Prisoners’ Woes

Even after outrage over last year’s deplorable stripping incident, nothing has changed in the state’s various prisons, including the Central Jail in Srinagar. The detainees, and their relatives who visit them, continue to suffer on one count or the other.  The High Court has repeatedly directed authorities to implement the jail manual in letter and spirit. But these directives have been observed more in the breach. Jail authorities humiliate visitors to break the determination of the people. Not just women, even male visitors of detainees are molested by jail security in the name of frisking.  This has been brought to the notice of the quarters concerned time and again, but without results.

The Bar Association visits the jails regularly, and releases reports on the plight of the prisoners almost every year. But a ruthless and callous system rejects these reports as ‘packs of paper.’ Compare this to the seriousness a single newspaper article was accorded in more accountable parts of the world. The Forgotten Prisoners by civil rights lawyer Peter Benenson appeared in The Observer of Britain on May 28, 1961, making a huge difference for political prisoners.  The lawyer had been moved to write the article by the plight of two Portuguese students sentenced to seven years in prison for daring to raise a toast to freedom. The Amnesty International, of which Benenson was a co-founder, owes its birth to this article.

But Srinagar is not Europe. Prisoners here are victimized with a purpose. The executive has the guts to issue written orders asking jail superintendents not to honour court directives on releasing political prisoners. The new jail manual, adopted nearly a decade ago to placate international opinion, has not helped detainees in any way. Torture and persecution of prisoners is a policy the government follows with impunity. As per the jail manual, prisoners are entitled to a specific quantity of mutton every week. While jail authorities in Srinagar provide it, those in Jammu do not. Detainees are mostly fed pulses which have adversely affected their health. This is a violation of the jail manual and also a violation of High Court directives.

The ICRC must justify its presence in Kashmir by examining the condition of prisoners in the state’s jails, particularly with respect to medical care of ailing detainees and producing detainees before courts on dates fixed for their hearing.