Members of his family say he was an artiste, a flute player, a responsible son and a bright, knowledgeable young man. CID investigators say he was a jehadi.
Harpreet Singh alias Happy Singh had been serving a life term in Kolkata’s Presidency Jail, after being convicted of the 2001 abduction of shoe baron Partha Roy Burman, a case in which Aftab Ansari, an alleged mafia don based in Dubai, was the main accused.
On May 5, as Happy settled into his morning routine of meditation and exercises, a fellow prisoner, who is now being described by police and jail authorities as a “lunatic”, smashed a brick on his head. Happy died on the way to hospital.
The state government has directed the CID to investigate the murder. Two jail officials have been suspended. The Calcutta High Court has asked the government to explain the gruesome killing.
Two of Happy’s brothers-in-law, Gurpreet Singh and Gurmeet Singh, reached Kolkata on Wednesday to take the body back to the family’s home in Delhi. Neither of the men agreed to discuss the murder. “We have come to take our brother home,” said one of the relatives.
Happy, who was then 24, was arrested by CID investigators in Delhi’s Tilak Nagar in 2001. He was convicted and sentenced in May 2009. He had been recently moved from Alipore Central Jail to Presidency jail — now known as Presidency Correctional Home — where he was lodged in a cell meant for high-risk prisoners.
Happy was believed to be a close aide of Ansari’s. However, his “good conduct” was acknowledged by prison authorities, who said he had been hopeful of walking free within a year, having already spent 13 years behind bars.
While in the jail, “Happy the Jehadi”, emerged as a very promising painter, whose paintings were sent to several exhibitions including those at Jharkhand University, and Kolkata’s Academy of Fine Arts and Gaganendra Art Centre. His best works were ‘Law of the Land’, which depicted scenes inside a courtroom, and one titled ‘Waiting’, in which he showed an elderly woman waiting for somebody.
“I have been training Happy for the last seven years. In 2007, he came to my class at Alipore Central Correctional Home. He used to speak in Hindi and English and, at times, Bengali. I remember the first time he came to class. A young man with a turban on his head walked up and said he wanted to draw something. I asked him what, and he said flowers. I told him to draw a hundred flowers of a hundred different colours. He was a little hesitant initially, but he then painted the flowers. I still have that painting,” Chitta Dey, who runs the Flight to Harmony Foundation, said.
“Happy often used to portray his experiences through his paintings. He progressed a lot in the last seven years,” Dey added.
Happy’s lawyer Mandira Basu told The Indian Express that though he was called a “jehadi”, police could recover only a mobile phone from him, which they said he used to speak to dons in Dubai. “When I last met Happy in jail on April 1, I advised him to approach the high court for bail. He had served nearly 13 years, and I was sure he would be released in one or two years. He agreed. But I also told him to submit another petition seeking a transfer to Alipore Central Jail, as I felt he was not safe in Presidency jail. Some officials had told me that they would not allow him to be granted bail,” Basu said.
Happy, who had been raised by his grandparents, was often visited in jail by relatives, who appeared to love him a lot, senior prison official said. Happy’s father is physically challenged, and Happy was especially close to his grandmother, Basu said.
Happy had completed his graduation and started a small business in Delhi when he allegedly started to work with Aftab Ansari. Nearly three decades after the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, he would continue to get upset, and had gone on a hungerstrike in jail to protest the acquittal of former Congress MP Sajjan Kumar.
Happy was known as a fitness freak in the jail. His assailant had been taken out of the lunatic cell a few days before the attack, Basu said. Happy was lodged in cell No. 40; his assailant, Nizam, in No. 36. Nizam had been arrested for a murder in Pilkhana, Howrah.
Happy also had a Facebook account, a discovery that had surprised the authorities. ADG Prisons, Adhir Sharma, said the matter had been referred to the Kolkata Police’s Cyber Crime Cell. Deputy Commissioner, South, Murlidhar Sharma, denied any knowledge of Happy’s Facebook account.