After SIMI activists fled in an alleged jailbreak from Bhopal Central Jail in 2016 and were shot down in an alleged encounter, 21 other SIMI men in the prison were subjected to torture by officials, a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) team has found.
The prisoners had alleged they were kept in solitary confinement, made to chant slogans like Jai Shri Ram while their Quran was thrown away, and being denied basic needs like adequate food and sleep, following the October 31, 2016, encounter near Bhopal. The 21 SIMI prisoners in the jail include one convict, Abu Faisal, and 20 undertrials. Their family members had also alleged harassment during visits.
After their case was taken up by activists and taken to the NHRC, it had sent a team to the Bhopal Central Jail in June 2017 to investigate. The Commission had sent a second team in December 2017, after allegations that mental harassment and physical torture had resumed after a brief respite.
The NHRC team interacted with prisoners, family members, jail authorities, lawyers and social activists before submitting its 24-page report, which has only how become available. At an interaction with the media here Saturday, Shama Mohamed Javed, Ambreen Mohammed Zuber and Farzana Mohammed Adil, the family members of the SIMI prisoners, repeated the allegations, including how jail staff made them remove their veils to took their photographs on their phones.
DG (JAIL) Sanjay Chaudhary said the jail authorities had denied all the allegations. He said the NHRC report was not final and that the state government had sent its reply on February 7.
In its report, the NHRC has recommended action against jail authorities directly or indirectly involved in the beating, torture, criminal intimidation and denial of basic human rights to the 21 prisoners; sought appropriate action against jail doctor Premendra Sharma, for not mentioning the mode of injury to the SIMI men; asked the government to show cause why suitable compensation should not be granted to their family members; asked for a high-level probe into the grievances of prisoners; and called for guidelines to jail authorities, including relaxation of solitary confinement as far as possible.
The NHRC report says that the prisoners testified to being kept in solitary confinement in 5X8 feet cells without fans, from where they were let out for only a few minutes a day for filling water and cleaning the area outside. This had led to behavioural disorders like anxiety, depression and frustration, resulting in some of them turning aggressive, they said.
SIMI activists said they were held aloft by hand and legs in a “helicopter position”, and beaten using flour mill belts, lathis and strips of rubber. They said they were woken up at night just to ask their “khairiyat (wellbeing)”, so as to deny them sleep.
Regarding the prisoners’ complaint about inadequate food, the NHRC report says that food was being served as per the jail manual but the inmates could not buy eatables from the canteen like before. This had affected their health, the NHRC says, with the problem compounded by lack of proper treatment.
The NHRC also finds the prisoners’ allegation that they were forced to shout slogans against their religious beliefs and beaten up if they refused to do so as credible. It points out that the prisoners had themselves said the staff did not harass them during Ramzan. “This admission makes it even more probable that they are not making false allegations or exaggerating their ill-treatment.”
Instead, it notes, “The jail staff seems to harbour a sense of religious antagonism against these 21 prisoners, which is reflected in inhuman treatment… forceful pulling out of beard is a form of torture alleged by prisoners Abdullah and Iqrar….”
The NHRC report says that barring one instance, there is nothing to show the prisoners had attacked jail officials during searches, given as a justification for beating the inmates. “The jail officials had no answer to injury marks when photographs were shown to them. They tried to explain that force was necessary to keep the prisoners under control and maintain discipline and order. Therefore, the direct inference is that the so-called resistance/refusal/non-cooperation by prisoners during search is nothing but a made-up ground to justify torture and beating of prisoners,’’ the report says.
Bhopal Jail Superintendent Dinesh Nargave said, “These are pressure tactics to extract more facilities and concessions. The district judge and other judicial officers who regularly visit jail premises did not find anything amiss. Everything is in accordance with law and court orders,” he said, adding, “The security of prisoners is also important.”
On allegations that the Quran was thrown away during searches, he said that on the contrary the jail staff had given copies of the holy book to nearly 700 Muslim prisoners. He also denied that SIMI men were not allowed to meet their advocates, saying all undertrials are allowed to meet lawyers in a particular room but the SIMI men wanted meetings in a separate room.
Nargave also alleged that the prisoners wanted to offer community namaz and access to “dry fruits and mutton”. “That we can’t provide.” Activist Madhuri said the NHRC report had been hard to procure, and accused the commission of not doing enough after getting the first inquiry report.