With the Lok Sabha elections barely months away, several human rights activists on Saturday demanded voting rights for prisoners contending that those on the wrong side of the law cannot be denied their franchise.
The activists, several police officials and state human rights commission members are here to attend a two-day national workshop on detention organised by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
“If an undertrial prisoner can contest elections why can’t he exercise his right to vote?” asked BB Sharma, who is involved in correctional administration in West Bengal. He said even convicts should be allowed to vote.
Sharma said it would give a sense of dignity to the prisoners and further open the prisons to the outside world. Prisoners in Australia, Eorope and Bangladesh were entitled to exercise their franchise, he added.
According to Section 62(5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, “No person shall vote in any election if he is confined in a prison, whether under sentence of imprisonment or transportation or otherwise, or is in the lawful custody of the police.”
Prof. Venkata Rao, Dean, Faculty of Law of Andhra University attacked the provision for violating prisoners’ rights and criticised courts for not striking it down.
Some of the speakers argued that if prisoners were given voting rights, they will become vote banks and perhaps then politicians would worry about their problems.
In her keynote address Baroness Vivien Stern, Honorary President, Penal Reforms International, U.K. cautioned India against rise in prison population in view of growing inequalities in the society.
Stern said the number of prisoners in India was only 32 per one lakh population, which was 24 times less than the U.S., where it was 762 and almost five times less that the UK., where it was 153.