Source: The Hitavada      Date: 10 Dec 2017 10:59:09










Where worldwide jails have seen a drastic change in their makeup and functioning, India still reels under several pressing lacunae, which need urgent attention.

VIOLATION of fundamental, human and legal rights of prisoners at the Tihar Jail in Delhi has come under the scanner of Delhi High Court as it has ordered an enquiry after such allegations by some prisoners. They complained of physical torture following which the High Court termed the incident as “very disturbing.” The incident refers to the alleged attack on inmates lodged in a high-risk ward in jail number 1 of the central jail on the night of November 21. “We need to take a call. It (the incident) is completely unjustifiable. If this is the situation in Delhi, what about other places,” a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar remarked. 

The apex court appointed a three-member fact-finding committee, headed by a District Judge of a trial court, to inquire into the incident, in which 18 inmates were allegedly beaten up by the jail staff, and submit their report before it. “It is our duty to ensure their (inmates) life is safe and secure even though they are accused of serious offences,” the bench said.

A PIL even alleged that a particular community was being targeted by the jail staff causing serious injuries to them. Moved by the plight of the inmates in various jails and the poor living conditions there, the bench further asked the AAP Government and Tihar Jail authorities “which law says that the prisoners should sleep on the floor.” During the hearing, the bench also expressed concern over fewer jails in Delhi and said the authorities should consider increasing the number of prisons. This is a sad fact that the conditions inside the Indian jails are one of the worst in the world. There might be a handful of jails like Tihar which are still better, but the jails in small towns and the hinterlands are seriously awful.

Most of them are old, dirty, crowded, the cells tiny, claustrophobic and unkempt, the food abominable, the cops atrocious and infightings and escapades common, with no or very little recreational or vocational activities for the inmates. Even Tihar had not much of such facilities before Kiran Bedi took over and brought in sea changes not only in the upkeep of the jail and innovative induction of ideas and facilities for making the system more humane but also in the way prisoners were perceived by the cops and people in general.

We woke up the reality that prisoners too were humans and deserved minimum human dignity even if they were on the erring side. Despite the Tihar reformation, pretty much like policing, jail reforms too have never happened in India. The whole structure and system is the way the British handed it down to us, where Indian prisoners were treated as cattle.
We blindly followed the same tradition of subjugation and oppression and most of the police system is yet to get rid of this colonial hangover. The police are still grossly feudal, autocratic, insensitive and suppressive—at least that’s what the general perception in society is. The citizen-friendly police is still a pipedream.

Where worldwide jails have seen a drastic change in their makeup and functioning, India still reels under several pressing lacunae, which need urgent attention. Lack of vision, planning and Government activeness has resulted in stagnation and rather a regression of the system in instances. We have often read and seen how the powers of the police are used to facilitate goons and political musclemen in jails, even over and above the norms.

Such prisoners are pampered with privileges while the common prisoner languishes with even the basic facilities missing. This has resulted in the courts to intervene in several instances. There are also regular occurrences of fighting between the inmates on the jail premises. Either the jail administration or police are inefficient or they deliberately allow such things to happen without taking any measure.

Many times, prisoners are killed or injured in such skirmishes. There are sick inmates who are not treated in time. The money allotted for the food is not fully or judiciously utilised and poor quality is served though the papers show something else.  Due to lack of security measures or presence of corrupt cops, dreaded criminals and dacoits manage to scale the walls and flee. These things reflect the working of the jail administration— the typical ‘sarkari’ way. No one is accountable to anyone. Things just go on, hinging on coincidences and luck. Accidents don’t happen daily. Once they happen, everyone sits up and takes stock at the cost of lost lives.

There is some rumbling and the status quo is ruffled, some officers are ousted, others transferred, and a probe ordered but in the end, everything settles down the way it was. In time, the shunted officials get back to their old postings, or do we expect the new incumbents to do any better than their predecessors? The birds of the feather flock together.
The creaking panting machine somehow chugs on. Instead of reforming criminals, we end up only worsening their mental state, readying them to do worse once back in society. It is unfortunate that the administration has failed to spruce up things.

That we need many more jails to accommodate convicts is a widely known thing. New jails are constructed far and few between while with growing population and new-age crimes, the number of criminals are rising by leaps and bounds. This compels the jail staff to huddle inmates together in pigeonhole cells in unhygienic conditions. We need jails which are smart green buildings, which have open spaces, trees and gardens, where there is community work and counselling and creative opportunities, where prisoners have the chance to reinvent themselves and realise that life can be beautiful this way too. Most of our jail inmates are uneducated, ill-bred, oppressed and maltreated in society.

They have never seen what a good life is. They need succour, not punishment. They need education, not guns. Every jail in the country needs to be modelled at least like what Tihar was in the early days of its reformation. It is still better than most other jails in the country and can be safely emulated for providing a better life to jail inmates. The Governments also are in difficulty. The police are terribly short of staff and most cops work long hours under tremendous pressure. They don’t meet their children for days. Expecting much civility from them is farfetched.

Most of the lower level cops who do all the grunt work suffer from psychological distress. It is they who more need counselling and recreational avenues so that they are left humane enough to show humanity towards criminals. Unless we improve their work condition, we cannot expect them to do wonders in society. What we reap depends largely on what we invest. This is why it becomes a clarion call today to reform the police and jail system.

A thorough rejig is pertinent and inevitable and the Government must prioritise this sector, especially since it is directly related to law and order, people’s safety and social progress. We cannot develop as a community and a country unless we have a safe and happy society first. But the question is, do we have the resources and the right eagerness and clarity of purpose to redraw the administrative mapping in such a way that a new era of policing dawns upon India?

By the way, even if we do that, will we be able to sustain such a clean and efficient system? Will not those traditional banes of administration and society— corruption, dereliction, unaccountability, highhandedness — again weave those invincible cobwebs in the system and clog the light of hope?