A 64-year-old former Indian Army captain, arrested by the Delhi Police over accusations of stealing “secret” Indian Army books, allegedly committed suicide inside Tihar Jail Thursday.
Mukesh Chopra was arrested by a team of Delhi Police officers after being briefly detained at the Manekshaw Centre at Delhi Cantonment on November 2. The administration department of the centre told police that he had allegedly stolen nine books, including an in-house magazine. Police had also claimed to have recovered four mobile phones from his possession. He was booked under sections of theft at the Delhi Cantonment police station.
Amid suspicion by security agencies of a spying angle to the alleged incident, Chopra was sent to three-day police custody and jointly questioned by police, the Intelligence Bureau and other investigating agencies. The court of duty magistrate Priya Aggarwal had then sent him to judicial custody on November 6.
According to Tihar officials, Chopra fell off the first floor of jail number 8-9 where he was lodged. He was taken to two hospitals, where doctors tried to revive him, but he succumbed to his injuries by Thursday evening.
Tihar jail officials told The Indian Express that Chopra was supposed to be counselled after he arrived in jail, as per the standard operating procedure under Project Samarthan, a mental health programme. However, he allegedly jumped to his death before the session.
“The inmate jumped from the first floor of the control room in his jail. He was supposed to be counselled. We tried our best to revive him, and later shifted him to two hospitals,” said a Tihar jail official.
His family and lawyer, meanwhile, raised questions on his death. His lawyer Deepak Tyagi told The Indian Express, “What business did he have going to the control room? If they accused him of spying for the Chinese government, then he should have been kept in a secure ward. We have found that he was also not given proper medical care while being taken to the hospital.”
His brother Rangnesh Chopra alleged: “While in police custody, my brother was subjected to interrogation which lasted for more than 15 hours every day. He would only sleep for five hours before they would wake him again. He was a former Indian Army officer and he was branded a spy by incompetent police officers.”
A magisterial enquiry has been ordered and the family has appealed for a special board of doctors to conduct the post-mortem. Tihar Jail officials said they will take further action as per the findings of the enquiry, and maintained there was no foul play in his death.
Chopra was discharged from the Indian Army in 1983. He had served as a Captain with the 5th Battalion parachute regiment from 1970 onwards. His family said he was a part of an expedition team cooperating with a team from Spain. “He was
made the liaison officer, but the Spanish team accused him of professional misconduct and complained to the Defence Ministry. He was never the same after that. But he still had love for his country,” Rangnesh said.
Chopra shifted to Canada with his wife and daughter in 1983, where they obtained Canadian citizenship. He worked as a business consultant. His daughter, a Harvard University graduate, is placed in a private company in Germany. He recently came to India from Hong Kong, and was supposed to attend a wedding in Noida.
As per court records, police recovered nine books, most of them on India-China relations, strategy and a book on the transformation of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. His counsel said all the books are available online. His family claimed he was a card-holding member of the Manekshaw Centre, but forgot to carry his card that day.