Nothing has changed in the Central Jail in Srinagar, or jails in other parts of the state, even after last year’s stripping incident. Prisoners, and their relatives who call on them, continue to suffer in one way or another. The High Court has repeatedly directed authorities to implement the jail manual in letter and spirit, but such ordered are observed more in the breach. Jail authorities humiliate visitors to break the determination of the people. Not just women, male visitors too are molested by the security staff in the name of frisking. The issue has been brought to the notice of the quarters concerned time and again, but without results.
The Bar Association visits jails regularly and produces reports on the plight of prisoners almost every year. But these reports are rejected by the ruthless state machinery as mere sheaves of paper. In 1961, a single article, The Forgotten Prisoners by Peter Benenson, that appeared in The Observer, made a huge difference for political prisoners. The civil rights lawyer had been impelled to write on the case of two arrested Portuguese students – and the Amnesty International is believed to owe its birth to this article. The author had united the world in ‘positive anger’ in 1961 to defend the prisoners.
But Srinagar is not Europe. Here prisoners are inconvenienced for a purpose. The executive has the guts to issue written orders to jail superintendents urging them not to honour court orders seeking the release of political prisoners. And to hoodwink international opinion, a new jail manual was adopted almost a decade ago, but even this has not helped detainees. Torture and persecution of prisoners is the policy of the government and is pursued without fail.
As per the manual, prisoners are entitled a particular quantity of mutton every week. While authorities in Srinagar provide it, the jails in Jammu do not. Detainees there are mostly fed pulses which have adversely affected their health. This is a brazen violation of the jail manual and also of High Court directions. As mentioned above, the High Court has urged authorities to implement the jail manual in letter and spirit. The ICRC has a role to play. It has to justify its stay in Kashmir by taking concrete measures. Its inaction is sending wrong signals to the people. If it cannot do the job it is meant for, why have it here?