Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Horror of Indian Jails: Dark Sub-Culture Dominated By Murky Underworld Of Organized Gangs And Criminals Supported By Poor Legal Aid And Careless Machinery

Right to Justice bill: Helplessness, psychological disorders torture Indian prisoners. An extensive investigation by INNLIVE reporters across the country has exposed a dark sub-culture thriving in jails across the country, not very different from the murky underworld of organised gangs and criminals. In the absence of proper legal aid, the poor and the vulnerable, especially women and youngsters, unwittingly become part of the sordid system.

Any discussion on prisoners in a sympathetic manner evokes a sharp response: "Why should you worry about these people? They are dangerous criminals, murderers and rapists, why complain if they are ill treated ? They deserve it." 

In the popular mind, prisoners are dangerous criminals and hence deserve no mercy. No wonder the local population of Bhagalpur-and many outside-supported the Bhagalpur blinding.

The notion that prisoners are dangerous criminals assumes that our police is, in the first instance, able to nab the culprits- dacoits, murderers, black marketers, smugglers; that prosecution then does take place; that notwithstanding the delays, criminals are convicted-whether they are rich or poor.

Who are the people in jails ? Are they dangerous criminals, a threat to society ? Our investigations establish that a majority are either under-trials or those picked up for other reasons.

In Tihar Jail, in the capital of India, children are simply kidnapped from the streets and made to do all the menial work; the police who act in liaison with the jail staff do not pick up the rich people's children. Those nabbed are the poor, without a home, who sleep on the pavements or in a public park. The criminal charge against them is vagrancy!

Kuldip Nayar, who spent some time in Tihar Jail during the Emergency, writes: "The slaves were boys between ten and eighteen, employed as 'helpers', and there were scores of them. They cooked, washed uten-sils, cleaned rooms, fetched water and did much back-breaking labour to 'help' those who were paid to do these chores."

They would be woken up before six to prepare morning tea and would be allowed to sleep around 10 at night after scrubbing pots and pans. 

They were herded into a ward which had no sanitary facilities, but were always well lit all night to enable a sleepy warder to check at a glance if they were all there. The warder explained that whenever the number of prisoners in jails xvent up, the police were asked to bring boys to help with the chores.

One is inclined to believe that Delhi is not an excep-tion. For jails in many places are overcrowded and naturally the jail staff needs "helpers." The slave system in varying degrees may well be prevalent in jails in other states.

Moradabad Central Jail in Uttar Pradesh is so chock-a-block with inmates that there isn't enough space for them to sleep. So the 2,200 inmates in the jail, which is supposed to house only 650, sleep in shifts. Each morning when 600-odd prisoners go to court for their trial, the pressure eases somewhat and some inmates get their share of a 6ft x 2ft cell.

In Uttar Pradesh's Dasna jail, 13 men serving sentences in different cases got together to form the Gore Khan gang which pulled off a sensational heist at a Tanishq showroom in Chandigarh in January.

Begusarai jail in Bihar was so terrifying an experience for 18-year-old Amit Kumar that he still wakes up screaming from nightmares of police boots crashing into his body and faces of hardened criminals staring at him. Kumar was released from on June 13 after spending 72 days there. 

He was arrested on charges of facilitating a neighbour's abduction. Tortured to make him confess to the crime, he was released only after the "abducted" boy's body was found and another neighbour confessed to the crime.

On May 20 this year, DMK MP Kanimozhi complained about the stench from the attached toilet in her cell in Tihar's Jail No. 6 and the authorities bent over backwards to ensure proper water supply to her cell. She should consider herself lucky that she is not in the Tiruchirapalli women's prison in Tamil Nadu where inmates have to get mud to clean their toilets since there isn't any water. Lodged in the Tamil Nadu prison for five years as an undertrial from 2005 to 2010, Murugeswari says that water was so scarce that they had to choose between washing themselves and their clothes.

