Charles, Charles Sobhraj


Charles Sobhraj was arrested on 06.07.1976. Ever since he was lodged in Tihar Central Jail he was put in bar fetters and the fetters were retained continuously.

The sorrows of Sobhraj cannot be appreciated nor his constitutional claims evaluated without a fuller account of the bar fetter chapter of his jail life. I hold, bar fetters are a barbarity generally and, like whipping, must vanish. Law is not abracadabra but at once pragmatic and astute and does not surrender its power before scary exaggerations of security.

Reckless handcuffing and chaining in public degrades, puts to shame finer sensibilities and is a slur on our culture. When the decision to fetter is made, reasons shall be recorded. No fetters shall continue beyond day time as nocturnal fetters on the locked-in are ordinarily uncalled for, viewed from considerations of safety. The prolonged continuance of irons, as a punitive or preventive step, shall be subject to previous approval by an external examiner like a Chief Judicial Magistrate or Sessions Judge who shall briefly hear and record reasons.

Sobhraj succeeds, in substance, with regard to his grievance of bar fetters. In the eventuality of display of violence or escape attempts or credible evidence bringing home such a potential adventure by him, he may be kept under restraint. Irons shall not be forced on him unless the situation is one of emergency, leaving no other option. Sobhraj has lost the battle in part but won the war in full.

 – Hon’ble Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, 5J Bench, Charles Sobhraj v. Delhi Administration, (1980) 3 SCC 488.

There are characters who are endlessly written on, with enough justification. Not all of them are lawful beings. Understanding the mind of a criminal surely produces advantages, students of psychiatry or law may explain. Don’t miss, The Serpent (2021, dir. Hans Herbots, Tom Shankland).