By Heeba Din:
Khaliur Rehman 35, Anil Kumar Burman 33, Sonamani Deb 32,Prabati Malik 32. The following figures next to these names do not correspond to the age of the people, but it accounts for the number of years these people have been under-trail and languishing in jails waiting for their trails.
“The laxity with which we throw citizens into prison reflects our lack of appreciation for the tribulation of incarceration; the callousness with which we leave them there reflects our lack of deference for humanity.”– Supreme court of India.
According to the Prision statistics report published by National Crime Records Bureau of India in 2013 , 66.2% of the total inmates were undertrail prisoners. Uttar Pradesh (53,821) followed by Bihar (24,389), Madhya Pradesh (17,619), Maharashtra (16,426), Punjab (15,373), West Bengal (13,977), Rajasthan (13,170), Jharkhand (13,035) and Haryana (10,251) reported highest numbers of undertrial prisoners . A serious but steadily growing subculture in our judicial system. An undertrial means a person kept in prison while the charges against them are being tried.
The story of Machang lang is the perfect example of the plight of prisoners in India. After spending 54 years in jail, Machang Lang was finally acquitted of the crime he was sent to jail for in 1951. While the charges for which lang was arrested would have landed him a life term sentence of 14 years if proven guilty, Lang spent more than half a century in jail awaiting for his trail. It was only after some civil rights group took notice of his case and forwarded it to the National Human Rights Commission that Lang’s case was finally taken up.
Grim but true, the situation on ground is even worse, there are many cases like that of Lang where these undertrial prisoners languish in jail, awaiting justice, while some don’t even get to have a single hearing at the court. Suffering more than their share of punishment, some of the inmates have spent more than their prescribed term in jails, waiting for the charges posed on them to be proven true.
The pain of being forgotten by the very same law which gives them the right to live and right to freedom is nothing less than frustrating for these prisoners and their families. While the statistics reveal that most of the inmates in the jails are illiterate, semi literate and from poorer sections, this poses another big hurdle in their path to freedom, as most of the times such inmates and their family members are unaware about their legal rights and aids. They can’t even afford to pay for bail.
Caught in this vicious circle of unfinished investigations, no information about legal rights and aids, poverty and illiteracy, 2, 54,857 undertrial prisoners languish in jails awaiting justice. Unfortunately, the battle for these undertrial prisoners is not only the fight to have their freedom back but also to earn their long lost dignity in the societal contours, which looks at them weary eyed and alwaysÂ with doubtful glances.
According to the Supreme Court, “When the undertrial prisoners are detained in jail custody for an indefinite period, Article 21 of the Constitution is violated.” Article 21 of the Indian constitution deals with the right to life and personal liberty of an Indian citizen.
Even with the 2005 amendment in the Cr Pc Act, which states that an undertrial prisoner having undergone detention for a period extending up to one-half of the maximum period of imprisonment specified for that offence under that law, shall be released by the Court on his personal bond with or without sureties. However, little has been done on ground to actually make this happen, and little do these undertrial prisoners know about this amendment to demand justice.
With the need to bring such a dreadful situation to account, Amensty international has launched a campaign called “Take injustice personally” which aims to identify and facilitate the release of undertrial prisoners eligible for release under law, including those who have already been in prison for over half the term they would have faced if convicted. The campaign urges people to join hands and show their support by giving a Missed Call to 080888-88899 or sign a petition online.
“Two out of three people in prison in India are undertrials. Thousands of poor and voiceless undertrial prisoners, by the government’s own admission, are locked away for long periods in prison, awaiting trial for minor offences,” said G. Ananthapadmanabhan, Chief Executive, Amnesty International India.
Organisations like theÂ Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association have pointed out the enormous prejudice that members of Muslim communities face with often concocted charges being imposed on them and rendering them jailed for years altogether. “Guilt by Association: UAPA Cases from Madhya Pradesh” & “Framing of Muslim Youth- A Report from Karnataka” point out such cases where Muslim youths were either falsely implicated or jailed because of the tag of usual suspects. A major chunk of the inmate population is that of Muslims. A total of 21% of the total population consist of Muslims, of whom only 17.7% are convicts and rest undertrial prisoners. The figures points to the discourse of “usual suspects” followed on ground which ends up picking up young muslim youth to be then detained, arrested and incarcerated on the charges of terrorism. While most of the arrests under the tag end up in acquittal but the trend points out to the unhealthy bias that has crept in the law enforcing agencies.
“Just because a handful of police officials of Special Cell of Delhi Police have
given a tag of LeT terrorists to two citizens of our country, this does not become
a conclusive proof of their beingÂ terrorists. No doubt that LeT has been
notified as a terrorist organization which has an aim of destabilising our country,
but when a citizen of our country is accused of being a member of such a
terrorist organization, then the agency making such an accusation is supposed to
have substantive pieces of evidence, howsoever ill gotten those evidences may be.”
– Justice Surinder Rathi. Addl. Sessions Judge, Tis Hazari Court
in State vs. Imran Ahmed and Anwar on 26.4.2011
With more gruesome facts to add during the year 2012, 91 undertrial prisoners were in the age group of 16-18 years, 1,17,984 (46.3%) in the age group of 18 – 30 years, 1,06,191 (41.7%) undertrials were in the age-group of 30 – 50 years and 30,591 (12.0%) undertrials were 50 years or above. The startling data reveals a major chunk of this undertrial population are youth in their prime, who remain behind bars because of our inept judicial system which takes so long in doing the paper work and our extremely efficient (pun intended) ground staff in prisons.
Sadly, it is not only the plight of under-trial cases that need to be brought to light. 14,231 – that is the number of prisoners that died in police and judicial custody in India from 2001 to 2010. Most of these deaths are a direct consequence of torture in custody. The issue also rakes up the long pending problem of overcrowding in Indian jails.
The data clearly reveals that Chhattisgarh has reported the highest overcrowding (252.6%) followed by Delhi (193.8%), Uttar Pradesh (169.0%), Punjab (133.4%), Meghalaya (131.3%), Madhya Pradesh (127.7%), Arunachal Pradesh (126.8%), Jharkhand (124.5%), Goa (119.5%), Rajasthan (116.6%), Sikkim (114.0%), Himachal Pradesh (105.5%), Kerala (104.4%), Assam (103.7%), A&N Islands (101.5%) & West Bengal (100.7%). These horrific figures point to the callousness with which the jail authorities treat these prisoners, taking away the basic human rights & dignity from them.
Cases with the likes of Rakhi Patra, a woman who sold her 17 months old son to raise the bail money for her husband or that of Mohd Faruq, a juvenile Bangladeshi who came to India with the hopes of a better life but found himself behind bars, accused of banditry, murder and robbery and spent 9 years behind bars facing charges he never committed, or Mohammad Amir, who was wrongly jailed for 14 years on terror charges, are just the tip of the ice berg. The murky corridors of Indian judicial system are filled with stories and lives of young people which the largest democracy of the world sucked through its dismal procedural policies and the rampant belief that the law is above its people.
I cannot resist but take the quote from the movie Shawshank Redemption to express what it actually does to the lives of these people. “These prison walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, gets you depend on them. That’s institutionalized. They send you here for life, that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts anyways.”