Overflowing with prisoners, with one waterless clogged toilet for every 100 inmates, where bad odour becomes a part of one's life and food is severely rationed-India's jails are less correctional centres and more crime dens where 'bladebaazi' (the use of surgical blades to settle scores) is rampant and and extortion extensive. There are violent fights over even a bucket of water.

What's worse, 70 per cent of the total 300,000 inmates in India's 1,356 prisons have not been convicted of any offence. They are undertrials, most of them victims of police high-handedness and a grindingly slow judicial system. Of them, nearly 2,000 have spent more than five years behind bars without being convicted of any crime. If one juxtaposes these figures with the overall conviction rate in the country-a measly 6.5 per cent-the injustice of the system stands starkly exposed.

Senior advocate Anu Narula, who works with the women inmates of Tihar jail, says that with long periods of incarceration for undertrials and lack of family support, many women have no choice but to depend on fellow prisoners, convicted of serious crimes like pushing drugs and immoral trafficking. "They unwittingly get sucked into a world of crime,'' Narula says. In an environment where only the toughest survive, new inmates are forced to learn the ropes in no time. "After a year in jail, an undertrial for a petty theft gets as hardened as a convicted criminal,'' says an official in Tihar's Jail No. 7. The poorer you are, the more you suffer.

Jails in Bihar are amongst the worst in the country. Underworld dons continue to operate from behind bars, thanks to mobile phones and lax security arrangements. In March 2010, Patna trader Randhir Jaiswal was murdered when he refused to pay heed to the extortion demands of a jailed criminal. In Patna, almost every major crime is linked to the ganglords lodged in Beur jail. In February 2011, undertrial Bablu Mishra, accused of selling spurious liquor, was beaten to death in Bihar's Nawada jail at the behest of the powerful liquor mafia, which feared that Mishra would spill the beans. In another brazen act, an imprisoned criminal in Nawada jail called up the Bihar Director-General of Police (DGP) Neelmani in March last year and threatened to blow up the town if his demands were not met.

Delhi's Tihar jail may boast of foolproof security but 2G scam accused Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables director Rajiv Agarwal, managed to smuggle in a BlackBerry phone. It is not known how long he had the phone before it was recovered from his cell during a surprise check. A Page 3 prisoner, accused of a white-collar crime, disclosed how he managed to use his satellite phone undetected in the prison two years ago. According to him, life in prison can be comfortable if one has money and is not in the media glare. "From pizzas to chicken from Maurya's Bukhara, to the best quality booze, everything can be arranged for the right price. It's just that the chicken has to be boneless and the liquor clear like gin, vodka or white rum. One can get most things in jail but for a huge price. I calculated that one needs about Rs.2 crore a year to live comfortably in jail,'' the former Tihar inmate said.

Four 'VIP' inmates at Bangalore central jail, serving life for murders, were found routinely going out for a meal as well as to broker land deals. The richer inmates even "hire'' the poorer ones to do menial jobs, including cleaning and sweeping the cell, washing clothes and filling water. A Tihar undertrial Rashid, after he missed a court date in 2008, explained at the next hearing that he could not appear because he was busy working for MP Pappu Yadav. Underworld don Abu Salem had managed to get several facilities in his Arthur Road jail cell in Mumbai. When the then minister of state for home Ramesh Bagwe visited the jail after gangster Mustafa Dossa attacked Salem in July last year, he was shocked to find a "little paradise''. Salem's cell had marble flooring, an attached bathroom, bed, utensils and posters of Bollywood actresses. He had managed to keep the jail staff happy. Dossa's cell had supplies of fruit to last 10-12 days. Salim Sheikh, an aide of underworld don Chhota Shakeel, gained 5 kg after a two-year jail stint.

However, money can be a double-edged sword. It buys little luxuries but it also attracts extortion gangs. The biggest extortion ring or 'bladebaaz' gang in Tihar jail run by Romesh Sharma-believed to be a Dawood Ibrahim associate-was exposed after a high-profile undertrial made a formal complaint against the demands and threats by gang members in March 2007. Now out on bail, the inmate made the complaint after he was attacked twice with surgical blades in the high-security jail van, which ferries prisoners for their court dates. 

