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Plight of women in Indian jails

March 10th, 2007 — suryamurthy

An all India Fact-Finding team was constituted by the Committee Against Violence on Women (CAVOW) to inquire into the conditions of prisoners, female prisoners in particular, languishing in various jails in Orissa, and also to investigate into certain incidents which had been reported in the media where the State Agencies, particularly the CRPF and OSAF, had unleashed indiscriminate terror in the villages including on women.


Team consisting of Advocate Sheela Ramanathan, Director Human Rights Law Network, Bangalore; Professor (Dr.) N. Nirmala, Department of Law, Andhra University; Dr. Nisha Biswas, Scientist, Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute, Calcutta; Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, High Court of Chhatisgarh, Bilaspur; Advocate Prashant Jena, High Court of Orissa, Cuttack, Ms A. Annapurna, Member, Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee, Vishakhapatnam; Ms K.L. Prasanna, member CAVOW; Ms. B. Anuradha, Member, CAVOW, Hyderabad, Ms.Rumita Kundu, member of CAVOW, Bhubaneshwar visited the Behrampur, Malkangiri and Sambalpur jails and also some villages in the Malkangiri and Behrampur districts between 26 th February to 2nd March 2007.


A preliminary report of the fact finding team follows. The detailed report shall be published and circulated shortly including to the concerned authorities and various human rights commissions.


Behrampur


Despite our sincere efforts the team was not permitted to visit the jail premises at Behrampur, and our findings are based on extensive interviews of some of the inmates in the visitors enclosure.

The most shocking case was that of convicts Chitinga Majhi and Manija Majhi - poor tribals of Village Mandrabaju under Thana Adwa. They have been identified wrongly as Batila Majhi and Sanija Majhi respectively and have been awarded life sentences inspite of their repeated insistence that they were being identified wrongly.


The team subsequently confirmed this at their village while meeting their wives, both having very small children. They have been convicted in a case involving a clash between tribal villagers and the police arising out a land dispute at Majhiguda. The visibly poor villagers reported that the OSAF people come every now and then to interrogate them and raid their houses, and also misbehave with girls.


They related an incident at the Orissa State Armed Forces camp, Majhiguda, in December 1999, when once the adivasi villagers had gone to protest against the raiding of their chicken and cattle, they were asked to come the camp the next day to be compensated, and when they went they were indiscriminately beaten and arrested.

The team also met Surita Majhi and Bormoi Majhi – both minor Kui tribal girls who were arrested along with four other Kui Sanskrit Sangha members on 23 rd September 2006 on the charge that they were showing the films "Kranti" and "Lal Salaam" in village Gilakuta. The girls, who are made out to be so "dangerous", turned out to be hardly 14 or 15 years old, in fact Bormoi is even handicapped.

While the team was present at the Behrampur jail gate it witnessed three vans of undertrials being taken to attend their court cases. But in the interviews we were shocked to find that all those persons booked under so-called "Naxalite" cases had not been produced in the court even once in the two to three years of incarceration they had already suffered, each time on pretext of "lack of escort". Needless to say that once booked in such a case, bail is almost inevitably refused without taking into consideration the particular facts of the case. One Kapila Majhi who has been taken into custody in 2004, ostensibly in connection with a violent incident at R. Udaygiri, revealed that he has never been produced before a magistrate. He vociferously insisted that he had been falsely implicated but never had any opportunity to establish his innocence.


Malkangiri


The team spent several hours visiting the premises of the Malkangiri Subjail – both female and male wards.


The team was shocked to see the extreme conditions in which the female inmates were confined. A tiny space of 8×10 ft., whose capacity is only for 4 persons, was housing 21 women.They were locked in, not only all night but also some part of the day since there was no regular female warden appointed. The only latrine and bathing place has neither a door nor a roof, and the women were exposed to the stares of the sentries who pace on the high walls. The lack of hygienic conditions, particularly the non-supply even of sanitary napkins and adequate bathing and washing soap, has led to severe pelvic region infections in the case of at least three inmates.


Eight of the undertrial females, all of them under 25 years of age, were languishing in the jail for the past two years, having been arrested while returning from giving a cultural programme at a public meeting in Bhubaneshwar, which had been granted permission by the district authorities. Only musical instruments have been seized from them but they have been implicated in "Naxalite cases". One of the girls, Sariami Dora, was obviously a minor even after two years of jail but had been put down to be of 21 years of age in the time of arrest possibly to avoid the applicability of the Juvenile Justice Act.


