Nearly 25 years ago, 1986, to be precise, a great escape took place from the Tihar Jail, and it was the scandal of the day! The man who made the headlines was prisoner Charles Sobhraj, a Frenchman of Indian and Vietnamese origin. His crime was robbing foreign tourists, and he was said to have killed more than 12 people, before being caught and imprisoned in Tihar jail. But in his 10th year he managed to escape.
The following article appeared in The Indian Express then. It was written by my brother, who was then with The Indian Express as a sports journalist.
The Tihar Jail Warders’ Association has decided to host an inter-ward sports meet for prisoners.
The winners will be presented the Charles Sobhraj Running Trophy, which was constituted at a recent lunch meeting. Runners-up will be allowed a two-day furlough to Gwalior. Also-rans will get a two-day pass to visit the New Delhi Railway Station.
The highlight of the meet will be the lunch-break, during which a dessert of custard and grapes will be served to the games officials.
The following events are under consideration for inclusion in the meet:
Sprint: 100 m, 200 m: Prisoners will assemble at the starting line. Those who wait for the starter’s pistol will be shot.
Middle Distance: Special event for policy makers, who go neither here nor there.
Long Distance: Race will start at the main gate of the jail and pass through Delhi Airport, New Delhi Railway Station, the Inter-State Bus Terminus before turning back to the jail. Those who return will be shifted to the ward for mentally retarded.
Pole Vault: To be held with only one height – that of the outer perimeter wall of the jail.
For want of poles, high-jumpers may also enter the event. Failure will mean the long drop—at the gallows.
Judo, Wrestling, Boxing and other martial Arts: Instead of a knock-out system where prisoners fight each other to reach the final, prisoners will exhibit their prowess by tackling armed guards. The one who knocks down the most, using any form of unarmed combat, will be the winner.
Fencing, shooting: Since weaponry is not given to prisoners, these events will not be held. However, if any participant in the Martial Arts category, after knocking out a gaoler takes possession of a weapon, he can start competition in this event.
Team games: There will be no team games. Prisoners are being given a chance to show individual enterprise. Anyone showing signs of cooperation, either with officials or other players, will be disqualified and asked to become an official (See guidelines for officials).
The Winner: The ward with the maximum number of escapees will win the Charles Sobhraj Running Trophy. But if anyone retains (or returns) to receive it, the ward will forfeit the right to claim the trophy. Note: The trophy cannot be claimed posthumously.
Guidelines for Games officials: Only those officials and gaolers who were witness to the event which led to the formation of these games (The Charles Sobhraj escape) will be entitled to supervise in the games.
Officials are not expected to hamper a prisoner (participant) in any way, and should ensure that no one, barring another contestant, makes things difficult for the participant.
Officials will be expected to participate with full-hearted enthusiasm. Those who die will not be considered when inquiries into negligence of duty are ordered. Injured officials will be expected to produce evidence that the injuries were not self-inflicted. Survivors will be given a chance to participate in the second Games.
Did my brother have foresight? I was amazed when I came across this. See the last paragraph there.