West Bengal

Murder in jail

Print edition : May 30, 2014

HARPREET SINGH, alias Happy Singh, a close aide of the notorious underworld don Aftab Ansari, was murdered by another inmate of Presidency Jail in Kolkata where he was serving a life term for his role in the abduction of Partha Pratim Roy Burman, an entrepreneur and managing director of the shoe major Khadims, in 2001. Happy Singh, along with Ansari and other accomplices, was handed down the sentence in 2009.

He was apparently doing his yoga exercises on the morning of May 5 when another convict, Mohammad Nizamuddin, repeatedly bashed him on the head with a brick. Happy Singh, 43, was taken to the M.R. Bangur Hospital where he was pronounced dead. According to reports, Nizamuddin, who is also serving a life sentence, is known to be mentally unstable and has a record of violent behaviour.

Happy Singh’s earlier association with Aftab Ansari and the bizarre manner in which he met his end have raised doubts as to whether he was a victim of instant insane rage or a larger conspiracy. Ansari was awarded the death penalty in 2005 in the case relating to the attack on the American Centre in Kolkata in 2002, in which five policemen were killed and 18 were injured.

“It was a premeditated and planned murder. I do not believe anything that the jail authorities are saying. I was not even allowed to see Happy’s body. His killer, who is known to be insane, should have been in a lunatic cell, but he was put in the high-risk cell, perhaps with the express purpose of killing Happy,” said Mandira Basu, Happy Singh’s lawyer. She said she was informed of Happy Singh’s death hours after it had happened. The hearing on his appeal against the verdict in his case had been completed and the judgment was due on June 3. Mandira Basu told Frontline that she intended moving the Supreme Court for a judicial enquiry.

The incident has also raised the issue of security within the prison. The State government has started an investigation into the killing and has suspended the warden, Rakesh Biswas, and sent a show-cause notice to the head warden, Md Ishaq Khan.

On July 23, 2001, Roy Burman was abducted at gunpoint when he was on his way to his factory. He was held hostage in a house in Pakuria in North 24 Parganas for a week and released reportedly after a ransom of Rs.3.75 crore was paid to his captors. Investigations showed that this money may have been used to finance the attack on the World Trade Centre in the United States on September 11, 2001. Happy Singh was nabbed in Uttar Pradesh the same year. He, Ansari, Abdur Rehman Punji, Aquib Ali and Asabuddin were sentenced to life imprisonment eight years later. The trial was a prolonged and complicated affair, with Roy Burman himself turning hostile and refusing to identify his own voice recorded in captivity.

While serving his term, Happy Singh had gained a reputation for prison activism and had taken up painting in a serious way. The Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), a civil rights body, has also sought a judicial probe into the murder. “There are reasons to believe that there is more to it than meets the eye and that it happened with the connivance of jail authorities,” APDR activist Ronojit Sur said.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay