Prison Dairies

Former inmates who served in various jails across Jammu and Kashmir, and the lawyers who visited them, reveal an awful tale of official apathy and negligence inside prisons where inmates are at a high risk of exposure to diseases, violence and delay in trials, Wasim Khalid reports.

jail_kotbhalwalThe recent attack on Pakistani prisoner, Sanuallah Ranjay, in Kot Bhalwal jail might have hogged headlines as a tit-for-tat action but it also lay bare the facts of the state of affairs of jails in Jammu and Kashmir which are not only insecure but, as the inmates describe them, ‘unfit’ and ‘subhuman’.

In my conversations with a number of recently released prisoners and lawyers who visited different prisons to see their condition, mainly in Jammu region where a majority of Kashmir prisoners are incarcerated, Kashmir Life found that the insecurity, lack of infrastructure, healthcare and delayed trials are common issues.

Former Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association General Secretary, GN Shaheen who was jailed for nine months at Poonch Jail and Kot Bhalwal Jail describes the jail condition as ‘substandard and subhuman’, “At both places, jails were overcrowded,” Shaheen told Kashmir Life. “The Poonch Jail Dongri had a capacity of 60 inmates but it held 94 prisoners.”

Later, when Shaheen was shifted to Kot Bhalwal jail, he said it had over 550 prisoners which was much higher than its capacity. “The government wants to punish Kashmiris for political dissent. So they send them to jails in Jammu region to make their survival difficult. The inmate has to face hostile weather and jail authorities, and other legal obstacles,” said Shaheen.

According to Prisons Department, there are 14 functional jails in the state out of which two are central jails, 10 are district jails and two are sub-jails. These prisons have an intake capacity of 3011 while their population was 2444 on April 9, 2012. But the prisoners are unevenly distributed with the overcrowded jails in Amphala and Kot Bhalwal holding the majority of them.

= Shabir, a young protestor from old city, was arrested under PSA for his alleged involvement in stone pelting in 2012 and then incarcerated at Kot Bhalwal jail. Once there, he said he felt like a condemned man. “The food is served in small quantity and it is so substandard that I stopped eating. The jail authorities didn’t respect our religious sensibilities. Halal and Jatka meat (forbidden for Muslims) is prepared together and served to inmates,” the 18-year-old prisoner with a neatly cropped beard said.

Another young Kashmiri who was lodged in Hira Nagar sub-jail said he was kept in a cell with robbers and murderers who were always involved in scuffles. “There is no sense of security,” he said. “There is hardly any security guard in sight. Surveillance mechanism is almost nonexistent. Infighting among inmates is common but nobody intervenes.”

Advocate Shafkat Hussain, a noted lawyer, who has been fighting cases of Kashmir’s prisoners told Kashmir life that during a recent visit to Jammu jails including Kot Bhalwal, he found the foreign nationals including Pakistanis distributed in the ratio of 1:20 local prisoners. “The majority of Jammu-based prisoners had their political ideology contrary to the minorities including Kashmiris,” he said. “So there is a constant friction.”

In these circumstances, the episode of Sanaullah in Kot Bhalwal jail was bound to happen. “I found that if a scuffle breaks out between the inmates, the authorities would come to know hours after the incident,” Hussain said.

It does not end there. Twenty three year old Hafiz Ahmad was released last month after three months in captivity. He alleged that Kashmiri prisoners are tortured soon after they enter the jail. “I was booked under PSA,” said Ahmad, who hails from old city. “Then I was shifted to Kot Bhalwal. When the jail authorities saw my docket, they first sent to me to a room where I was tortured. They used a roller over my body. I was lashed with belts and suffered injuries. I was admitted in the jail dispensary for five days.”

Lack of healthcare and delay in trials are other issues. Many prisoners who served in various jails told Kashmir Life that there is inadequate medical infrastructure at the prisons. Depression and skin diseases are common. Baring Central Jail, Kotbhalwal and district jail Amphala, there is no permanent doctor in the rest of jails in Jammu.

“They deliberately delayed my trial twice. They thought if I would go outside my dark cell, it may give me courage. On the second time, they had no security escort to accompany me to Kashmir for hearing,” Ahmad said.

In Jammu division, the militancy-related and political prisoners are badly suffering for the want of appropriate legal aid. “There is an element of communalism in the acts of jail authorities in Jammu,” Advocate GN Shaheen said. “That is why they come hard on Kashmiri jail inmates.”

“The Punjab Jail Manual which dictates prison rules is an outdated, colonial legislation which continued after 1947 as well. You won’t find a copy of it in print in the market. Even we could not lay our hand on even one copy,” he said.

A senior Jammu Kashmir Prisons Department official, pleading anonymity, acknowledged that few prisons were overcrowded and need to be decongested. “We do not torture stone-pelters or protesters. We keep them under medical observation just to see whether they are medically fit. In many cases, the prisoner doesn’t reach court due to unavailability of police escorts,” the official said. He denied serving unhygienic food to inmates saying that the jail authorities spent Rs 65 to Rs 80 on food per day for a prisoner.

“There is a problem of doctors,” the official said, adding, “Barring two jails, rest are without regular doctors. We have sanctioned posts for six doctors in different jails in Jammu but the health department has not responded,” he said.

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