By Maxwell Pereira
Some years ago a kind of a shock treatment was meted out to
us by a retired Chief Justice of India, then the Chairman of the
National Human Rights Commission, who was invited by us to deliver
the annual martyrs' day memorial lecture on October 21 that year.
He shocked us all by starting his discourse with a statement that
there were over eighty custody deaths in Delhi that year, in a
year we proudly proclaimed to the world as a year of achievement
without a single death in police custody!
intrigued and indignant over this, we were wise to the true import
and purport of the statement the luminary made, only after considerable
thought and proper application of mind - for indeed, there were
deaths in custody that year, but all these deaths had occurred
within Tihar Jail, and hence in custody! Considering the fact
that when one speaks or reads about 'custody deaths' one's mind
invariably visualises only 'police custody' …we knew we
had been right royally 'had' by the luminary!
seriously, deaths in jails - or to use the correct term, in Judicial
Custody, too, we believe are causing concern world wide. I was
in England last week on a private family matter, when I had occasion
to witness a raging debate locally… over deaths, especially
prisoner suicides, rising to record levels in overcrowded jails!
The newspapers reported that a record number of inmates killed
themselves in English jails last month, triggering concerns about
the ill-effects of the prison population rising so rapidly.
Prison Reform Trust called for a re-appraisal of penal policy
after the Home Office reported that 14 men died in prison of self-inflicted
injuries last month, the highest figure since systematic records
started 20 years ago. The total number in 2004 now stands at 70
there; and that is for the whole of England. Earlier there were
94 cases of prisoners taking their own lives last year, and a
record 95 in 2002. But rarely has the monthly death toll been
in double figures!
of the worst affected local prison where the year's toll of self-inflicted
deaths has gone to five, is Shrewsbury in Shropshire, which a
Prison reforms Trust report has shown to be the second most overcrowded
prison in the country with 89.3 per cent of inmates doubling up
in single cells. (The Government's target is statedly 18%). The
Prison Reforms Trust in England claims prisons cannot cope with
a prison population which had reached over 75,000 in England and
Wales by 1 August this year - an increase of over 1200 in the
tiny England is so concerned over ill effects of overcrowding
in its jails, how much more should we be, here in populous India!!!
Reportedly, more deaths occur in Tihar jail alone in a year, than
in all the jails of England put together! And talking of overcrowding,
one cannot but imagine the size in numbers that Tihar presents
- undoubtedly a township that renders miniscule the size of most
smaller townships in our land.
few days ago, an inmate Rajesh of Central Jail number four of
Tihar hanged himself from an iron grill, using a bag belt, it
was reported. Statedly he was a patient of depression and had
attempted suicide earlier as well. While on the earlier occasion
the other inmates informed the jail staff for them to intervene
in time, this time no one got to know till it was too late.
state it is common for a fresh entrant to jail life to be depressed
consequent to the shock of incarceration, being cut off from the
outside world and confined. Depression is not uncommon also among
those expected to be resigned to fate having spent a considerably
longer period behind bars; though depression among the latter
category is to a lesser degree.
authorities conscious to the problem and the likely outcome, are
wary; and careful to confine newcomers in barracks in the company
of others till they are 'broken in' and are mentally attuned to
spending time behind bars and high walls. To fight the malady
and towards sponsoring reform, the authorities in recent times
have introduced yogic healing techniques, meditation and vipasana.
While some NGOs dealing with the problem in conjunction with the
jail authorities and the visiting jail chaplains from various
regions claim substantial success in terms of benefits through
this method, there are many others who do not subscribe to the
theory of appreciable reformism achieved.
am sure the concerned authorities and the ministries are fully
aware of the scenario in this regard in our country. But this
having been said, perhaps the public too needs to know the correct
picture in terms of statistics. The number of deaths in a year
behind prison walls, with reasons therefore, and the number of
self-inflicted deaths and whether at all any analytical study
in respect of these has been conducted, and so on.
words: 14.09.2004: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23,
Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http://
www.maxwellperira.com and email@example.com
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