from The Economist, March 2012
AWAY from the crowds and chaos of the roads in Tihar, a district in west Delhi, the ordered calm of prison comes as a relief. Pigeons hop in and out through the bars of the main gate on their way to the dovecote. A dog snoozes in the shade. A pair of painters prop tall ladders against the pink outer walls and then stroll away.
South Asia’s largest prison, Tihar jail, houses some 12,000 inmates, among them terrorists, murderers, petty thieves and a smattering of disgraced politicians. Various leaders from the national ruling coalition, led by the Congress party, have recently moved inside, awaiting trial for a series of high-profile graft cases. This week saw the turn of a prominent opposition figure. Bangaru Laxman, once a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was convicted on April 27th of taking a bribe. He had been secretly filmed in 2001 accepting 100,000 rupees (then $2,136) from a journalist posing as an arms dealer. He will spend four years in Tihar, unless he wins his appeal.
The slow turning of the wheels of justice is one reason prison seems weak at deterring prominent wrongdoers. Another is that the most privileged inmates seem not to find it terribly uncomfortable inside. A tour of Jail Two, the most spruced-up part that is shown to visitors, houses prisoners passing their days snipping at bonsai trees, overseeing a herb garden and goose pond, and painting murals of idyllic rural scenes and Mahatma Gandhi. The model prison also boasts a thriving bakery, carpentry workshop (a rocking chair will cost you 7,300 rupees), and textile mill. There is a library, music academy and meditation hall.