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The porous walls of Indian jails

The prison that was stormed in Nagaland. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

On March 5, a mob broke into the Dimapur Central >Jail in Nagaland and dragged out Md Sarifuddin Khan, accused of rape, by overpowering the jail security staff.

Dimapur Central Jail, Nagaland’s largest, has chain-link fences with barbed wire on top on either side of the first gate, which is the outer security barrier. This lies barely 100 feet from the main jail gate and is right on the road. The mob pulled down the fences, overpowering the police deployed there, and in no time started to break down the main gates.

The official report reveals that the jail authorities had reportedly secured the jail with extra locks on all gates, reinforced with chains. The jail officers and warders were unarmed. The mob broke the locks and chains using stones and surged inside.

Two militants of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) - Major Lutose and Aaon Wangsu - detained under the National Security Act were found missing when the authorities carried out a head count around 4.55 p.m. after the mob had dragged out Sarifuddin Khan.

Imti Imsong, President, Dimapur Bar Association, has said that prison authorities should draw lessons on strengthening structural security arrangements at the jail. The Gauhati High Court has since directed the Nagaland government to provide security for all prisoners in the state.

While one way to prevent such incidents is for the police to avoid the assembly of unlawful crowds or be well prepared to quell them before they reach their target, the importance of beefing up prison security cannot be overstated.

Not an exception

That Dimapur is no exception is obvious when you look at security lapses in New Delhi’s Tihar Central Jail. Located in the middle of a residential area in West Delhi, it is the country’s second most overcrowded prison, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. The overcrowding, according to officials, is one of the biggest reasons they have not been able to prevent slip-ups. Despite a three-tier security system, incidents of suicide, murder and stabbing occur often.

One of its biggest embarrassments was the mysterious death of Nirbhaya gang-rape accused Ram Singh, found dead inside his cell. While the official version is that he committed suicide, many insiders claim Singh was killed by other inmates.

Need for reform

Sana Das, coordinator, Prison Reforms Programme, at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, observed that the standard inmate to prison official ratio is 1:3, currently not followed in any prison in India. “In Dimapur, while National Crime Records Bureau 2013 data shows Nagaland as having a 1:1 prisoner-staff ratio, on ground what we know is that the jail has a capacity of 600 and there are only about a 100 police and prison officials. Even if there wasn’t full occupancy at the time, the ratio is 1:5 or 1:6,” she pointed out.

A body such as a Prison Complaints Authority, with representatives from the judiciary, the State Human Rights Commission, and the Prison Department, equipped to take disciplinary action against erring and negligent officials, is needed, said Ms. Das.

“No jail reform committee has exclusively addressed the problem of security. Perhaps it is time for that. Overcrowding has been one of the biggest concerns of these committees, and ensuring the review and release in cases of unnecessary detentions. Jail reform committees have taken into account prison infrastructure and budgetary allocations but security has not had exclusive focus, as it is anyway a main part of all jail manuals,” she said.

(With inputs from Kritika Sharma Sebastian in Delhi)

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2020 2:49:53 PM |

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