Srinagar: Does the fundamental rights flee a person as he enters the prison? The Supreme Court of India answered it in negative way back in 1980, emphasizing that denying a prisoner dignified life amounts to convicting a nation, dehumanization and repudiating the world legal order.
More than three-and-a half decades down the line, the apex court earlier this month noticed with disdain that little has changed on the ground in ensuring that prisoners, like all human beings, live a dignified life within the walled-off world.
Similarly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a signatory, provides in Article 10: “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”
Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provides: “No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
However, contrary to it, the prisoners from Kashmir in Tihar Jail, South Asia’s largest prison, continue to face torments of various kinds.
About 30 Kashmiri convicts and undertrials languish in the jail and they are not even allowed to exercise in the open, according to advocate Nasir Qadri who was part of Kashmir Bar Association team that visited the jail recently.
“They are allowed a stroll in a 20 feet room within the jail,” the lawyer said, adding this is against standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners under the international covenants and provide that every prisoner who is not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if the weather permits.
“Most of the prisoners we met are confined in 10×8 high security cells with a small washroom in one corner,” the lawyer said. The room has two CCTV cameras which monitor whatever the inmates do.
For every item, he said, the inmates have to seek permission from jail authorities even if it concerns their health.
“One of them was advised by visiting jail ophthalmologist to use spectacles and he had it only after the permission from the jail authorities,” he said.
Even for a simple pen to record court proceeding, the lawyer said, the inmates have to seek consent of the authorities.
A number of applications by the jail inmates would show that they have to seek permission even for carrying a prayer mat and clean clothes.
In one such application in September last year, an undertrial, Tariq Ahmad Dar, had to seek permission from a judge for carrying a prayer cloth for performing the mandatory prayers during the day time.
Referring to international law, the lawyer said, every prisoner has been allowed to satisfy the needs of his religious life by attending the services provided in the institution.
“They are discriminated against when it comes to calling their families. While other prisoners are free to talk to their families seven times a week, Kashmiri prisoners are allowed to talk only twice in week and that too for five minutes only,” he said.
There is no facility of radio or free newspaper available to them in the contemporary age of information and technology.
“They are not allowed to cook on their own and the canteen facility which was earlier available to them has been taken withdrawn,” he said.
Right to speedy trial is envisaged in the constitution as a fundamental right but Kashmiris are not produced in courts on due hearing dates, which delays disposal of their cases.
According to Qadri, a room within National Investigation Agency police station is supposed to work as courtroom, where the cases of undertrials will be heard on a daily basis. But the charges against Kashmiri prisoners are yet to be framed, which appears to be aimed at deliberately prolonging their detention.