Harsh has been locked up in New Delhi’s Tihar jail, one of the largest prisons in Asia, three times. Each time, he said, he’s encountered ghosts.
“It was impossible to get a sound sleep in the barracks after midnight,” said Harsh, who is currently out on bail and requested the use of a pseudonym to avoid potential legal reprisal.
“After 2AM, I often saw a black body hanging on the grills of the window. When I shared this with other inmates, they said they had also seen it.”
Apart from being inhumanly overcrowded, Tihar prison is infamous for ghost stories. Tales abound of the spirits of inmates – who died by suicide inside the prison or were hanged – haunting the insides of this jail. In the last five years, 32 inmates have killed themselves.
Many inmates have complained about hearing mysterious wails and seeing dead people.
When he was in Tihar, Harsh would pray before going to sleep. After a few hours, he said he would feel someone sitting next to him. “In my conscious mind, I knew that it was a ghost. So I tried to keep my eyes shut. Suddenly, the wind would start blowing around my ears, or I’d hear someone whisper. When I’d open my eyes, I’d see a body hanging from the grilles of the window. Hearing my screams, it would disappear.”
Harsh and other inmates started believing that it was the soul of a prisoner who had died by suicide in the same cell a few years ago. “The ghost has not harmed any one of us but it impacted our minds,” he said.
In his book, Black Warrant: Confessions of a Tihar Jailer, Sunil Gupta, former law officer of Tihar, dedicated a chapter to ghosts in Tihar. “Many inmates told me that they have seen the ghosts of Kashmiri separatists Maqbool Butt and Afzal Guru, who were hanged in 1984 and 2013, respectively,” Gupta told VICE World News.
Fearing ghosts, inmates in the same cell would try to sleep close to each other, Harsh said.
Ashok Baaje, a 34-year-old resident of New Delhi, has been to Tihar 13 times. Baaje said he believes that the spirits of four men who were executed in the prison in March 2020 are haunting the prisoners. The four men were convicted for the gang rape and murder of a medical student - a crime that drove a nationwide movement for women’s rights and a revision of India’s rape laws.
Baaje spent a week in Tihar after these hangings. He said he had not believed in ghosts until he too encountered them. Baaje said that one night, he felt something heavy on his chest. He opened his eyes to see someone sitting on him. The face glowed and it was Mukesh Singh – one of the four men executed. “I peed my pants!” Baaje said. “I was shit scared and couldn’t believe my eyes. Then the spirit disappeared.”
Next morning, more than 30 inmates claimed that they, too, “saw” Singh.
Baaje said that one of his fellow Tihar inmates even died because of a ghost, and blamed the prison for not saving him. “A ghost constantly used to ask him to come along by ending his life. It used to slap him and drag him by his hair when he refused. Then one day, my friend was found dead,” Baaje said.
Sandeep Goel, Director General of the prison, told VICE World News that the prisoners make up these ghost stories.
“We run intensive counselling services with the help of a team of doctors and NGOs. When we come across any such claims, we recommend counselling sessions and meditation.”
Goel said that first-time offenders are haunted not by ghosts but by what they have done, and could suffer from depression and anxiety. “When they hear ghost stories from other prisoners, they experience hallucinations,” Goel said.
Follow VICE on Twitter.