The tragic suicide incident of Vikas Pawar, who ended his life by jumping from the sixth floor of the Dindoshi sessions court on Saturday, raises questions about the problems faced by the prisoners in jail. Due to unhygienic conditions of prisons, inmates often fall ill and there is a risk of communicating diseases to the other prisoners. Even though several committees have been formed to study and submit a report about prison reforms but the guidelines made by the committees are not implemented.
Social activist Abhijeet Rane said, “A lot of illegal activities are happening in jail. The jail authorities should take necessary precautions while dealing with the criminals. They should organise positive lectures, counselling to prisoners. They should try to educate them. A lot of NGOs working in the interest of criminals are not up to the mark. They should take the initiative to change the system.”
Health protection in prisons is a serious public health issue which states ignore at their peril. Prisoners also need to get four hours of sunlight a day but they are denied. The food offered to the inmates is inedible. Instead of tea, brown water is offered to them and black water laced with stones for rice are offered to them. Chapattis and vegetables served to them lack nutritional value. Many of them are not allowed to call their relatives. As a result of these, many of them tend to get depressed and some of them try to commit suicide. Prison populations have a disproportionately high rate of people suffering from mental health or behavioural problems. The judicial system needs to incorporate psychological counselling sessions for all accused but counselling is not provided to them.
Veteran criminal lawyer Majeed Memon said, “There is a need to provide proper hygienic food and maintain cleanliness around the cell. Prison staff should behave well with prisoners. Counselling should be provided to prisoners wherever needed. All these necessities are the basic rule for keeping human in the custody.”
“Unfortunately the conditions in jail are horrible where even animals are finding it difficult to survive. Young boys and girls are kept in pathetic conditions and they get out of the prison as worst citizens. The death of Vikas Pawar in police custody is a warning bell to the prison superintendent to ensure that such incidents don’t occur hereafter,” he added.
Most of the prisons in the country are overcrowded. Owing to crowded conditions, prisoners pass on their infections to other prisoners, staff, and their own friends and families who visit them. They contract communicable diseases themselves and slip through shoddy screening and substandard treatment programs. The alarming prevalence of communicable diseases like hepatitis C, TB, and HIV/AIDS among prisoners pose a serious public health problem.
Charuvalli Khanna former member National Commission for Women said, “In the jail manual minimum guidelines are mentioned which should be followed by prison authorities. Young boys indulging in sexual offences should be provided counselling.”
After the Supreme Court was informed that 1,300 prisons across the country are overcrowded the apex court had stated that prisoners cannot be kept in jail like animals. Some of the prisons in the country are overcrowded to the extent of 600 per cent.
Social activist Godfrey Pimenta said, “Jail manual is available where everything concerned with jail and facilities for prisoners are given in detail. The prison authorities also have to follow the guidelines stated in the jail manual. If they fail to follow these guidelines then proper redressal mechanism is available.”
“What’s the point in talking about prison reforms when we cannot keep them in jail? We should release them if you cannot keep them properly,” the apex court had said. The Supreme Court reprimanded the states and union territories for complete lack of commitment to fix this extremely unfortunate situation. The apex court had through orders of May 6, 2016, and October 3, 2016, directed the preparation of a plan of action by states and union territories to address the issue of overcrowding in prisons and the proposal was directed to be submitted by March 31, 2017, but not even one of them submitted the plan.
Pradip Bhalekar, a former inmate of Arthur Road jail, has been fighting for prisoners’ rights through his NGO, Manav Adhikar Forum. According to data he accessed through a Right to Information (RTI) query, 92 inmates died between 2015 and May 2017 in four Maharashtra prisons — Arthur Road, Thane Central, Byculla women’s jail, and Kolhapur Central. All these deaths were recorded as either suicide or from natural cause.
The accused Vikas Pawar was arrested by the Powai Police in 2015 under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act for abusing a six-year-old boy. On Saturday police escorts brought Pawar from Arthur Road prison to Dindoshi sessions court for the hearing. After the conclusion of the hearing, he pushed the guard escorting him and jumped from the sixth floor of the court building. He was later rushed to Shatabdi Hospital in Kandivali but was declared brought dead.