On death row, dying many deaths

The human rights of prisoners in death row are grossly violated, shows Death Penalty India Report

May 08, 2016 12:54 am | Updated November 17, 2021 04:21 am IST - NEW DELHI:

“I left my sleeping child at home because the police called me to sign documents. I never got home after that,” said Akira. She is among the 136 prisoners on death row who claimed to have not been informed of the reason for their arrest, a constitutional right.

To prepare the Death Penalty India Report , released on Friday, National Law University, Delhi, interviewed 373 of the 385 death row prisoners in India. The report does not talk about the innocence of these prisoners. But their stories highlight gross violations of human rights and the fallacies in the legal system. From not getting access to lawyers to being forced to confess to crimes, prisoners shared experiences of being a death row prisoner.

Month-long torture

Zaid, accused in a terror case, was detained in a mansion used by investigative agencies. He was tortured for over a month before a formal arrest was recorded. Mahmud, Zaid’s co-accused, was severely beaten and electrocuted in the genitals. He was blindfolded during the entire duration of police custody except when he was given food.

Zaid recalled that Mahmud’s skin would peel off as he removed his clothes. Finally, Zaid, Mahmud and other accused were acquitted by the Supreme Court. The court expressed anguish at the incompetence of the investigating agencies as these men had already spent 11 years in prison. A majority of the prisoners shared their experiences of custodial violence with the researchers. All this, when as per law, the police are supposed to take “reasonable care of the health and safety of an accused under custody.” Rollers were pressed over Amarpreet’s body when she was arrested. As a result, she suffered a miscarriage.

The report says that of the 92 prisoners who said they had confessed in police custody, 72 admitted to making statements under torture. Roshni said she was repeatedly tortured to confess. As she was tied to a chair and beaten up, she suffered a bone injury in her leg.

No hearing

As The Hindu reported on Friday, the structural loopholes in the administration of the death penalty denied many prisoners a fair trial. Ramrang never got a chance to speak with his lawyer. And so he was not asked a single question by the judge and was sentenced to death without getting any opportunity to defend himself. As he worries about his family, he remarked: “Be it the government, the police or the judge — no one heard our pleas.” The report says harsh prison conditions and inhuman treatment of prisoners form an integral part of the punishment.

Hanut, who has served more than 12 years in prison, revealed that until 2010, there were no toilets in the prison. He was provided with a steel tub to relieve himself. “Give us punishment, but until then at least treat us like human beings,” he said.

Sharing his experience of the violence, Javed said: “Just kill me. But don’t inflict this repeated torture on me.” An opportunity to pursue studies has great significance for reform. The Supreme Court has noted that a prisoner can be sentenced to death only if she is beyond reform. Moinuddin, however, was unable to continue his studies in prison. His repeated requests were rejected, for he was a prisoner sentenced to death.

( Names of prisoners have been changed by the researchers to maintain anonymity )

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