Rights of prisoners-I

 The prisoners can have mutton and eat it too. They do not have to thank the superintendent for the food they take in the jail.

The Amnesty International team is in Srinagar. The team has to focus on preventive detention. The study shall, therefore, include condition of jails, plight of prisoners and their rights. This write up is for the special consideration of the Amnesty International team.    

The state adapted the New Jail Manual on July 6, 2000 following complaints by prisoners that the worn out Punjab Manual did not cater to the needs of the prisoners. The new jail manual discusses in detail the rights of the prisoners in Part I, Chapter XLIII on page 339-343. This chapter talks about human dignity, fundamental rights, legal aid, speedy trial, adequate diet, medicare, interview with relatives and hygiene.

Adequate Diet: The new manual has a separate chapter on diet starting from page 241 (Part F). The chapter has dealt in detail with the subject. Details like how and when the food should be cooked have also been incorporated. And last but not the least; the manual does not restrain prisoners from having mutton. According to Appendix `A’ to the chapter, the prisoners can have mutton once in a week (on Sundays). The non-labouring prisoners are entitled to  0.058 Kgs and their labouring colleagues to 0.065 Kgs of mutton or cheese on every Sunday.  This is mandatory and has to be provided by the jail administration. According to Jammu Kashmir Liberation front (JKLF) member, Showkat Ahmad Bakshi, the required quantity of mutton was supplied to the detainees by the jail authorities every Sunday when he was detained in Srinagar Central Jail. Jammu being a part of state cannot have a separate manual. And, according to renowned human rights activist, Parvez Imroz, if mutton is not given to prisoners in Jammu jails it is a clear violation of the Jail Manual.

There have been instances when detainees have been accused of smuggling food items into jails. Four years ago, the detained Muslim league (ML) leader, Masrat Alam was found carrying three large utensils in the police vehicle which took him to Srinagar and Budgam courts. Masrat was within his rights as per  Section 31 of the Prisons Act. He was carrying the utensils with full knowledge of his escort. Therefore, the question of smuggling does not arise.

The chapter on diet opens with Section 31 of the JK Prison’s Act, 1920 A.D. The section reads: “A civil prisoner or an unconvicted prisoner shall be permitted to maintain himself, and to purchase or receive from private sources at proper hours, food, clothing, bedding or other necessaries, but subject to examination and to such rules as may be approved by the Inspector General Prisons.”

Masrat Alam has high level of uric acid and cannot, therefore, take mutton. Doctors have also advised him to avoid pulses. In Jammu jails, he has been surviving on pulses for the past two years. Accusing him of smuggling food items is aimed at maligning his image. It is also a violation of  proviso 43.1 of Chapter XLIII.

The chapter (Diet) has a separate proviso for foreigners. Proviso 30.15 reads: “Where a foreigner is not accustomed to the diet scale mentioned in these rules, the Medical officer may recommend such modified diet as he deems fit.”

This proviso restricts the IG Prisons to make rules in this regard. It is the medical officer of the jail who can take a decision. Foreign prisoners, as people by and large know, are voracious meat eaters and cannot survive on vegetarian food provided to them in Jammu jails.

Dignity: Prisoners are expected to `behave’ in the prison. The jail administration expects them to salute at the word of command. It is the deputy superintendent or a superior officer who decides whether a prisoner has to sit down or stand up. 

The Jail Manual   on page 345 talks about the word of command. “The prisoners shall be required to salute the deputy superintendent or other officer superior to the deputy superintendent, at the word of command of the officer in whose charge they are, in the following manner.

“Halt”-to stand still if marching

 “Rise”- to rise from the sitting position

“Attention”- to stop work if working.

When it is desired to conclude the salute the following words shall be used

“March”-to move forward.

“Sit”-to assume the sitting position.

“Work”- to resume work.

This is how the prisoners are supposed to behave in the jail. However, the detainees are a special class of prisoners who are jailed to prevent them from doing an act which according to the authorities can endanger the security of the state. They do not have to salute the officers of the jail. But, in actual practice the situation is not as rosy as explained by the jail manual.

According to former detainees, the Jail Manual is followed more in breach in Jammu Jails. A scribe who was released from jail after four years said: “Not to speak of the superintendent or his deputy, an ordinary hawaldar manhandles detainees in Kotbalwaal jail”, he said.

Critical of the role of the former superintendent, the scribe said: “He used to abuse the detainees   without reason. He would tell the detainees to thank the jail administration for the food they eat in the jail.”

The convicts undergoing rigorous imprisonment have to work in the jail or at a place where the jail administration takes them. Their counterparts serving a simple imprisonment term are not supposed to work. “But in Kotbalwal  jail not only those who are supposed to work but the detainees as well would be taken out to work during former superintendent’s tenure”, he said.

Nayeem Khan, who heads the National Front is presently detained in Srinagar Central Jail. He refuses to wear handcuffs on hearing days.  His reluctance has given the jail authorities an excuse not to present him in the court notwithstanding clear directions (of the court) to the contrary.

The issue has been discussed proviso 43.23 of Chapter XLIII. It reads: “The instrument of restraint such as handcuffs and irons shall be used on under trials only in exceptional circumstances in the interest of security on the grounds to be recorded in writing by the security officer.” (SIC).

Nayeem Khan is not a militant. He has been a political activist all along. The police know him better than anybody else. Can he even think of escaping from prison?

Family Allowance: The PSA deprives a person of his personal liberty for a period of twelve months if detained for timber smuggling and two years for `posing a threat to the security of state.’ During the detention period no court is empowered to entertain any suit, prosecution or any other legal proceedings for anything done or intended to be done in good faith in pursuance of the provisions of this Act. This part of the Act has been widely agitated, discussed and criticized. But what has been left out is more serious and has wreaked havoc with the families of the detainees. The PSA has no provision for maintenance of the family of the detainee. When a person, who is the lone bread earner to his family, is detained for two years his family has to beg for food and clothing.

The Jail Manual, however, makes a mention of the allowance for maintenance of the detainee’s family. In Chapter 29: 52, the Jail Manual says: “ Allowance for the maintenance of the family of a detenue may be granted by the government in cases where they are satisfied that the detention of the detenue has substantially affected means of subsistenance of those dependents and that the dependents do not have  reasonable means of subsistence.”

This provision is not mandatory. The manual has left it entirely to the discretion of the authorities to take a decision in such cases. According to renowned human rights defender, Parvez Imroz, the state is under a constitutional obligation to provide succor to the family of a detainee. “In the garb of preventing a person from endangering the security of state, the authorities snatch the livelihood of a family”, he said.

According to Imroz the authorities must exercise their discretion judiciously. “As far as I know, the provision of the jail manual has never been invoked which reflects the indifference and apathy of the authorities viz-a-viz the families of the detainees”, he said.

(To be concluded) 

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