April 13, 2021 5:58:48 am
Pointing out the Madhya Pradesh government’s ‘silence’ over its recommendations that legal action be taken against Bhopal Central jail authorities for alleged physical and mental torture of 28 prisoners purportedly belonging to banned outfit SIMI, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has sought a response from Chief Secretary Iqbal Singh Bains in the next six weeks.
Two weeks after the NHRC’s letter, a delegation of human rights activists — Madhuri Krishnaswamy of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Wahid Shaikh and Fawaz Shaheen from Innocence Network and Masood Ahmed from Coordination Committee for Indian Muslims — met Bains along with and Director General (Prisons) Arvind Kumar last week, urging them to implement the NHRC’s recommendations.
DG Kumar told The Indian Express, “We are looking in the matter and are in the process of studying the jail administration’s response. We’ll respond to the NHRC letter.”
The recommendation of legal action was made by a three-member investigation team of the NHRC after it conducted a spot inquiry to ascertain the veracity of the complaint made in May 2017, by Nazma Bi and nine other relatives of 21 undertrial prisoners, alleging mental and physical torture. The relatives had alleged that these undertrial convicts were subjected to constant torture after the Bhopal jail break in October 2016 — when eight prisoners had escaped and were subsequently killed in police encounter the following day.
Following the inquiry, the NHRC team had recommended legal action against jail authorities directly and indirectly involved in beating, torture, criminal intimidation and denial of basic human rights of the 28 prisoners. In its report, the NHRC team also recommended appropriate action against the prison’s doctor, Premendra Sharma, for failing to record the injuries and the history of incidents of assault and torture meted out to the prisoners in their medical tickets.
The team had also suggested constituting a high level committee under a secretary rank officer to address the grievances of the convicts, to relax their solitary confinement to the extent possible, ensure proper food, clothing, water as well as access to magazines and newspapers and also to ensure that the prisoners are not forced to raise religious slogans.
Madhuri Krishnaswamy pointed out that the NHRC’s recommendations are striving to give basic rights to these convicts. “The state seems to be reluctant to act on them as it has been nearly three years since the report first came in. We met the concerned authorities and urged them to comply with these recommendations.”
According to Haidar Hussain Nagori, the elder brother of Safdar Nagori who is one of the 28 prisoners, jail staffers frisk the 28 several times in the night. “The staffers tell them, including my brother that you have to chant ‘Jai Shree Ram’ if you want food. My brother is well-qualified but he has not been given any books or newspapers to read. The jail staffers tell him that you are the general secretary of SIMI and all of this has happened because of you.”
According to Sirajuddin Nagori, the brother of Kamaruddin Nagori, all the 28 accused are kept in solitary confinement. “They are let out only for an hour in a day and he (Kamaruddin) has lost 14 kg in the past 45 days. The meeting time is 20 minutes according to the jail manual, but we are not given more than 10 minutes.”
According to Arshad Khan, whose 29-year old brother Farhad Khan’s is also an alleged SIMI operative, during winters, the 28 prisoners were not given any warm clothes. “The jacket we tried to send to him was never handed over to him. He was not being treated properly after he suffered from piles and the Holy Quran was frisked and checked twice a day and disrespected and thrown around during the process,” said Arshad.
He alleged that jail authorities tried to adopt ways to communally incite the prisoners, who are subsequently beaten up.
The commission sent the report to the state government, seeking its response. The reply by the state government however, was rejected after it was prepared by Bhopal Central Jail’s SP, wherein he denied all the allegations.
The NHRC had asked the state government to probe the serious allegations of torture and asked the Chief Secretary to submit an appropriate response.
In a later complaint by the Jamia teachers Solidarity Association to NHRC, following the spot inquiry, the association alleged that after the NHRC team’s visit, the alleged torture on the 21 prisoners not only continued but was also increased.
The DIG (Jails) had said in a response to the NHRC in February 2021 that the inmates were illegally demanding various facilities — uninterrupted movement in the jail campus, collective reading of namaz, individual newspapers, among other demands — and seven inmates were on a hunger strike since September 2020 for these demands.
It was in its response to the DIG that the NHRC pointed out that the state government had remained silent on the investigating team’s recommendations and asked Chief Secretary Bains to respond in the next six weeks.
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