The gang had demanded Rs.3 crore as protection money. The inmate was saved by the jail staff in the van but some others were not as lucky. 

Notorious pimp Kamaljeet, charged under Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), had his face slashed in Patiala House court in July 2006, and is believed to have coughed up Rs.10 lakh.

According to jail authorities, Sanjeev Nanda, convicted in the BMW hit-and-run case, faced extortion demands and had complained about it. Even the Jessica Lall case convicted Manu Sharma complained of extortion demands.Jail authorities, however, refuse to take responsibility for the behaviour of inmates. Jharkhand inspector general of prisons (retired) Sabhapati Kushwaha says that barring a few exceptions, jails have become orphans in most states.

"While large-scale recruitment takes place to staff police ranks, there is no such exercise undertaken for jails. The staff are a minority in most jails. So they largely let the inmates do what they want, to buy peace with them,'' he said. The bribes make things smoother. Kushwaha concedes that the Government's indifference to the condition of jails defeats the basic purpose of crime control.

In the women's Jail No. 6 of Tihar, where Kanimozhi was lodged till she was shifted to a special cell in the assistant superintendent's office, nearly 90 per cent of inmates are undertrials. Many are often acquitted, but only after they have suffered. Madhu Diwanchand, 46, was recently acquitted of charges of murdering her husband after she had spent six years in jail, separated from her two children. In Jail No. 7, which houses young adults between 18 and 21, more than 95 per cent of the inmates are undertrials. 

There is the poignant case of 20-year-old Dinesh, who was granted bail in July 2010, two years after his arrest. However, he continues to be in 
prison since there is nobody to provide him surety. ``My family is in Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh. I sent them a letter when bail was given to 
me but I have got no response. I don't even know if they have got the letter,'' he said, his eyes brimming over.

Helplessness, frustration and psychological disorders are common. With limited jail staff, the overcrowded barracks become difficult to manage 
and enforcing discipline is next to impossible. A doctor in Gopalganj jail in Bihar, Budhdeo Singh, was beaten to death in the prison premises on May 29 by the inmates, after he refused to declare seven life convicts "sick''-a tag that would have stopped their transfer to a high-security jail. 

The other jail staff on duty just stood and watched. Dr Singh's wife Reena, who has two physically challenged sons and a widowed daughter to look after, has refused the Rs.10 lakh compensation given by the Government. She wants the government to include the jail officials in the list of the accused.

Senior advocate and Vice Chairman of the Law Commission of India, K.T.S. Tulsi, says that the trend to deny bail as a form of punishment is repugnant to basic bail jurisprudence. "Only those undertrials should be remanded in custody who are likely to flee or are likely to commit similar offences. An accused is presumed innocent till finally pronounced guilty,'' he says. In India, since the conviction rate is poor, pre-bail detention is used as punishment, he says. Overcrowding of jails had to be factored in. 

"Each judge should have a ready reckoner on prison capacity and prisoners lodged while deciding bail applications. If there is no room in prison, bail should be mandatory. Potentially less dangerous accused should be bailed to accommodate hardcore criminals. It should be an offence to remand an accused to a prison in which there is no space. It should be unlawful to pack prisons like sardines,'' Tulsi said.

In 1982-83, the All India Jail Reforms Committee under Justice A.N. Mulla came out with suggestions for prison reform. Yet to be implemented, the committee had recommended that undertrial prisoners should be lodged in separate facilities, away from convicted prisoners. It had also called for quick trials, simplification of bail procedures and suggested that bail should be granted to the accused as a matter of right unless the prosecution could prove that releasing the accused on bail endangered the security of society.

Former Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily says that the government is planning to introduce a Right to Justice Bill, whose highlight will be a 
time-bound justice delivery system. It remains to be seen if the ills plaguing Indian prisons get addressed.

