Shocking revelations

Print edition : January 08, 2016

The report titled “Prisons of Bihar: Status Report-2015”, brought out by the Bihar State Legal Services Authority based on survey, inspection and analysis, is a 84-page booklet with 13 annexures. The report, authored by Smita Chakraburtty, draws heavily from the 58 interim reports she had prepared on each of the 58 prisons in the State. Both the main and the interim reports are available at www.bslsa.bih.nic.in.

It is natural that a study of this kind, sponsored and commissioned by a State-run institution and authored by an independent human rights activist, may face questions of credibility. The question which will doubtless be asked is whether the prisoners felt free to share their problems with her, especially because the State had arranged her prison visits and State officials must have accompanied her to ensure her security wherever she went.

Smita Chakraburtty, to her credit, ensured credibility by showing empathy and establishing a rapport with most of the prisoners, so much so that they reposed their trust in her and expressed their grievances in the hope of getting them redressed.

Smita Chakraburtty said she could secure the trust of the prisoners as she made a conscious decision to tell the prison officials to keep away once she entered a prison ward. At times she was alone with the prisoners even after sunset while the prison gates were locked from outside by the security staff. She attributes her success in assessing the actual conditions inside the prisons and the problems of the prisoners to the sense of reciprocal trust that was established during one-on-one interactions.

But her prison inspection was not without aberrations. At least five of the six prisoners who had confided to her about incidents of torture in police custody retracted their statements later. As a result these statements could not be put into the reports and no action could be initiated against the erring policemen.

The report gives details about three incidents of torture and illegal detention in police custody. In all the three, the accused is a sub-inspector of the Balthar police station. The judicial process to inquire into the incident, it appears, has been set in motion. The fact that Smita Chakraburtty may not come for inspection again and that the prisoners have to remain in prison and perhaps face reprisal for their statements appears to have deterred many of them from sharing their stories of torture with her.

Rape and violence

The most shocking incident stated in the report is that of a custodial rape in the Seikhpura Prison on April 5, 2013, which went unreported. In India, instances of custodial rapes in police custody have been reported, but this was perhaps the first time that a rape in judicial custody was reported during an official inspection. The incident happened within six months of the Delhi gang rape of December 2012, which caused public outrage and a clamour for strengthening the legal regime. The absence of outrage over this incident makes one wonder whether the public discourse on the issue is influenced by the geographical position of the crime or the social class of the victim.

The details of the Seikhpura custodial rape are too revolting to be ignored. On the day of the incident, the “jamadarni”, woman guard, was outside the women’s ward and doing her duty in the visitors’ area of the prison, checking items brought in by visitors. Devi (name changed), the prisoner, was alone as the only other woman prisoner had gone to court. During this time, the accused Devendra Ram entered the women’s ward and started groping Devi. When Devi resisted and tried to shout, she was allegedly gagged and raped. According to her complaint, two other inmates, Sanjay Singh and Rama Singh, were standing outside the gate of the women’s ward allegedly with the intention of guarding the gate, to facilitate the rape. The report says because she raised a hue and cry, they fled. The victim alleged that in spite of her many requests, the jailer (D.N. Manjhi) did not meet her and went on leave the same evening.

Other facts about the incident, as brought out in the report, are equally disturbing. The victim’s medical examination following the rape was conducted after a delay of 14 days. A charge sheet was filed in the case only in December 2014, and the court took cognisance of it only in May 2015. Strangely, Smita Chakraburtty, during her prison inspection on May 30, 2015, found that the victim was not aware of the charge sheet. She did not even have copies of the first information report and the medical examination report. The victim told Smita Chakraburtty that she was not aware of any lawyer representing her and that the prison administration was continuously pressurising her to withdraw her case.

What happened subsequently to Devi is even more revolting. On September 4, 2013, the report says, the guard Nagina Singh entered the women’s ward, stripped her and beat her senseless. When Devi tried to shout, Rajkishore Singh ‘Bara Babu’ joined Nagina Singh in beating her. She is claimed to have suffered an injury to her head, which was not medically treated. She showed Smita Chakraburtty an injury mark on her head.

Later in the day, all the inmates went on a fast in protest against the brutality perpetrated against a female prisoner, which they had witnessed. They wrote an application, which was signed by 102 inmates (the number of inmates in the prison on the day of inspection was 118), addressed to the Chief Judicial Magistrate seeking action. On the basis of this complaint, case no.41/13 was lodged in the Mahila police station.

Another issue highlighted in the report is the unconscionable role of the police and the jail officials in keeping nearly 476 children in adult jails. There are only 10 remand homes in Bihar with a capacity of 500 inmates. Even if the authorities decide to shift these child inmates from adult prisons, where will they go if the remand homes are already full?

V. Venkatesan

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