The first reports of Anca Neacsu being arrested along with controversial arms dealer Abhishek Verma were almost greeted with wolf whistles. The pictures of her walking into the court when they were produced soon after the arrest, showed a platinum blonde in a white Western suit and aviator sunglasses.

As cameras clicked photos of her at Patiala House Court, striking at 5 feet 11 inches, stories of the “mysterious” Anca and her modelling past surfaced all over. Reporters hungry for details were fed titbits about how Abhishek Verma, who was previously jailed for bribing officials and obtaining information in the Navy War room leak case in 2006, used her as a front to again get sensitive information out of the Ministry of Defence. The biggest story about her was that she managed a meeting with the minister of state for defence, Congress’s NM Pallam Raju.

The thing that strikes you most about the routine is that it all seems to be part of the punishment. Inmates are woken up at 5 in the morning and their breakfast of tea and biscuits is at 6.45 am. They sometimes got bread but it wasn’t regularly served. Lunch is at 10.30 am everyday and then dinner by 4.30–5 pm. The only variation was that sometimes with lunch they would be served lassi.

The men in contrast had some breathing space, getting their dinner between 6 and 7 pm. It’s a routine that some never got used to, and the only ones who were okay with it were those who had special permission from court to get home food during their mulakats. Mulakats are the times allotted for families to meet the inmates, which was twice a week, and a legal mulakat with a lawyer was once a week. Special permission again meant that you have to be well-off enough to hire a lawyer who would keep renewing your permissions.

For instance, the district judge allowed Anca to eat home meals during court hearings where she would step out of prison. This was almost every day with the three ongoing cases against her, and so it was fairly effective. But the legal application had to cite the permissions that the judges of the Saket, Patiala House and the Tis Hazari courts have all given her for the same in the past. It also includes doctor’s reports suggesting that the jail’s spicy food was harming her health.

You have the right to remain in your Versace

When Abhishek met Anca for the first time inside jail during their mulakat slot, he apparently turned up in tracksuit bottoms. The sight of him in that shocked her more than a lot of other things she had seen in jail. “I told him to burn that tracksuit forever,” she said. And so their lawyers and their family members brought in items from their regular wardrobe, which got not just Tihar Jail but also the legal community talking.

“Have you seen Abhishek? He wears Hermes to court.” That’s how one lawyer described him to me. It’s not that Patiala House or Tis Hazari haven’t seen rich people appear, it’s just that very few had flaunted their lifestyle like this before. Tis Hazari with its narrow lanes, its corridors with dogs lazing around, and open urinals, provides a contrast to such visitors that is almost surreal. It’s the kind of place where my colleague who was a legal journalist got hollered at for wearing a sleeveless top: “Nangi ho ke yon ghoom rahi hai? (Why are you walking around naked?)“

In that dreary atmosphere, there’s a picture of Anca and Abhishek waiting for their court hearing. They are both seated very close to each other on one of those iron benches outside the courtroom. She’s in a peach shift dress that ends mid-thigh with black peep-toe heels, and he’s in jeans and shirt. Their labels are indeterminate from a distance, but tucked between his legs is an easily identifiable Louis Vuitton office bag.

Anca tells me that she likes to dress up for work when she comes to court. “Judges are not looking at my clothes, they are looking at my case,” she claimed, and she even asserts her position with a clause in the jail manual. Chapter 6 para 31 of the manual says: “Maintenance of certain prisoners from private sources – A Civil prisoner shall be permitted to maintain himself, and to purchase, or receive from private sources at proper hours and days foods, clothing, bedding or other necessaries, but subject to examination and to such rules as may be approved by the Inspector General.”

It is this simple rule that empowered Anca to “maintain” her designer wardrobe in jail. Photographs taken by the jail photographer show her on Christmas Day with her Versace couture sunglasses and Louis Vuitton wedges in real 24 carat gold leaf work. She tells me that they are from the 2015 winter collection. Yet another photograph shows her wearing a leopard print dress, and another in a black shift dress in the Tihar Jail library. In fact, for two years she even kept her stilettos in prison, but there was one jail superintendent who came and declared her heels to be too dangerous especially after a physical altercation with another jail inmate.

Anca claims it all started because one jail official wanted too many bribes. When the demand wasn’t fulfilled, she got a convict called Sonia to pick a fight with her. It started with abuse but led to a physical fight where she broke Anca’s thumb. Not one to let it go, Anca’s lawyers and mother-in-law didn’t just file a police FIR, they also wrote to the President of India.

Anca’s thumb stayed in plaster for two months, but the jail official was transferred and a departmental inquiry was initiated against her. But Anca’s stiletto heels were now called too dangerous, and so on 16 April 2014, she wrote to the superintendent:

Dear Madam,

I am a European national and an undertrial lodged in Jail number 6 for two cases of CBI and Enforcement Directorate. Besides my mother-in-law who is 73 years old, there is no relative here in India. My husband is also lodged in Tihar Jail for the same cases as mine.

The sandals I have been wearing since June 2012 have got worn out, torn and tattered. I do not have any relatives outside to procure a pair of footwear for me. It is therefore humbly submitted, that I may be allowed to procure a pair of footwear through mulakat from the open market.

The details of my article to be procured are given below:

Brand: Mochi (wedges sandals) 
Size: 38
Colour: beige
Price: Rs 2500-3500
Available at: Mochi, South Ext store

She then again cites the same clause and attaches pictures taken by her aides of the shopwindow to point out the style of shoes. The application is soon accepted according to jail rules, and so are a series of amenities that she applies for to “maintain” herself in jail. Some applications could be seen as personal indulgences, like the electric brush to give a groomed look to her blond hair, but other items, she said, were absolutely vital.

For instance, the fight for a Western commode.

Usually, the “loo” is just a urinal within the cell, which has no privacy. Anca and the other women would use their own clothes or a sheet to create some kind of privacy. But the lack of a pot was a battle Anca wasn’t willing to give up on. She built her case with letters from the jail doctor.

SS Rathi gave a letter saying that she “should avoid squatting” as she was suffering from in inflammation of the joints. And so finally, besides all her legal battles, she also won the battle to defecate comfortably. For this, it wasn’t just the jail authorities or the district court, but she had to file repeated pleas in the Delhi High Court. It took her two years but she finally won, and the added advantage was that no one wanted to share that commode with her and so it was almost exclusive.

In that space of 8 feet by 10 feet cell was Anca’s prized possession – an LCD 14-inch TV with 27 satellite channels including Star World Premiere. In her handwritten note dated just a month after coming to prison, Anca promises that she would donate that television set to the jail when she leaves. The permission is quickly granted, and in my interviews with other high-profile prisoners, it is clear that it’s not very unusual. If you can afford it, then it can be yours. “I always say it, jail is hell for poor people,” says Anca.

One of the side notes written in the permission letter allowing Anca to buy an electric hair brush was by the deputy superintendent who said that it should be kept in the “beauty parlour”. It’s strange to think of inmates being allowed to indulge in a parlour, but it was essentially a space where the convicts could work and also pick up skills they could use for employment after leaving jail. Inmates like Anca, who had also got a court permission to use her cosmetics, would store and use them all here – shampoos, shower gels, hair colour and anything else which they could charge to the prisoner’s personal account.

Excerpted with permission from Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous, Sunetra Choudhury, Roli Books.