Poverty, Vagrancy and Prostitution
About inmates in Hissar Jail, Primila Lewis has this to say : "Arrested on a charge of 'awara gardi' under the famous Section 169 of the Indian Penal Code for vagrancy, Piloo…. could not have been more than sixteen-years-old. She stayed with us a few weeks and then got out on bail provided for her by a constable in return for a spell with him as his mistress.

"This we learned was a routine occurrence. Single warders or policemen would offer to stand bail for these feckless young girls knowing that they were orphans and without help, in return for temporary or long term cohabitation."

I was told of a similar instance from Khetri Jail, Rajasthan, where two jailers bailed out a woman and kept her for a week. In Central Jail, Jaipur, my friend heard a woman prisoner refusing bail arranged for her by another woman, a prisoner acting as a go-between, "I know why you 
want me out of jail." The All Bengal Women's Association report on women prisoners in Presidency Jail, Calcutta, in 1974 highlights similar 

Then there is the story of Meena: "Meena had arrived (in Elissar Jail) in a fearful state, unable to walk, her rectum and vaginal area torn and 
bleeding, and raving like a lunatic. She had been kept in police custody for twenty-two days after her arrest and every day she had been raped by five or six policemen in succession. 

Practically deranged by this experience, she was then handed over to jail authorities. She screamed and sobbed and threatened to jump on the 
thanedar or sub-inspector just as he and his cohorts had 'jumped.' The sub-inspector of police shook his head sadly. 'She is mad', he. said, and 
the jail autho-rities asked no more questions."

Meena's crime-brought from a village in Nepal by a brahmin.. . .left alone... vagabond... She was sentenced to seven days simple  imprisonment. So, that was her "simple imprisonment". One may go on and on. The victims invariably are the poor.

And then there are the prisoners from Hazaribagh and Jamshedpur jails who Mary Tyler describes: "Nearest to the bars slept Bulkani, old, skinny 
and asthmatic, a retired colliery worker, in prison without trial for three years already, on a petty theft charge.."

She cites the case of 55-year-old Gulabi : "Together with four other labourers she had been harvesting paddy on a landlord's field, unaware 
that the ownership of that particular land was disputed by his cousin who promptly had all the labourers, and the man who had employed them, arrested for stealing his paddy. Ironi-cally, the two landowners settled their quarrel and Gulabi's employer was released from jail, while the labourers remained behind bars. Gulabi had been in prison for nearly three years.. . . without once seeing the magistrate."

Mary Tyler goes on: "A child was brought into our care. Her father, a widowed coal miner, had gone on hunger strike outside the colliery 
manager's office after being redundant. On the fifth day he had been arrested and since there was nobody to look after his three-year-old 
daughter, he had been obliged to bring her to jail with him."

In the Women's Reformatory, Jaipur, as on July 1, 1981, out of a total number of 40 convicts, nine were charged with murder and attempted 
suicide. Eight of them were fed up with life for various reasons (poverty, fight with in-laws).

Once is not Enough
If you are poor and have once landed in jail-for whatever reason or no reason-the probability of your being back in jail off and on is fairly high. 

This is the impression I gathered from my talk with some of the under-trials in Jaipur Central Jail. "When you are an undertrial and go to the 
court every fortnight, the people, policemen everybody watches you.. . . 

You are a 'criminal'. You will be nabbed again as a suspect when-ever anything goes wrong in your locality. At the police lock-up you will be 
beaten (if you do not bribe them) to extort a 'confession'."

"These policemen," another undertrial said with anger, "ask you to steal and demand their hafta (share). If you do not have the ill-gotten money, how will you give them? And if you don't, they will throw you in jail. 

What does one do? Keep away from crime and land in jail? Or, do all the wrongs, give the dogs their share and be a free man outside?"

Often when an undertrial is to be released, the jail authorities hold him and ring up all the police stations if they "need" him There is many an 
instance of a prisoner released by court and re-arrested at the jail gate itself on some other charge. These tactics have been used consistently 
against the political acti-vists of all hues in general and the so-called Naxalites in particular.