The case of two other women was also tragic in that they had obtained bail two months earlier but were forced to continue only because their families were too poor and too far away to produce sureties. Only a day earlier an elderly adivasi lady had been shifted to the district hospital with acute dysentry and it was found that she also had malaria. When she was passing motions all night continuously in the small space, the women had been shouting and banging on their locked gates for help but could not even be heard because of the separate double locked enclosure.


Our discussion with the Superintendant and other staff revealed that many bureacratic hitches and lack of funds under the required heads seriously hamper any possibility of improving the prison conditions. In the Malkangiri Sub jail, there is no doctor, but only a pharmacist for the past few years. The limit of expenditure on medical treatment is a ridiculously low amount of Rs. 100 per day whereas there are more than 200 inmates. The procedure for sanction for emergency treatment is also very cumbersome.


Overcrowding was only too apparent in the male barracks. This jail with a capacity of 87 is housing around 200 inmates. A large number of the inmates are undertrials in the cases under the NDPS Act. One undertrial has served about 6 years, almost a full sentence and ought to be released. It was clear that the judiciary seems to be taking a very strict view in these cases. We met a frail 74 year old inmate who has been charged with a sentence of 10 years and one lakh rupees fine for being in possession of 2 kilos of ganja.


Another old man, Dhanurjay Harijan literally a bag of bones, was in the TB ward and his case was not decided because other co-accused on bail were delaying the proceedings. We were shown a bail rejection order in an NDPS case where sweeping comments of a general nature had been made that "since in the area murder and naxal activities are rampant" bail should not be granted, even while admitting that in the individual circumstances the applicant deserved bail. The team observed however that those being jailed under the NDPS Act are extremely poor persons acting as courier of small quantities of ganja, whereas clearly ganja trade could not possibly flourish without powerful vested interests and the tacit connivance of the law enforcement agencies.


The team also met two persons Arvind Mandal and Santosh Mandal who had been arrested from Village Tandimetla on 22/12/2006. Their legs were in orthopaedic clamps owing to multiple fractures, and they should clearly have been hospitalised rather than languishing in extreme jail conditions. They described how they had been severely beaten up by the CRPF and arrested as "Naxalites". The inmates of one barrack also showed the team one young insane person booked under "Naxalite" case. They said that he does not speak to or mix with the other inmates and often is the subject of cruel teasing.


The team was shocked to know that the trials of some of the tribal persons were delayed for more than two years only because of the inavailability of intrepreters knowing the Koya language, and many times the witnesses, had to be turned back from the court despite the orders of the High Court to provide interpreter immediately.


In the jail we also met 27 year old Raghunath Patro, 25 year old Shivaji Khemru and 55 year old Lakhan Khemru who had been subject to indiscriminate beating by the CRPF on 27 th January 2007 in the Thana Kalimela area. The team visited their villages to ascertain these facts. It appears that the CRPF people being enraged by the death of one of their colleagues due to excessive drinking habits had gone on a rampage in the area.



They came to the roadside shop of Raghunath Patro in MV 66 village, ostensibly looking for some Krishna Rai. They not only beat up Raghunath Patro severely but also beat up his mother Saraswati Patro, his newly married wife and his younger sister severly, abused them filthily and ransacked their shop and home. They then took Raghunath to the Thana and on the way they beat him with iron rods and broke his forearm. He is incarcerated in a sedition case without even proper medical treatment. His father, when he went to Thana Kalimela to inquire after his son was told to go away else he would be shot.


He has given a statement to the DSP after an inquiry was initiated owing to the exposure of the incident by the media, but the report has yet to be submitted. In our discussion with the District Magistrate Shri Manish Kumar Verma, he admitted that the CRPF had committed excesses and went on rampage but tried to justify the incident as a human reaction of the CRPF jawans on untimely loss of their colleague.


On the same day the CRPF had gone to Shivaji Khemru's village where he is the salesman of the ration shop. They were accompanied by a young boy whose face was covered. On some gesture from the boy they started beating him ruthlessly. When Lakhan Khemru, his neighbour, who is a government servant on duty in the irrigation deapartment, intervened he too was beaten and both were arrested.


