Young inmates set fire to mattresses, destroy property in escape bid

Locked in, and with no way out of the State-run Government Observation Home in Madiwala, juvenile offenders who made an attempt to escape set fire to and destroyed property in the intervening hours of Tuesday and Wednesday.

The violence, which started around 11.30 p.m., was brought under control by police and the home's officials in around three hours. By then, the inmates — the youngest of whom was just around 13 — had set mattresses on fire, while also destroying our computers, a television set, indoor games equipment, chairs, and electrical and plumbing fixtures.

Some 15 children suffered light injuries, which they said were caused by the police. Madiwala police denied the allegation, saying the wounds were self-inflicted with shards of glass.

However, a member from the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights said though the children had cut themselves, other injury marks — including swelling of the arms — pointed to manhandling by the police. “It is obvious that the police have bashed up the kids,” said the member.

An official from the Department of Woman and Child Development (DWCD), which runs the home, said the agitation could have started because of “impatience” on the part of the children. “A week ago, a judge on the Juvenile Justice Board was promoted and transferred. There is a 15-day gap where no case is taken up until a new judge comes. Because of this, cases have been delayed. The children don't understand this as the reason for the additional time detained,” he said.

Escape attempt

The trouble began when four inmates, some said to be over 20 years of age, allegedly attempted to escape.

The solitary guard on duty and a matron, who stayed in her quarters nearby, called the police. The boys panicked when groups of policemen gathered around the complex, an eyewitness said. The boys then stacked mattresses, clothes and bed-sheets at the entrance before setting them on fire to prevent anyone entering the complex.

One fire tender was sent to the scene, and with the doors being locked, fire officials had to douse the flames through the door grills.

Contraband seized

According to the police, apart from hacksaws, which were used to cut the grills, narcotics substances, syringes and blades were found on the premises.

A DWCD official said an inquiry would be conducted to trace how these items were smuggled in. “In all probability, they could have been smuggled during the court sessions on Thursdays when family members and friends are allowed to meet the inmates,” said the official.