#India- Prisons shut away from all human rights

Hindustan Times
New Delhi, February 24, 2013
West Bengal‘s Dum Dum Central Jail could put the notorious Abu Ghraib in a shade going by some of the disturbing incidents which have taken place there recently. A mere request for better food earned Bikram Mahato, undergoing trial for murder, a severe beating after which he was handcuffed and  kept naked in a cell. And this is not an isolated incident in this jail. When Mahato had complained about the quality of the food in 2010, the authorities in a cruel response forced him to drink a solution of bleaching powder. In the same year, Sheikh Farhat Mahmood was stripped and beaten in Kolkata‘s Presidency Central Jail for wanting some time out of his cell. What compounds this brutality is the fact that all these were undertrials, presumed innocent until proven guilty for the crimes that they are accused of.The government estimates that undertrials make for 67% of its prison population. According to a report released by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2011, the number of undertrials in the country was 2,41,200. The fact that there are more undertrials than there are convicts suggests that the system is dragging its feet over the fate of many who may be innocent. There is merit in the advice that  undertrials and convicts be kept separately. But the real issue here is judicial delays and with this often the miscarriage of justice. There were 66,569 cases still pending in the Supreme Court at the end of January 2013, and at the end of 2011, there were still 3.2 crore cases awaiting resolution in the higher and subordinate courts. Some like Machang Lalung waited for 54 years in a prison. Charged with physical assault when he was 23, the Assamese tribal was surprisingly never tried. In 2007, he was freed at the age of 77. He died in 2009, two years after his release. There was no recompense for a lifetime of wrongful captivity.

An advisory issued to states by the central government this month gives cause for some hope. Wanting to correct the systemic wrongs that see undertrials imprisoned for indefinite lengths of time, the Centre has asked states to release all such individuals, if and when they complete half the sentence their presumed offence demands. While rampant poverty and illiteracy among undertrials seem to have informed such a measure, the happenings at Dum Dum Central Jail cannot be allowed to slide. If West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee wants to put an end to the rot in the state’s prisons, she could take a leaf out of UP‘s book where 71 undertrial prisoners are appearing for board examinations this year. She must understand that this sort of trial by error is hardly in the interest of the people who looked to her for a more humane form of governance.

AI-“President Obama -a second chance to keep promises on human rights. Don’t blow it.”

Suzanne Nossel, Amnesty International USA Executive Director Calls on Newly Re-Elected President Obama to ‘Recapture the Human Rights High Ground He Staked Four Years Ago’

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579, @spksingh

(Washington, D.C.) – Suzanne Nossel, Amnesty International USA executive director issued the following statement in response to the re-election of President Barack Obama:


“When President Obama was first elected in 2008, many human rights activists rejoiced. It had been eight long years where the United States tortured, detained hundreds without charge and trial and tried to justify the horrors of Abu Ghraib. President Obama’s first campaign for the White House offered the promise of an administration that would recapture the United States’ credibility on human rights issues, bringing detention practices in line with international law, repudiating secrecy and ensuring that human rights weren’t traded away in the name of national security.


“More simply, President Obama promised a new dawn of American leadership, one in which human rights would be given more than lip-service.


“Unfortunately the first Obama administration broke many of its promises when human rights were pitted against national security interests. When it comes to countering terrorism, President Obama has hidden behind national security imperatives to shield administration policy in secrecy and pursue programs such as expanded drone use and thwarted accountability.


“President Obama’s second term will determine whether the post 9/11 stains on the United States’ human rights record are an anomaly or the new normal. It was Mitt Romney who said of the challenges of counter-terrorism that ‘we can’t kill our way out of this mess,’ But too many of President Obama’s policies are an attempt to do just that: kill lists, drone strikes and disposition matrixes will not restore the United States’ credibility or the respect it needs around the world to keep the United States safe.


Unlawful killings and other human rights violations sanctioned by the U.S government undermine the rule of law globally, creating a climate in which other countries can point to a double-standard to justify their own human rights abuses with the refrain, ‘if the U.S. government does that, why shouldn’t we.’


The United States’ power and influence should derive from its commitment to the rule of law and to advancing human rights and dignity. President Obama should not trade that away at any price.


“President Obama has been given a second chance to keep his promises on human rights. Don’t blow it.”


False Charges and Brutality in Prison: Mohd Amir Khan

June 15, 2012

Guest post by MOHD. AMIR KHAN at Kafila

[ Mohd. Aamir Khan has spent 14 years in prison and was acquitted earlier this year]

I am in deep pain today. As though terrible, terrible memories, locked away in the deep recesses of my mind have been pried open. Heard on news that an accused in terror case was killed in judicial custody in Yerwada jail. That too in his high security cell.

I had read that the British rulers unleashed physical and mental torture on prisoners in colonial jails, but have never heard that they carried out killings of hapless convicts or undertrials in their custody. The naked truth of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo has been brought before the world. But who will illumine the dark secrets of the netherworld of our prisons? Brutalisation and torture are routine in our jails.

I speak from experience, having lived for fourteen long and seemingly unending years in prisons in three states. There was a near fatal attack on me twelve years ago while I was lodged in the model prison of India, Tihar Jail. But when I survived the attack, a case was slapped on me. While I was thankfully acquitted in the case, not one of those who attacked me was charged until my father – who was still alive then—appealed to the court to intervene. Mercifully, the Court accepted his complaint and registered a case, which still goes on in Tees Hazari court.My co-accused, Mohd. Shakeel, died an unnatural death in Dasna jail in 2010. The jail superintendent and other officials are facing a trial in Ghaziabad. I have been witness to many such incidents of attack on accused, especially Muslims accused of terrorism. Have you ever heard of an attack on Lt. Col. Purohit, Swami Assemanand, Sadhvi Pragya etc? I pray for the safety and well being of all but why this difference? When news broke of Sadhvi Pragya’s torture in custody, the senior most leader of the second largest party rushed to the Prime Minister. But why are we abandoned? When there is but one national flag, one national anthem and one Constitution, why are people treated differently? Will the senior leader feel any need to raise the custodial murder of Qateel with the PM?

Whilst I was in Rohtak Jail in Haryana, a prisoner, who had recently been transferred from Ambala Central Jail, told me that prime accused in the Samjhuata Express blast received VIP facilities. I was surprised. I also heard that Pragya Thakur was sent for treatment to a hospital outside the jail, whereas most of us are not given proper treatment even in the jail dispensary.

Let it be that some undertrials receive VIP treatment and some deprived of it. At least treat us like human beings. Is it too much to ask for security against physical attacks. Is it too much to ask to live with dignity inside Indian prisons?

You might think that I am reacting unnecessarily. But I have lived the claustrophobic, life sapping existence of a prisoner. I know first hand the frustration and helplessness that comes with it. I can feel the pain of Qateel’s family. I wonder now whether his family will ever find justice. I wonder whether anything can recompense for his loss? I wonder whether this open mockery of our constitutional guarantees will continue unabated?

My only purpose in writing this is to appeal to all humane, secular people of this country to consider this matter of life, security and dignity of prisoners urgently.

In the hope for a more just future.


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