Book recalls 'interesting' jailbreak by 250 JNU students in 1983

Saloni Bhatia

New Delhi, Dec 1 (PTI) Amidst ongoing protests by JNU students against the new hostel manual, it is intriguing to recall an agitation by students of the varsity in 1983 when almost 250 of them were arrested and imprisoned only to result in one of the biggest jailbreaks at the Tihar prison here.

This prison break finds a mention in the book 'Black Warrant' authored by former jail spokesperson and legal advisor Sunil Gupta and journalist Sunetra Choudhury.

The book mentions the student agitation which started in the month of April over 36 years ago against the then vice-chancellor PN Shrivastava over the hostel transfer of a student over a disciplinary issue.

The students had resorted to cutting the power supply and phone connections of the VC and the Rector. They had even gheraoed the VC and teachers leading to the police entering campus and arresting 250 students for arson and rioting on May 10, 1983.

Such was the ingenuity of the students who were arrested that they gave false names at the time of arrest, write Gupta and Choudhury.

'What was more interesting was that some of them gave their names as Hema Malini, Mala Sinha, Dharmendra at the time of arrest, which is why when they escaped it was impossible to catch them,' recalls Gupta in the book.

The arrested students also included Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, said Gupta, adding that it is not certain whether he had escaped from Tihar jail or not.

On May 11 that year during the lock-out count done before locking the jail for the night, 55 female and 125 male students were found to be missing leading to a fresh FIR against the students.

Recalling the interesting way in which they escaped, Gupta said the prison had many visitors on the day the students were arrested and all the visitors were stamped on their wrists.

'Since it was peak summer, the stamps were easily transferable from one wrist to another owing to the heat. They used this trick and many of them escaped,' he recalled.

Gupta said another reason the students could escape was that they were classified as B-class inmates or elite group, which ensured that they could meet visitors without any physical barriers.

'This aided their escape and when the police reached their campus to look for them in their hostels, they could not even trace one of them since they had given false names,' he said.

Interestingly, one of the men who had escaped that day later came back to Tihar jail albeit in another role - that of a jail superintendent, Gupta said.

JNU professor Praveen Jha recalled the incident and said, 'The movement at that time had traversed party lines and had become a student movement. Many students had courted arrest at that time and had later escaped from Tihar.' PTI SLB AMP RDM RDM