#India- In Custody: Five Years in Jail and Innocent #sedition #dissent #Prison #Justice


  • January 15, 2013, 

    By Michael Edison Hayden, Wall street journal, India 

Roberto Schmidt/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
A man peeked through an opening of a door to a prison ward at the Tihar jail, New Delhi, April 26, 2012.

This week, India Real Time presents an in-depth look at the country’s prison and custody system.

It is a system that still carries many attributes of its origins in British-run colonial India, and gives a high degree of discretion to how state governments apply the penal code — and who ends up behind bars, whether serving prison sentences, or in temporary army or police custody.

Experts note that the national government, over decades, hasn’t funded the expansion of the prison system to meet the increasing ranks of prisoners. In part, those ranks have increased because India’s court system is backlogged with 65% of India’s 240,000 people in jail yet to face a verdict in court, according to government data. They also point to allegations of abuse in army custody, which the army denies. 

In four chapters this week, India Real Time will examine different aspects of life under custody, as well as attempts to improve it. They include the experience of those facing trial as well as efforts being made to promote rehabilitation over punishment.

Arun Ferreira
Pictured, Arun Ferreira.

MUMBAI, India – When Arun Ferreira went to prison in 2007, his son was only two. Today, they are reunited, and a tide of private anguish has at last begun to roll back and wash away.

“My family didn’t tell him that I was in jail, they told him I was away on business for five years,” Mr. Ferreira says.

“Today, my son still doesn’t believe it. Recently, he saw a picture of Nelson Mandela somewhere. I explained who he was, and then I mentioned [what happened to me], and he thought I was fibbing.”

On an unusually sunny afternoon during monsoon season in the residential neighborhood of Bandra, Mr. Ferreira is gracious and funny as we sit in a local coffee shop to discuss his experience in jail. Mr. Ferreira was arrested under the auspices that he was a Maoist rebel, planning to blow up the Deekshabhoomi Complex, a monument in the town of Nagpur, where the Dalit icon Ambedkar is believed to have embraced Buddhism for the first time. Mr. Ferreira spent most of the following roughly four years and a half years in Nagpur’s Central Jail.

The Communist Party of India (Maoist), are also known as Naxalites, a reference to the West Bengal town of Naxalbari, where their movement began. Started as a left wing political group in the 1940s, in the 1960s they launched an armed struggle against the Indian government, which they have been violently opposing ever since.

Their largest support base comes from local tribes who seek to retain their land resisting industrial interests. In 2006, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh famously described Naxalism as “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.” Members of the group could not be reached.

Mr. Ferreira was charged with attacking a police station, firing on police, and booked under the Unlawful Activities Act of 2004, a law created to bolster security against possible terrorist attacks.

Mr. Ferreira claims he was held for organizing slum-dwellers to unite in protest against the demolition of their homes. Such demolitions are a frequent source of strife here in Mumbai, often pitting poorer locals against police and property developers. Mr. Ferreira is currently out on bail and contesting two additional charges – allegations that he illicitly possessed arms and fired on police – that were leveled against him by plain-clothes officers during his time of awaiting trial in Nagpur. Mr. Ferreira denies any wrongdoing.

The Wall Street Journal
Source: National Crime Records Bureau

In Sept. 2011, a court ruled that Mr. Ferreira was innocent of all eight of the charges that were placed against him, over four years and eight months after his initial arrest.

Justice Hosbet Suresh, 83, is a former judge of the Mumbai High Court whose experience working inside the system has driven him, during his retirement years, to become an advocate for prisoners’ rights. He says that India’s slow trials are being made even slower by a lack of judicial manpower.

“There are simply not enough judges to handle all of the cases,” says Mr. Suresh. “We just have too few of them relative to the population here.”

According to the Indian Bar Association, as of 2010, there were over 30 million cases pending in courts across India due in large part to a ratio of 11 judges per million people. This leaves India with a persistent backlog of cases waiting to be heard.

As a result, “more than half of the prison population here is under trial,” Mr. Suresh estimates.

The Wall Street Journal
A graphic showing total inmates segregated by convicts, detainees and undertrial.

It’s a lot more than half: The most recent survey conducted by the National Crimes Record Bureau, a government agency, found that as many as 64.7% of Indian prisoners have not yet been convicted. And while prisoners who are ultimately convicted will see their time spent in jail while waiting for trial reduced from their sentence, such provisions provide very little consolation to the innocent, like Mr. Ferreira.

For some it’s even worse: According to the study, 1,486 under trial prisoners, or 0.6% % of the total, had been jailed for five years without having had a single day in court.

Another reason prisoners sometimes wait years for their trial is that, according to government data, the majority of those arrested are too poor to afford bail and legal counsel.

India lacks a federal department of prisons, like that of the United States. Instead, prisons are a responsibility of individual states, although the ministry of law lays out broad guidelines on how to administer them.

Mr. Ferreira believes his politics may have played a role in his prolonged detention. He says he was shuffled between several different facilities during his time at Nagpur Central. He spent his first year in the high security Anda barrack, and his final two years were spent in what’s known as the Gunah Khana, or punishment cells.

In between that time, Mr. Ferreira says he was placed with convicts in the Phasi yard. The Phasi yard is the gallows; it’s where death row inmates are kept. Mr. Ferreira says that guards told him that he was placed there for being a security threat.

