Byculla jail riot: A reminder that jails in India are hellholes | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Byculla jail riot: A reminder that jails in India are hellholes

The brutal assault on Manjula Shetye and ensuing ‘riots’ in Mumbai’s Byculla jail are a reminder of the human right abuses and other atrocities that take place across jails in India

editorials Updated: Jun 28, 2017 15:56 IST
Police security inside Byculla jail  (File Photo)
Police security inside Byculla jail (File Photo)(Kunal Patil/HT)

The savage assault on a prisoner in Mumbai by her jailors because she dared to complain about missing food rations – two eggs and five pieces of pav (bread) – is symptomatic of what ails India’s justice system. That the jailors assumed they were above the law and that convicts had no rights was evident in the brutality displayed – not satisfied with beating up the woman, they inserted a lathi into her private parts and left her writhing in pain in her prison cell. By the time the prison doctor sent her to hospital, it was too late to save Manjula Shetye. A witness has identified the jailors who committed the atrocity and the police have booked them, but they continue to roam free. On mere suspicion, ordinary citizens would have been behind bars by now.

India’s prisons have long gained notoriety as overcrowded hells that militate against the modern ideal of reformative justice. Corruption is rampant; abuse of power by jailors an everyday occurrence that draws little protest. Those who can afford to pay and those with political connections want for little in the prisons, even cellphones are available; the others make do as best they can. The horrors perpetrated are well-documented. Numerous committees of experts have submitted voluminous reports suggesting steps to improve matters, but successive governments have ignored these recommendations.

The underlying assumption appears to be that convicts, and even undertrials, have no rights. Across India, jails are filled with people awaiting trial. Often they end up spending more time in jail than the maximum sentence for the crime they stand accused of. The sheer numbers add to the strain on infrastructure. Every jail holds many more than its capacity.

The money allotted to feed the prisoners is barely adequate to begin with and things get worse when corruption kicks in. But no one seems to care. Wasn’t Shetye a murderer? Why should we care about feeding and housing criminals properly? Why should we care about their human rights when they have broken the law? But civilised societies do; dignity of the individual is the cornerstone on which they are built.

Every criminal deserves the chance to reform. A society that treats people, whatever their crime, as less than human can hardly claim to be law-abiding either. But the larger share of the blame must lie with the administration, with those entrusted with ensuring justice for all. Those responsible for brutality in Mumbai must be made an example of. The rule of law must prevail and be seen to have prevailed.