Voice of the voiceless

Sunil Pradhan
Saturday, 11 May 2019

The Prison Diary of an Ordinary Man
Author: M Chandrakumar
Translated by: Raya Chellappa
Publisher: Westland 
Pages: 269
Price: Rs 399

The Prison Diary of an Ordinary Man is a narration of different stories of ordinary prisoners and how they got locked up by the Indian judiciary. The writer M Chandrakumar, who currently works as an autorickshaw driver, shares his unpleasant experience in the prison after he is arrested for a crime he claims he did not commit.

Chandrakumar was just 21 when he was arrested along with a few others for a petty crime. The book, which is a sequel to Chandrakumar’s bestselling novel, Lock-up, unfolds by describing how Chandrakumar is taken by surprise after his arrest and is meted out cruel and inhumane treatment by police officials. The writer shares the pain and torture he goes through while being in police custody before landing up in the prison.

In the prison, he gets temporary relief from the torture but Chandrakumar is soon dragged into a quagmire of politics, violence and struggle for survival in his new habitat. But he survives, using his mental, physical and social skills that help him bond with other inmates. 

In the book, Chandrakumar talks about the difference in treatment meted out to the rich and the poor in the prison, and how the system fosters and flourishes in bribery, corruption and politics. Although the experience shared by the author are three decades old, the story still holds relevance as the judiciary, police and prison system have a long way to go, as far as reforms are concerned. 

The Prison Diary delivers its final blow after the author narrates an incident in which the public prosecutor tells him, ‘Had you admitted to the crime, you could have been out by now.Why struggle vainly? Admit now, and the judge would most likely issue a release order’. This indicates that we need to have strong judiciary system for prisoners, who continue to languish in jails far longer than the maximum sentence they deserve for the crime committed.

The book is certainly able to express the drawbacks and lacunae in the system, but Chandrakumar fails to take a balanced view while expressing the same. The writer narrates stories of several prisoners and claims that they are victims of society. As readers, we might expect a more personal account of the writer, but he focuses on narrating stories of individual prisoners. And, yet, the book opens our eyes to the many ills and chasms that exist in our society.

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