The untold tragedy of India’s prisoners

Jail by vijay pandey
Naively, I was under the impression that after covering the two nights that Salman Khan spent in jail, we would go a step further and find out what the other prisoners face, languishing night after night, in those hell holes. But, nah, we didn’t bother to find out the condition of our ‘caged’ men and women, sitting imprisoned in that Jodhpur Jail or in the other jails and prisons of the country. Mind you, this apathy when almost seventy-five percent of the imprisoned are undertrials and with that technically innocent.
We weren’t jolted by the near death condition of Indrani Mukerjea; even as news reports relayed she was either poisoned or else drugged with an overdose of medicines. Yes, all these murky build-ups well inside the high prison walls. Quite obviously, it’s not just the jail staff that rules and overrules the jailed, but also the political mafia. But how would we know the actual and factual happenings; fed that we are on government releases in the form of police briefings and handouts!
We haven’t even bothered to study the crucial ‘why’ inmates run away from prison hellholes. Perhaps, they are unable to cope with the daily round of humiliation and cannot pick up the courage to talk about the trauma they are undergoing. Who will listen to their long list of woes? How will they articulate details of those torturous rounds?
How will they or their families cope with the aftermath, in the backdrop of the fact that their unofficial tormentors are their official protectors!
Today, amidst the bogus developmental cries, where’s that required focus on the jails and on those languishing in jails? If the political rulers carried even faint traces of genuine connect with the disadvantaged the first thing they would have done was to reach out to the jailed inmates, at least in terms of reforms. To begin with, they ought to have expanded the very concept and idea of open jails. Let the jailed breath fresh air. Even if they have committed crimes it does not give the State the sanction to throttle them, slowly
and steadily.
In fact, way back in 2003, the then chairman of National Human Rights Commission, Justice AS Anand, had focused on the dismal conditions that the jailed face. During my interactions with him, he had detailed the congestion cum overcrowding in prisons, also the trauma faced by the undertrials, because of the delay and hurdles in getting bail.
To quote him from an interview given to me in 2003, “Yes, nearly 75% of our jail population consists of undertrials, many of whom are innocent… A large number of undertrials languish in jails even after they are granted bail because they are unable to raise the surety amount. In this context, we should consider the release of undertrials on personal bonds.” Justice Anand had also focused on the plight of the women prisoners. He had mentioned about two specific jails where women prisoners complained of the unavailability of sanitary napkins and with that of poor menstrual hygiene.
And if one were to read any of the books written by former prisoners, harsh truths come out. Anjum Zamarud Habib’s ‘Prisoner No. 100: My Nights and Days In An Indian Prison’ (Zubaan), Mohammad Aamir Khan’s ‘Framed As A Terrorist’ (Speaking Tiger), Abdul Wahid Shaikh’s — Begunah Qaidi (Pharos Media), Mufti Abdul Qayyum Ahmad Mansuri’s ‘I Am A Mufti & I Am Not A Terrorist:11 Years Behind the Bars’ (published by Jamat Ulama Ahmedabad and Maharashtra), Iftikhar Gilani’s ‘My Days in Prison’ (Penguin) … Space constraints come in way of my detailing the horrifying level of torture these hapless humans went through during their imprisonment, till they were proven innocent and set free by the Courts.
Shouldn’t these books authored by former prisoners be read by the heads of the Human Rights Commissions? Also, shouldn’t we, the not-so-jailed, question and query: Why jails and prisons are not getting developed and spruced up along the developmental cries? Where is the transparency in the treatment meted out to the jailed? Why should we go only by police hand-outs? Why shouldn’t a non-governmental agency be allowed to carry simultaneous investigative probes? Why shouldn’t the biased and corrupt and ruthless police officers be dismissed from service? Why is it getting easy for the police and agencies to arrest an innocent and frame terror charges on him; with which he sits languishing as an undertrial for years to come? Why are details to jail deaths and tortures not probed by an independent agency or any watchdog? What is the condition of the ‘alive’ jailed; not to overlook the fact that all those who cannot take the strain die, slowly and steadily, day after day? Slow death!
For God’s sake, can there be some degree (not third degree!) of transparency to what’s taking place inside those high walls? Also, how I wish that several of the jailed political prisoners of the day write what’s taking place in their jails. Lalu Prasad Yadav should write his autobiography, with ample focus on his jailed years.
Leaving you with these lines of Faiz Ahmad Faiz-
Wearing the hangman’s noose, like a necklace,
The singers kept on singing day and night,
kept jingling the ankle-bells of their fetters
and the dancers jigged on riotously.
We who were neither in this camp nor that
just stood watching them enviously.
shedding silent tears.
Returning, we saw that the crimson
of flowers had turned pale
and on probing within, it seemed
that where the heart once was
now lingered only stabbing pain.
Around our necks the hallucination of a noose
And on our feet the dance of fetters.”