While some are physically prevented by the police from going to the court, others-and there are reports to this effect-by sheer poverty may 
not be able to get money to meet the travelling and bail expense. 

Absence in court..., warrants issued... . back to jail. The reader might well ask, "You are trying to appeal to our emotions." Well, yes, for why should one look at things in an emotionless manner ? Figures, however convincing- and I shall cite statistics as also official statements--- tend to hide the intense human misery.

According to the 78th report of the Law Commission as on April 1, 1977, of a total prison population of 1,84,169, as many as 1,01,083 (roughly 
55%) were under-trials. For specific jails, some other reports show: 

Secunderabad Central Jail- 80 per cent under-trials; Surat-78 per cent under-trials; Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya-66 per cent under-trials.

Most undertrials are for petty offences (charges whose veracity itself is quite questionable with the police trying to make a quick-rupee through 
display of their uniform and 'danda'). Some are charged with murder. In Sikar Jail, for example, there were cases where as many as nine under-
trials were charged with one murder. 

Some of them were not even in the area of the crime. The records also show that children of eight years are charged with murder. For instance, 
in Rajasthan, for which I have detailed figures, for the four years 1975.79, of the total convicted prisoners every year, over 65 per cent of the 
convicts had been sentenced to less than a year. Less than 10 per cent of the convicts were sentenced to over ten years impri-sonment. 

And as K.F. Rustomji, former Inspector General of Police and former member of the Police Commission, writes : "The number of criminal 
repeaters in India is rather small. The number of dangerous criminals-psychopathic killers, murderers, professional robbers, burglars and 
compulsive rapists-would be very few."

A further point that hardly needs any statistical corroboration-most of those who are nabbed by the police and are unable to have themselves 
bailed out are the poor. Those with resources, the big criminals, the smugglers, corrupt politicians, tax evaders are people who are rarely 
caught. Thus our institutions penalise not the violators of law but the poor-crimes or no crimes.

Life Behind Bars
What are the conditions in jails? What is the effect of confinement on the human psyche, away from friends and relatives, persistently nagged by fears? Caught in his own complexes, with no one to console him, how does a prisoner live through his years in jail?

Food, Accommodation and Medical Treatment
Most of the jails were built in the nineteenth century or at the turn of this century. They are in a state of disrepair and are overcrowded. The Shah Cominission reports that on the eve of the Emergency, in as many as 15 of the 27 States and Union Territories, the actual population of the prisoners far exceeded the authorised accommodation. 

In Assam there were 7909 prisoners in accommodation meant for 4,930; Bihar- 38,407 as against 21,140; Madhyn Pradesh-16,66 as against 
12,388; Orissa-l0,222 as against 6,668; Maha-rashtra-19,786 as against 14,801; West Bengal-25,999 as against 20,237; Delhi 2,699 as against 
1,273. And with the imposition of Emergency thousands more were added.

The food served to the prisoners is unfit for consu-mption. According to a report of Seraikela Jail in Bihar in Economic and Political Weekly, July 
1978, "Due to overcrowding, a number of prisoners have to spend the nights actually sitting up. The prisoners are invariably very poor people; 
but the food is so rotten that they find it revolting…..Quite often the prisoners are ordered to lap up the dal which overflows on to the floor. 
For vegetable the prisoners are fed with wild grass and roots.... 

A glass of water was found to have no less than one inch of mud at the bottom... . For 400 to 800 prisoners, there are just eight latrines. The 
prisoners therefore defecate at the drains. In winter, six of them have to huddle under one blanket. Tuber-cular prisoners sleep with the as yet 
un-diseased ones."

Within a state, the situation may be different in different jails. For instance, in Rajasthan, satisfactory conditions prevail in Sikar Jail. The 
Jailor, a cons-cientious young man, has allowed the prisoners to form a panchayat which supervises the purchase and preparation of food. Not 
only are the prisoners satis-fied about the arrangement, they decided to donate one meal each to the flood affected victims in Rajasthan in July, 1981.