When I reached out to Nagpur Central Jail, a senior official said the prison does not comment on the cases of specific inmates. The official added that it is the policy of the prison to keep convicts and prisoners who are under trials separated in adherence with the law. According to Mr. Ferreira’s account, he found himself rubbing shoulders with those convicted of the 1993 bomb blasts that rocked Mumbai, and with the perpetrators of the Kherlanji massacre of 2006, where Dalit men and women were slaughtered by upper caste Hindus.  He had little choice but to remain calm and do his best not to draw attention to himself for that entire year. A spokesman for Nagpur Central Jail declined to comment on Mr. Ferreira’s allegations.

 

– Vibhuti Agarwal contributed to this post.

Michael Edison Hayden is an American writer currently living in Mumbai. 

 

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.

The jails are full of Soni Soris


 

Divya Trivedi, Hindu

Women prisoners reveal the shocking conditions of their confinement –custodial violence, which has no sanction under law, is a part and parcel of the system

Following a minor altercation with the warden in Ward No. 8 of Tihar Jail, Zohara Baratali received severe blows on her lower abdomen that made her bleed for a full month before she succumbed to her injuries. That was a decade ago.

Last year, unable to bear the trauma of being stripped, beaten and sexually assaulted by three policemen inside Pratap Nagar Police Station in Jaipur, Seema Singh tried to end her life by jumping in front of a train. She did not die, but became a paraplegic for life. That did not deter the authorities from arresting her. Last week, the hearing for her bail application was adjourned, yet again.

The All India Meet on Women Prisoners & Custodial Violence held in Delhi on the weekend threw light on the plight of women prisoners in the country. Custodial violence, which is illegal and has no sanction under law, is a part and parcel of the system, with Soni Sori’s case having brought it into the forefront. The speakers shared their concern over the use of women’s sexuality to torture and criminalize them, with police reports usually mentioning these women as those with ‘low’ character. According to them around 99.9 per cent of women prisoners in the country belong to the backward Dalit, Adivasi and minority communities.

Trade Union activist Anu said, “The class divide runs deep in jails. If you are dressed well and look affluent, you won’t be asked to do a lot of the work. But others have to be on their feet all the time, even an 80 year old woman is not spared.” Speaking of her days in Tihar Jail, Anu said that the moment one enters the jail, even as an under trial, the perception is that the person is a criminal and an atmosphere of fear is created. Violence and abuses are a part of that fear psychosis.

Rampant corruption goes hand-in-hand behind the bars, says Anu. The solar heating system that was installed with much fanfare at Tihar is non-operational till date. Instead, Rs 10 per bucket is charged for hot water from the langar. Inside the jail, a mobile phone costs Rs 15000, a charger Rs 2000, a sim card Rs 1500 and a missed call Rs 50. Well off or gunda-like criminals can afford these and also good food from the canteen.

There is space for 250 persons, but 500 occupy it. Fights for space are regular and ugly. “If a woman is charged with a crime, her mother in law is picked up from a remote corner of the country and locked up too. Entire families are languishing in jails. Many of them do not know even after five-six years in jail, why they were picked up in the first place,” said Anu.

Tihar is not the only overcrowded jail in the country. In Central India there are approximately 2,500 female under trials in jail, of which 2,000 are from Operation Green Hunt areas, said Sudha Bharadwaj from PUCL Chhattisgarh and an advocate. “Around 132 women are in the Jagdalpur jail, most of who were picked up in Naxalite cases.  The jails are badly overcrowded, and more than 20-30 are at times squeezed in rooms which have a capacity of 6,” she said. The jails sometimes have only one latrine for women, and that too with no door and in full view of male guards, she added.

In Naxalite areas, the military keeps tribal girls within their camps in the name of custodial protection. Why is there no paperwork in such cases, asks activist Indira. In conflict areas including Kashmir, women are in a particularly vulnerable position with heavy military presence and the recourse to justice non-existent. Anjum Zamarud Habib from Kashmir spoke about how basic rights get suspended the moment the police picks up someone. “Slaps, abuses, snatching at clothes. I fail to understand how one woman can do this with another woman?” she said.

A scientist by profession, Nisha who is also a rights activist experienced the worst humiliation of her life when she set her foot inside the jail, even though she escaped some of the bad treatment due to her city bred appearance. Shamim spoke of how female prisoners were not given sanitary napkins and had to use moth eaten blankets as pads. She spoke against the forceful and unnecessary pregnancy tests, where men are also present and the person conducting the test does not even change the gloves.

Though there is a law in place that women cannot be arrested by the police after sun down and before sun set, under AFSPA it has been happening in Kashmir. In even places like Bhopal women rag pickers belonging to the Pardhi community are randomly picked up. Pardhis are considered a criminal tribe even today and the perception is so strong that the Pardhi women and men are jailed for any ‘crime’ occurring in the neighbouring areas, Prema from Bhopal said.

“It is heartening that our judgments read out in Supreme Court say a lot of good things in English about dignity and rights. But the reality of local thanas is far removed from it all,” said Vrinda Grover, advocate and human rights activist.

Amongst strategies to fight custodial torture and sexual violence, the need for strong legal aids was stressed. Prison manuals clearly chalk out prison visitation rules but they are hardly adhered to. They must be made functional, felt the participants. The entrance and exit of police stations should have closed circuit television systems to keep track of who is coming and going, said Sudha Ramalingam, PUCL Tamil Nadu.

“What we have heard today is unacceptable in any civilised society and exposes our society’s double standards. Women should become rebellious, only then will real progress happen in India,” said Justice (Rtd) Rajinder Sachar

 

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