Detainees in the state’s jails, and relatives who visit them, continue to suffer on one or the other count, despite the High Court’s repeated directives for authorities to implement the jail manual in letter and spirit. Visitors are often harassed and humiliated to break the determination of prisoners held for political reasons, a deplorable situation showing little improvement even when brought to the notice of the quarters concerned time and again.
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.’ In comparison, a single newspaper article, The Forgotten Prisoners, by civil rights lawyer Peter Benenson, appearing in The Observer of Britain on May 28, 1961, made 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 here, 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.
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 tangible measures, because its inaction sends wrong signals to the public. If it cannot deliver on its expectations, why have it here?