However, the situation was quite bad in Jaipur jail and worse still in Central Jail, Ajmer and sub-jail, Jhunjhunu. In Jhunjhunu, where there was incidentally no shortage of water, the jailor sanctioned half a bucket of water per week per person for washing and bathing. There was 
overcrowding, food was bad and inmates suffered from all sorts of skin diseases. 

If any one complained, he was beaten up. (Police firing in Samastipur Jail in January 1981, on prisoners protesting against bad food is just one 
example. In Ajmer Jail, Rajasthan, on the basis of a secret letter from prisoners, the ADM, Ajmer, conducted a surprise raid in the jail in 
December, 1980, and found 83 quintals of wheat buried in the jail compound.

He also sealed the sand over which in desperation, the jail authorities had dumped edible oil. The prisoners went on hunger strike. The DIG, Prisons. Rajasthan assured prisoners of an inquiry. The result? The prisoners who had pointed out the misdeeds have been transferred to different jails in Rajasthan. One of them was beaten so much that his arm has been fractured.)

Medical facilities-however meager-are available only in some central jails in each state. In district and sub-jails, (asterisk) a compounder or some registered medical practitioner is supposed to visit at regular intervals; the visits never materialize.

"Natural" Deaths
No wonder then that many prisoners die a "natural death" due to diseases which are otherwise minor and curable. In Seraikela Jail which has a capa-city of 82 and which was being used to keep 400 to 800 prisoners, "143 prisoners, mostly adivasi under-trials died between 1973 and 1975". Bhabani Shanker Hoota, a political activist, who spend some time in Rourkela Special Jail, Orissa, during Emergency, tells us of two 
deaths in judicial custody "due to the combined negli-gence of hospital and jail staff." 

Similar are the complaints from Central Jail, Jaipur. Here I came across, among other serious cases, a undertrial, a man of 22, who was sent from 
Karoli to Central Jail, Jaipur "for treatment". His right arm was fractured. Not only was the bone exposed, but about an inch of it was jutting out. 
And what was worse, he had been in that state for over 20 days when I met him. 

He had been going to the jail doctor everyday and the doctor dutifully applied a yellow medicine and bandaged it. Why was he not sent to the 
city hospital ? "No police guard to accompany him to the hospital," was the reply. (However, three days after my visit he was sent to the hospital and was operated upon.) In Karnataka, Snehlata Reddy, a serious chronic asthma patient, was denied proper medical treatment. She was refused parole in spite of the doctor's recommendation and died with-in a week of her release.

Divide and Rule
Jails, overcrowded with prisoners and commonly understaffed, are run on the policy of 'divide and rule'. The Jail Manual provides that from amongst the convicts the authorities shall appoint "convict officers" (COs). They are supposed to be some sort of prefects for the inmates, but 
actually are the extra-institutional force of the jail authorities. The Convict Officer is a prized position, for it entitles a remission in jail sentence. These prisoners obtain better food from the mess and sometimes the "sick diet" (milk, fruit, eggs).

As a research student, when I said that I wanted to meet the prisoners in Central Jail, Jaipur, the authori-ties would call for these C.Os. I realised 
that they were viewed with hostility by the ordinary prisoners. These C.Os. told me that "there are no problems in the jail.. food is good. . medicines are available to sick.. Monday parades are held regularly".

Ordinary prisoners had a different story to tell, of course out of hearing of C.O.s who would invariable try to hang on when an outsider 
interviewed the prisoner.

On the weekly parades, which are held once in a month or two, the C.O.s accompany the Superinten-dent along with the Jailor and Warders. The Superin-tendent always moves into the wards with a massive force. If anyone complains, the C.O.s beat up the prisoners at his behest. 

The disobedient prisoners, those who 'instigate' the others, are handled by C.O.s and the jail staff together. "Those who demand better conditions and are rather persistent, are taken to the drama hall-meant for recreational and cultu-ral activities-tied to the pillar and beaten up by 
these people".

