PUDR strongly condemns the recent attacks by police and jail officials on undertrial political prisoners, Hem Mishra and Vivekananda, in Nagpur and Madurai Central prisons, respectively. On 20 March 2015, when Hem Mishra was being taken to the Government Medical Hospital for treatment, he was beaten up by the police because he demanded that he be freed of handcuffs. The police assaulted him, tore off his shirt and threatened to ‘see’ him. Mishra, a cultural activist and student of Jawharlal Nehru University and arrested under UAPA in 2013, suffers from a hand deformity from birth. Despite several operations, the situation worsened and he has lost four of his fingers.
What is deeply shocking is that the attack on Hem was carried out by policemen who are well aware of the Supreme Court guidelines against handcuffing of prisoners (Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, 1978). The apex court has clearly spelt out that to handcuff a prisoner, especially when in courts or outside the jail is torturous, inhuman and violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. Further, it is common knowledge that these guidelines have been incorporated in jail manuals and directive in this regard has already been issued by the DGP’s office. Despite these ‘norms’ being incorporated, it is obvious that the police assaulted Hem precisely because he protested against their illegal act.
The assault on Hem comes close on the heels of that on Vivekananda in Madurai Jail who was attacked by the OCT (an ‘elite’ counter terrorism force) on 14th March inside the jail premises. Incarcerated since 2012 on alleged charges of Maoism, Vivek had just completed meeting his lawyer when an OCT team frisked him on grounds that they were there to monitor his activities. When he protested, he was first abused and then attacked on his back by 8-10 men who continued to rain blows on him even after he fell unconscious on his face. Vivek suffered serious injuries on his head, face, back and spine. Several inmates witnessed this assault as it happened during the ‘interview’ time and Vivek was quickly taken to the jail hospital for treatment of his injuries.
Hem Mishra and Vivek have protested against their custodial torture and have filed complaints. Mishra has sent a complaint to the Dhantoli Police station and to the Gadchiroli sessions court. Along with two other political prisoners, he has also sent out a press report in this regard. Vivek protested by undertaking a hunger fast in the prison hospital and submitted a complaint to the trial court judge when he was produced in court on 18 March 2015. His cell mates and other inmates observed a hunger fast on 22nd March and subsequently, an activist lawyer has filed a petition before the Madras High Court demanding medical treatment for him, an investigation, and action against the guilty officials.
Political prisoners have often been forced to wage hunger strikes in order to protest against the erosion of prisoner rights by jail staff and other authorities. Nagpur Central Jail, in particular, has witnessed several hunger strikes undertaken by political prisoners in the recent past. As articulate and aware inmates, political prisoners have protested against denial of bail, substitution of court attendance by video conferences and deliberate delay in court cases by the police. Their strikes have drawn attention to numerous illegal acts of the jail authorities including that of keeping undertrial prisoners in solitary, or ‘anda’ cells. These strikes have also addressed issues that concern all jail inmates—the inhuman living conditions such as unhygienic food, visiting rights of family members and lack of other facilities.
While the particular instances of violation of prisoner rights have come to light in the cases of Hem Mishra and Vivek, PUDR wishes to point out the seriousness of custodial torture that undertrial political prisoners are forced to undergo at the hands of the jail authorities. Further, the heinousness of the attack on Hem is underscored by the fact that he is a partially disabled inmate and that the police were well aware of his condition. PUDR also wishes to emphasize that the attack on Vivek was a murderous assault as it has resulted in a serious medical condition.
PUDR demands immediate action against guilty officials involved in the attacks on Hem Mishra and Vivek.
Megha Bahl, Sharmila Purkyastha