People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) expresses grave concern at the increasing incidents of violent attacks and gang wars in jail which severely threaten the life and security of the inmates. The Tihar jail authorities have faltered in fulfilling their responsibility of ensuring a safe atmosphere by failing to keep in check violent conflicts among prisoners, the brunt of which is being borne by those inmates that are more vulnerable. On September 13th two Kashmiri undertrials - Mohammed Shafi and Javaid Ahmed - were severely assaulted by members of two warring groups, in Jail No. 3. The incident came to light much later in the first week of October when few newspapers reported about it carrying the DIG’s statement in which he himself acknowledged that the victims were not party to the gang war. Specific targeting of Kashmiri Muslims in Tihar by other prisoners who single them out as ‘terrorists’ has been reported earlier. Mohammad Rafiq Shah, after spending 12 years in Tihar after his acquittal in 2017 had publically stated that Kashmiri Muslims are physically tortured and humiliated for their identity both by inmates and jail staff. Earlier, in 2015, PUDR had raised the incident of the assault of a Kashmiri prisoner Dr. Wasim Akram Malik who was beaten inside Jail No. 3 along with two other Muslims, on 28th March by the jail staff. Following the attack, his face was paralysed due to injuries and lack of proper medical care inside.
The ordeal of the Kashmiri Muslims is not confined to the male wards only. Zamrooda Habib’s complaint to Human Rights Commissions, once the only Kashmiri Muslim woman in Tihar, had highlighted the plight of these prisoners way back in 2007. The victimization of these inmates has been unrelenting, a glaring example of which is Shabir Shah, a Hurriyat leader lodged in Tihar, who appealed to Delhi High Court on 6th October 2017, to shift him to high risk prison after having received death threats from co-prisoners and medical negligence from jail authorities.
While incidents of attack on Kashmiri Muslim prisoners are a fatal form of discrimination and targeting, the security lapses regarding other inmates are no less formidable. In March 2017, again in Jail No. 3, 17 inmates were injured in a gang war with each side attacking the other with sharp-edged weapons. In the last few years, several incidents of violent clash between inmates have been reported causing near fatal injuries to many in addition to specific incidents of killings while in custody. In January 2016, another inmate was beaten to death by fellows in the jail van while being taken to the jail. August 2015, four inmates killed their cellmate, an undertrial with iron bars ripped out of a window in an attack which was reported to have lasted for over 10 minutes. The repeated prolonged attacks where inmates have been found with deadly weapons hinge upon the culpability of the jail administration whether through negligence, disdain or prejudice.
The right to life enshrined in the Constitution does not cease to be fundamental behind the closed doors of prison. Being the custodians, it is the responsibility of the jail authorities to ensure a life of dignity and security to the prison inmates and protect them from any form of violence whether in the hands of jail staff or inmates. Overcrowding, resource crunch, lack of basic amenities, poor medical aid, characterize jail life. In such dismal conditions, the minimum that is expected from the jail authorities is to guarantee the right to life and freedom from torture to jail inmates. We urge the Delhi Government and the jail authorities to take note of the deploring jail conditions and take immediate steps to ensure the safety of the prisoners.
Cijo Joy and Anushka Singh
10th October 2017