The substantial portion of the "income" of the jail authorities is obtained through the C.O.s who are in direct touch with the ordinary prisoners. 

They charge the prisoners for putting in a word to the authorities for getting them remission in jail sentence or allowing the prisoner to have "illegal" articles in the jail (ghee, charas, or hasheesh). Often the promotion of a prisoner from an ordinary convict to convict night watchman or convict officer is through bribing the jail authorities. Most prisoners live in an atmosphere of fear and suspicion. Though suffering is common to all, one does not see a sense of unity among them.

Loneliness and Frustration
Theirs is a closed existence; visits from friends and relatives are few and far between for most prisoners. Many of them have not had a visit for 

years together. Poor as their friends and relatives are, they find it difficult to bear the transportation expenses to visit their kith and kin in jail. 
Further, they are made to wait for hours at the jail gate; in many jails the gate-keeper asks for a bribe.

Then there are sexual perversions of all sorts. Homosexuality is widely prevalent. The jail authori-ties turn a blind eye to this. When a young boy 
enters, the prisoners have been known to have bid a price for the boy. 

The price offered is in terms of 'bidis', soap or charas. Often prisoners have been divided into camps and the groups have fought each other on 
the issue of who shall have the new entrant.

Gross Discrimination
The stories of the comforts and favours given to some of the alleged criminals, like Charles Sobhraj are well known. Santosh Rana writes about Presidency Jail, Calcutta, during the Emergency: "Some smugglers were there. They never ate jail food. Food reached them from their houses everyday. Some had the privilege of going out to their houses at night and coming back in the early morning". 

And you do not have to be a smuggler or a kingpin to enjoy extra benefits. In Delhi jail, as those who have been there will tell you, you could have whatever food you wanted, only by paying a higher price. 

In Jaipur Jail, some prisoners from well-to-do families and undergoing life sentence have no problems in going out. On the pretext of going out to the city hospital "for treatment" they go to their homes with or without the police guard, returning to the jail gate by evening.

While these people get police escort "to go to hospital", those who are genuinely sick and in need of treatment but resource-less are, usually not sent to the hospital. The plea of the jail authorities- "The police does not send us the guards".

What is worse is that even the law of the land allows for discriminatory treatment. Some states classify prisoners as being in 'A', 'B' or 'C' class on the basis of their income or social status. The Shah Commission Report shows that even amongst MISA detenus, there was discriminatory treatment in almost all states.

I shall quote from the Shah Commission Report the part which deals with MISA detainees in Gujarat which holds for other states too with some 

variations. "The detaining authorities were autho-rised to classify the prisoners according to their discretion. However in April 1976, the Government issued certain guidelines treating Members of Parlia-ment, Members of Legislative Assembly, Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Chairman of Committees or Corpo-ration/President and Vice-President/Chairman of Committee of District and Taluka Panchayat as Class I prisoners. 

As a result of the petition filed by some of the detainees, the Government gave an assurance to the- High Court to examine the case of each detainee separately and further clarified on October 26, 1976 that engineers, doctors, lawyers and persons paying income tax over a period of 10 years of not less than Rs. 5000 a year, who had been detained for political activities and Presidents of Municipalities, would be given Class I status. Businessmen paying income tax of not less than Rs. 5000 a year were also given Class I status..

The treatment meted out to those arrested in the late 1960s and early 1970's under the pretext of their being "Naxalites" breaks even those 

standards set by jail authorities themselves. Thousands still lang-uish in prisons without trial. After intensive efforts by civil liberties groups and 

many petitions to the Supreme Court some have been released in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. We just need to mention one ex-ample, that of 

Nagbhushan Patnaik, to exemplify the physical and mental deterioration that is the result of the brutal administration treatment in our jails.

Our judicial and penal system in its actual working obviously discriminates between the rich and the poor. In this scheme of thing what can be the case for prison reform?

