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By M.R. Narayan Swamy
Title: The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail; Author: Chetan Mahajan; Publisher: Blue Salt/Penguin Books; Pages: 213; Price: Rs.250

What happens when a 42-year-old, overgrown yuppie, with one MBA degree from India and one from the US, and one who has lived in America for seven years, is sent to jail in notoriously corrupt Jharkhand for no fault of his? If it is Chetan Mahajan, he keeps a diary, meticulously noting down the goings on in the Bokaro Jail, including the sordid corruption. This is a serious book written lucidly, a commentary on all that is wrong with India's prison and judicial system that is so often brazenly biased against the poor.

Mahajan encounters inmates who have no clear idea why they have been locked up. Many of these poor prisoners end up doing manual labour. Then there are prisoners with clout who flaunt their mobile telephones, and have heaters, a TV with an iPod (to watch movie!), and an inverter! There is one prisoner who is constantly meditating, and one who knows Reiki! Thanks to his and his family's social standing, Mahajan is allowed to meet visitors face to face, a privilege not extended to most others.

Money is supposed to be banned inside prison. But that is all hogwash, Mahajan says. Corruption is rampant; if you have money, you get anything. Prison guards and cops are part of the game. Jail officials use the powers vested in them to make money. Those who can't pay suffer. Some inmates are so poor that they can't even pay for their bail - so end up being in jail needlessly.

The jail doctor, Mahajan says, is a fraud. "He never touches a patient. Never picks up his stethoscope or looks into anyone's eyes, ears or throat. He sees about 30 patients in 30 minutes." Cleanliness is missing outside the wards. The toilets are filthy. The food is universally bad. Life inside prison exposes most people to greed. Fortunately for Mahajan, he was out of it after just one month. If you want to know more about Indian prisons, read this book.

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