The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on 8 May had issued a statement exposing the controversial steps taken by the Rajasthan state government in the excuse of ensuring security in the state. The statement also highlights the misuse of Section 109 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 by the law enforcement agencies, including the judges and lawyers. This provision of law is misused by the authorities, particularly the police and the Executive Magistrates, to lock up the poor migrants who come to the cities in India seeking employment and to escape from poverty, starvation and caste and religion based discrimination in rural India. Unfortunately for many, what awaits them in the city is the brute misuse of law and procedures by the authorities, with which they imprison individuals without any due process of law and with impunity.
The practice in Rajasthan, as highlighted in the AHRC statement, is not unique for that state. Innocent persons, imprisoned for having committed no offense at all, are found in prisons throughout the country. Many of them first enter the detention centres at a relatively young age, for having committed no offense other than coming to the city and finding a job that would not provide them a decent place to sleep during the night.
Inside the detention centres, the detainees are inhumanly treated, threatened and humiliated that prepares many of them to begin a career of crime. Inside the prisons in states like Kerala, these detainees are the candidates who are later recruited to commit crimes for political parties. Once indoctrinated and offered the possibility of release and thus freedom, they are sent out of custody to commit murders and other crimes for political parties. The Kanoor Central Prison in Kerala alone houses more than 100 such detainees.
There has not been any study or concern expressed for these ‘lesser citizens’ who are ‘safely locked up’ in detention centres. The following is the case of Alam, a young detainee held in a Borstal in Ajmer. No one knows when Alam will be released.
Alam, son of Nooruddin, is a migrant from Kathyar in Bihar and is illiterate. The ‘dargah’ (mausoleum) of the Sufi Mohinuddin Chisty draws many Muslims to the city of Ajmer. Having paid his obeisance to the saint, Alam looked for employment. He worked as a labourer at construction sites in the day and pulled a cycle-cart by night to make a living.
Three hours of sleep at night was sufficient for Alam. He shared a rented room at Andarkot, close to the ‘dargah’ with three other young men. But his room-mates were into some “mischievous business”, so he left their company and decided to wriggle into his cycle-cart to snatch a few hours of sleep at night. Alam was convinced that as long as he lived within the saint’s darbar (court), that is the city of Ajmer, he would earn his livelihood. But that was not to be.
On 18 April 2009, Alam was woken up by the police at about 2.00 am, and ordered to get into the police vehicle. When he protested, he was told he would be let off after his name was recorded. But he was locked up in Ajmer Central Jail. Later, Alam was sent along with nine other young men to the Borstal on 28 April, exactly a week before the national elections in Rajasthan.
Alam is frustrated. He is unable to contact his ‘khala’ (aunt), an acquaintance who cared for him, while in Ajmer. He is illiterate. He had carefully noted down her telephone number on a bit of paper. But that is left behind under the seat of the cycle-cart. The other young men at the Borstal, like Alam, have no way of contacting their relatives to inform them of their incarceration. Access to the telephone is out of question. But neither are they given post-cards which cost only 50 paise (USD 0.01) each.
The best time in the lives of these young men is thus spent twiddling their thumbs or being bullied by other inmates convicted for serious crimes, who are actually ruling the roost. It is an irony of reality that the Warders depend on these convicted inmates for enforcing discipline and to maintain the ‘law and order’ in the barracks and on the campus.
Even if they write a post-card gifted by some voluntary agency, they are not sure whether it would be posted. This has nothing to do with censoring of correspondence of the inmates. No one really has time for the inmates. The easiest thing for the prison officials is to just shove the post-cards into the garbage. Of the two Warders, who are supposed to assist the Jailor, one is rarely seen on the campus, the other busies himself attending to the paper work.
The Jailor pleads that he is only on deputation at the Borstal. He is supposed to report at the Central Jail in Ajmer, 10 kilometres away every day. He has been given staff quarters at the Borstal. He lives at the Borstal, but works in the Central Jail in Ajmer. He is able to make his rounds at the Borstal only after 4.00 p.m. When he took charge of the Borstal, the inmates did not even have sufficient plates and bowls to have their meals. He had to supply these at his own cost.
Alam is not informed why he is detained and for what period. He has not seen any records, if they exist, about his detention. There are 31 other inmates in the Borstal, who face a similar fate as Alam.
There is no law in India that allows the police or a Magistrate to detain persons arbitrarily. Like Alam, none among the 31 inmates in the Borstal is aware what they could do to get out of the Borstal.
None of them are provided any legal representation. In fact not many in the city are aware that innocent persons are detained in the Borstal.
Alam and his friends in the Borstal are aware that even if they are sent out, the society will not accept them as ordinary innocent individuals who have been sent to jail for no purpose. Due to this stigma, the possibilities of Alam and his friends being any further employed in the city are also remote. It must not be a matter of surprise, if some among the 31 innocent inmates at the Borstal, upon release, resort to making a living by committing crimes.
It is just not a mere irony that a correction system, intended to reduce crime in the society, in fact due to its misuse, creates criminals. The state as well as the central administration cannot absolve themselves from the responsibility in this process of absolute miscarriage of justice. The practice of arbitrarily detaining innocent persons is a violation of the domestic laws in the country, particularly the Constitution and India’s commitment to international human rights norms, specifically to those India has affirmed allegiance to and are contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Asian Human Rights Commission Press release, May 11, 2009