Reforming the Reformatories
Let us outline some of the contours of the problem:
  • Imprisonment of an overwhelming number of under-trials-many of them being held in custody for long periods.
  • Lack of accommodation-overcrowding, bad food and an almost complete absence of medical facilities.
  • While hardened criminals are very few, severe restrictions are placed on almost all prisoners. The whole approach is retributive rather than reformative.
  • Prisoners demanding better treatment for them-selves have received lathis and bullets.
  • Rampant corruption in jail administration. One must note that the wage scale of the jail staff is also very low.
  • Lack of resources for jail administration, as one can infer from the low allocation for jails in the state and Central budgets.
  • Not all violators of law are penalised: it is the poor and quite often the innocent who are victi-mised.
  • The prisoners are denied "natural habitat" which we try to provide even to the animals we cage in our zoos. This coupled with the hopeless conditions in jails affects them irreversibly.
Some Suggestions
First, since on the one hand, we are confronted with imprisoning large numbers of under-trials, and on the other there is serious overcrowding, 

why not release the under-trials who have been in jail for long periods?

Many would ask: "Courts take a long time to decide and we cannot afford to release the murderers and potential criminals". As already mentioned many of them are not criminals. We need only to recall that following Supreme Court orders, the Bihar Government in 1979 released about 27,000 under-trials and there was no noticeable increase in crime.

Secondly, our prison environments are unnatural and inhuman. Along with other aspects of prison life, this leads to serious psychological 
disorders and even insanity. The conditions, in fact, "mature" petty thieves into hardened criminals. The "habitat" the prison must be 
changed. One possibility is the open camp system.

The open camp experiment is being successfully carried out in Rajasthan. 

In Sampurnanand Open Camp, Sanganer, 50 to 60 convicts -all murderers live with their families. There are no boundary walls, no fences with only four policemen as guards. The convicts are free to pursue any vocation they choose. I met one 'prisoner" at a tea stall-which is run by him; another one was working on a government farm and also doing his own farming on one acre piece of land from the government; yet 
another, a registered medical practitioner had set up a clinic in the town. 

The prisoners who are eligible for the open camp must have completed 1/3 of their sentence in what can be described as the closed jail.

"The open camp", says the Inspector General of Police, Rajasthan, "does not cost us much. We have constructed the houses. We have given them some land. They earn their own living. And what is the best thing about the camp is that there has hardly been any instance of escape in the past five years. I may add that to be chosen for open camp, prisoners have to sometimes bribe their way through. The idea in itself is very good, is workable and should be extended all over."

Thirdly, there is no internal mechanism to check the functioning of the jails today, which remain oppressive and cruel. Suggestions like
employing jail staff of high character, or the strict implementation of the jail manual do not work. One section that can doggedly keep a close
watch on the prisoners' plight and make efforts to right the wrongs is the prisoners themselves. They must have the right to assemble and organise into panchayats. Their representatives must be involved in decisions regarding food and maintenance.

Fourthly, the supervision of the administration by the prisoners can be effective only when the rights of prisoners are spelt out. The eight jail
manuals that I could collect-all of them, based on the Prisons' Act, 1894-contained detailed instructions on petty things like the width of the belt to be worn by the staff, the number of holes per square inch on the gauge to seive flour but there was not a single chapter on the rights of
the prisoners. While there is a need for a jail manual incorporating reformative approach as against the old manual drafted by colonial
rulers primarily with a view to punish and suppress political activities, particular attention should be given to clearly defining the rights of
prisoners. These rights must be enforceable in courts.

Fifthly, if the rights of prisoners, as proposed, are to be implemented, provisions must be made so that the jail staff do not violate them. These
can be checked by the prisoners only if they have the right to communicate such instances to the judiciary and civil liberties groups
freely and fearlessly. The prisoners must, therefore, have the right to mail out letters without any censorship by the jail authorities. Systematic
efforts to involve the public and raise their awareness on these issues mtist be made simultaneously.

And lastly, what needs urgent attention and action is the question of bias in the operation of our police, judiciary and judicial custody against the underprivileged and poor. Notwithstanding any amount of prison reform, this bias will continue as long as there is gross inequality and

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