Kashmiri prisoners face physical abuse in jails outside state as conditions remain pitiable at home

Fourty-year old Mohammad Rafiq Shah was recently acquitted in a 2005 Delhi serial blast case. Though innocent, he served 12 years in Tihar jail where he had to survive not just the harsh conditions of a prison but also battle the jail staff who would blame him for every militancy incident in Kashmir. But Shah is not the only prisoner who had to face the brunt of jail staff. Shah is one of the many Kashmiris, lodged in prisons in Jammu and Kashmir or outside the state, who have complained of being attacked and thrashed by the jail staff and treated in most inhumane conditions.

In fact, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association (HCBA) which carried out visits to different jails both within and outside the state under the directions of the high court found the condition of jail inmates as "horrible".

 Kashmiri prisoners face physical abuse in jails outside state as conditions remain pitiable at home

Representational image. Image courtesy: CNN-News18

Earlier, the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) had asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to improve the condition of prisons in the state. Last year in November, the SHRC directed the Deputy Commissioner (DC), Baramulla, and Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Baramulla, that adequate medical facilities should be made available at the Baramulla district jail and that a doctor should be made available to women prisoners as well. In 2013, the SHRC also took notice of "pitiable" condition of jail inmates at the Central Jail in Srinagar after the inmates complained of substandard food and medicines. The Commission directed the government to improve the conditions of the jail.

As per government statistics, there were 2,809 people lodged in prisons in Jammu and Kashmir most of them in the age group of 45-60 years by December 2016. The data includes Kashmiris, prisoners from other states of India as well as foreign militants.

Acting on the orders of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir which were issued on 28 December 2015, a team of lawyers of HCBA inspected jails in the Jammu region including the Central Jail in Kotebalwal (Jammu) and district jails in Ambphala, Udhampur, Kathua and Hira Nagar on 27 January 2016. The visits were carried out after the HCBA filed a public interest petition against the State of Jammu and Kashmir in the high court.

In its report, the HCBA noted that prolonged "trials" add to the miseries of the inmates.

Based on its visit to Tihar jail earlier, the HCBA compiled a report, which was filed before the Court on 3 February 2015. The report noted that the Tihar jail remained overcrowded. But that was not the only issue that came up. One of the Kashmiri prisoners told the HCBA team that "prosecution and the courts are totally biased". He expected a long drawn and a protracted trial of his case fearing that his youth will be entirely lost in the prison. He had also alleged torture by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Another prisoner stated that he is hypertensive and is denied medicine by the jail authorities at Tihar while a third prisoner complained that he was not allowed to talk to his family members.

In its report on Central Jail in Jaipur, Rajasthan, the HCBA noted that Kashmiri prisoners stated that they were attacked by other 20 prisoners and were ruthlessly beaten up by the home guards posted at the jail. "In the said attack, a prisoner named Latief Ahmad Waza received an injury on his head. A case was registered against those who had attacked and injured Waza and others, but their blood-soaked clothes were seized, and subsequently the prisoners were forced to withdraw the case. On 17 April 2013, five Kashmiri prisoners were again attacked and ruthlessly beaten by the Hindu inmates of the jail as a result of which prisoners Mirza Nissar Hussain and Abdul Gani received severe injuries on their bodies," the report said.

The HCBA report also noted that unsafe drinking water was supplied to the inmates in the Baramulla district jail, and "money was being charged" for medical tests like X-Ray and ECG. The inmates were also refused to be taken to outside hospitals on the ground that no police escort was available in the jail. Some of the under trials also complained that there was no quarterly review of their cases being done and are handcuffed while being taken to the court in violation of Supreme Court guidelines. As for the Central Jail in Udhampur, the HCBA report noted that some of the detainees were tortured for years in police custody and denied trial.

Bashir Sidiqui, the general secretary of the HCBA, said that the association members have been visiting different jails on regular basis. "We visited the Baramulla jail last year as the inmates had gone on a strike after they alleged that they were being thrashed. The prisoners lifted the strike after they were assured that action will be taken on their complaint," he said.

Deputy Inspector General of Prisons, Mohammad Sultan Lone, said that a system of "grievance redressal" has been put in place to deal with complaints of jail inmates. "Apart from the regular visits to prisons that are being carried out by SHRC officials, we also dispose-off applications which are filed by prisoners before the courts about their treatment," he said.

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Updated Date: Feb 28, 2017 19:55:07 IST