all this. He is scrupulously honest in not beating around the bush. In a sense, his words are sometimes as blunt and harsh as Phansi Kothri, where those on death row are placed before their hanging.
Unwittingly, perhaps, the book also makes the reader feel a bit of the pain and suffering of those on death row and wonder if the hangings could have been avoided.