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Indian prisons are living hell

The Friday morning’s incident of at least 82 female prisoners from Mumbai’s Byculla prison being admitted to JJ Hospital with symptoms like vomiting, loose motion, abdominal pain and dehydration while two of them are in a critical state, has again unveiled the deadly situation of Indian prisoners and the unhygienic surroundings they are forced to spend their days in.

Medical Superintendent of JJ Hospital Dr Sanjay Surase told AV, “Total 82 prisoners are admitted in the hospital; their condition is stable now and they are under strict observation. The process of conducting clinical blood and urine tests is ongoing.”

The Byculla Jail has 390 male and 210 female inmates and nearly 20 children who live with their mothers inside. According to reports, a 26-year-old male prisoner from the same prison was diagnosed with cholera in JJ Hospital few days back and as per Inspector General of Prison Rajvardhan Sinha, the prisoners reacted to a strong medicine dose of prophylactic tablets by the civic health department on Thursday as a precautionary measure to prevent cholera. However, according to the sources, the preliminary report suggests that contaminated water could be the cause.

Indian prisons are represented as the rehabilitation centres where the purpose of sending criminals to prison — to transform them into honest and law-abiding citizens by inculcating in them a distaste for crime and criminality — will be honoured. However, the purpose is far away to be fulfilled as what happens behind the bars, stays behind the bars! Prisoners are tortured and harassed by their fellow inmates, they try to escape or attempt suicide.

Human rights experts believe that the main objective of the prisons is to bring the offenders back to the mainstream of the society but adding more to the gloomy state of affairs, the Indian judiciary observed that the present prison system is affected with major problems like overcrowding, delay in trial, torture and ill treatment, neglect of health and hygiene, insufficient food and inadequate clothing, prison vices, deficiency in communication and staff etc. Jail authority’s failure to provide adequate prison security and the corrupt jail staff turning blind eye to the wrongdoings inside should get immediate attention. With reference to the reports, ‘33 per cent of the total requirement of prison officials still lies vacant; almost 36 per cent of vacancy for supervising officers is yet to be filled.’

Human rights activist Maruti Bhapkar expressed, “Quality food and proper hygiene are the rights of every prisoner and jail authorities have sanctioned amount for the diet of the prisoners. We need a high-level inquiry committee consisting of social workers, jail authority and government authority to investigate the corruption prevailing inside Indian prisons. The present prison system is going on since the British era and there is a need for an overall prison reform.”

An alarming statistics revealed by the central government last year regarding overcrowded prisons states that 149 jails in India are crammed full by more than 100 per cent and that eight of them cross the margins of a staggering 500 per cent. While the women prisoners are the utmost sufferers of humiliation and torture. The brutal custodial death of Byculla prison inmate Manjula Shetye, 38, is one of many such examples where six jailors attacked and sexually assaulted her last year for complaining about two eggs and five pieces of bread missing from morning ration.

Near to 67 per cent of the prisoners in the Indian jails are undertrials. Though the fundamental rights under the Constitution presume undertrials innocent till proven guilty, they are majorly subjected to prison violence — both psychological and physical torture.

In recent decades, the Supreme Court has many times shown concern for the prisoners’ ‘right to justice and fair treatment’ and directed concerned authority to take required measures immediately. Separation of undertrials from the convicts is amongst many other decisions of the apex court but this is widely ignored in practice. Moreover, the SC suggested modern healthcare facilities, the appointment of specialised doctors and a committee of social workers and dieticians to monitor the quality of food served in jails but it seems we are severely lagging behind.

Incidents after incidents will add the list of Indian prisoners’ misery if there’s not a change in the attitude towards the prison institutions. The century old existing Prison Act 1894 must be thoroughly amended according to the socioeconomic and political changes of India throughout the years.

Former Bombay High Court judge BG Kolse-Patil stated, “As per the recommendation of International Human Rights Commission, Rs 300 per day is allotted to spend on prisoners’ welfare which is not being followed here. The prison authority lacks transparency and the implementation of policies and also the audit of real expenses are not happening.” He went on adding, “Food poisoning incidences are due to sheer negligence. Undertrials are extra burdens for the Indian prisons. We are in dire need of a separate independent authority to regulate the jail administration.”

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