Recent riots in Byculla jail expose how prisoners are treated in India

Updated: Aug 19, 2017, 17:04 IST | Heli Shukla | Mumbai

The recent riots in the Byculla women's prison exposed more than one rot in the way prisoners are treated in India. The inmates were also venting their anger against a system that routinely ill-treats them

Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

The recent riots in the Byculla women's prison exposed more than one rot in the way prisoners are treated in India. The inmates were also venting their anger against a system that routinely ill-treats them. At such a time, a discussion around the nature of prisoners' rights in India is vital. This week, mid-day breaks down prisoners' rights in a country that guarantees them, but often doesn't deliver on it.

The condition in India
According to a paper* by the Human Rights Watch, "Anyone unlucky enough to be arrested (here) faces a far greater likelihood of torture, or worse, at the hands of the police than in many countries entirely lacking in the protections for civil liberties available in India." (sic)

The victories and losses

The right way: India's first PIL filed in 1979, known as the Hussainara Khatoon case, is a landmark judgment. After hearing the case, SC issued a notice to the Bihar government, which eventually led to the release of 40,000 undertrials.

Hands off handcuffs: In the Prem Shankar Shukla v Delhi Administration case in 1980, SC ruled handcuffing was a violation of Article 21. Justice V R Krishna Iyer held, "Handcuffs or other fetters shall not be forced on the person of an undertrial ordinarily."

Brutal death over ration: The most recent case is that of Byculla women's prison inmate Manjula Shetye, who was brutally assaulted and killed by jail authorities after she had an altercation with them. The case is currently under investigation.

On reforms

Shailesh Gandhi, RTI activist and former CIC chief
'Overcrowding is a significant reason for problems in prisons. The 'bail not jail' principle is also violated, and slow pace of investigation and still slower pace of judicial delivery are to be blamed. These can be easily resolved if there is sensitivity for the poor prisoners'

Wahid Shaikh, acquitted in 11/7 train blasts case
'Mental and physical torture of prisoners should be stopped. Prisoners should not be treated like animals. Although they are criminals, they are human beings. The staff in jails should be trained on how to behave and deal with the prisoners'

Abid Ahmed secretary, Al Birr Foundation
'The functionaries concerned must arrive at a solution for at least the accused in petty crimes languishing in jails due to poverty'

Meeran borwankar, DGP
'Overcrowding is the main issue that needs to be sorted out. And most hearings should be done through video-conferencing'

The most fundamental rights
Prisoners' rights are largely protected under the following Constitutional articles along with the CrPC

3.66 lakh
Total capacity of jails in India

2.82 lakh
Undertrials currently lodged in prisons

1.4k
Total no. of jails in India

67%
Prison inmates who are undertrials

Article 14
Equality before law

Article 19
Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech

Article 20
Protection with respect to conviction for offences

Article 21
Protection of life and personal liberty

Article 39A
Equal justice and free legal aid

29k
No. of undertrials in Maharashtra

(*Human Rights Watch: Prison Conditions in India ©1991 by Human Rights Watch)
(Source for figures: NCRB's Prison Statistics India 2015 report)

Inputs by Faisal Tandel


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