On the roadside near Telarai village under the same Thana, the CRPF beat up a whole group of adivasi men and women, who were resting under the shade between their work hours, saying that they were having a meeting. A pregnant woman was so badly beaten that the foetus got aborted and another young man had his arm fractured. A large number of persons received other injuries. In the MV 77 villlage Ravi Sarkar a handicapped person was severely beaten. We met his father, at least 60 years of age, who had also been beaten so much that his shoulder bone was disfigured. The old man said very sadly that I have gone to jail in the freedom movement, but this repression I cannot understand.


Sambalpur


We visited both the Nari Bandi Niketan as well as the Circle Jail at Sambalpur . We were surprised to know that the Nari Bandi Niketan despite having relatively more facilities and staff is underutilised since it houses only 10 undertrials and 11 convicts as opposed to its capacity of 55 persons. The reason for this is that convicted women prisoners do not wish to avail the option of transfer to this jail because they naturally wish to be at a place where their families can visit them easily.


It should be mentioned here that the families of the prisoners in all the jails we visited reported that they have to pay Rs. 10 – 50 to have an interview with the inmates. This is in addition to the fact that these very poor and mostly tribal persons have to spend at least a day and Rs. 200-300 per person in travelling from their village to the jail.


One young girl undertrial was evidently a psychiatric patient under treatment and has been more or less abandoned by her family. One visibly pregnant young woman and her sister and mother have been implicated in the murder of her husband. These women have been forced to leave behind infant children of 2 years and 4 years of age.


The team was informed that sanitary napkins were being supplied to women inmates in the Nari Bandi Niketan but the number - 3 per woman per month- was very inadequate. The Lady Superintendent also told us that she has suggested that the training facilities for convict women could also be shifted to Bhuvaneshwar which is a better connected place.


Again the Circle Jail houses 582 persons including 55 psychiatric patients as opposed to its capacity of 351 persons. The team met one Samaru Nayak who was arrested a year ago in a "Naxalite" case. He was told by other villagers that his only son, 12 years of age, has died of starvation and that his wife has become insane. In the age group 18-25 there were a number of youth arrested under "Naxalite" cases who reported that even ten months after their arrest, no challan has been put up neither have they been granted bail.


One serious problem that these prisoners face is that in the name of security they have been brought very far away from their native village as also the court of trial. This makes them cut off from their families, advocates and also delays their trial. Other young boys were involved in petty theft like stealing a mobile or some iron scrap and again challans had not been filed in their cases for months on end. One adivasi Bisi Pradhan of Jujumura described how he and other innocent villagers were simply picked up by cordoning off his village, taken from thana to thana, and then arrested under "Naxalite" case.


He repeatedly requested that some inquiry be made so that their innocence could be established. In the psychiatric ward of the Sambalpur jail a young boy Gopal Rai, about 25 years of age, is also booked as a "Naxalite". Even during our visit to the jail, more psychiatric patients were being brought in from distant jails. The team also learned that only limited escort was available when prisoners had to be admitted for medical treatment, this also hampered prompt medical attention.


Recommendations


1. There is a serious problem of overcrowding in all jails which is particularly accentuating the problems of medical treatment and hygienic conditions. Serious and urgent measures need to be taken immediately.


2. Health of women prisoners should be prioritised. They should be provided with the necessary facilities for personal hygiene, nutrition and privacy and regularly checked up by women doctors.


3. Qualified doctors must be appointed at all the jails, and the budgets for expenditure must be significantly enhanced to a reasonable amount. Prisoners should receive prompt medical attention and lack of escort cannot be a justifiable excuse.


4. All prisoners should be produced on the dates of their hearing so that their trials can be speedily disposed off. Administrative problems like lack of interpreter or escort should be removed immediately.


5. The findings of the Inquiry into CRPF Atrocities in the Thana Kalimela area on 26-27 th January 2007 should be made public immediately. The guilty jawans and their officers should be punished. The innocent citizens who have been incarcerated in these incidents should be released forthwith and all cases against them be withdrawn.


6. The CRPF and OSAF camps have become an instrument of repression against the local tribal people. These camps should be withdrawn immediately.


7. The team found a large number of instances where innocent tribal people have been picked up and branded as "Naxalites", thus being victim of serious prejudice of the State. Also there is a practice to suppress even democratic dissent under the guise of "Naxalite" cases. Such practices should be stopped immediately and wherever there is a complaint against such practices, an inquiry should be conducted into the same.



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posted by Resistance 3/10/2007 07:28:00 PM,

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