A mentally challenged undertrial prisoner remained shackled in chains at a Bihar hospital for more than two weeks as police, health and administrative authorities squabbled over jurisdiction.
Arvind Kumar Yadav, a 28-year-old from Raniganj, was arrested in February to face trial for petty crimes.
He was diagnosed mentally unfit to go to jail and, hence, admitted to a district hospital on May 15.
On May 18, orders were issued for his transfer to a correctional facility in Bhagalpur for treatment.
The transfer could happen only on June 7 because of a strike called by home guards, who were to carry out the order.
In the interim, the prisoner was kept in chains more than two weeks at the district hospital, a step purportedly necessitated by his unpredictable behaviour which involved breaking a window pane."His physical and mental condition deteriorated after he was kept shackled," said a family member.
The incident underscored a chronic institutional apathy towards the mentally ill in India.
The heavily burdened Indian prison system, with undertrials accounting for a vast majority of inmates, is not known for showing sensitivity towards the special needs of the differently abled and reports of human rights violations are not uncommon.
Bihar human rights commission member Neelmani said it was awaiting details to take up Yadav’s case. "Once we have authenticated information, the commission will take suitable action,” he said.
Araria district magistrate Narendra Kumar Singh confirmed that the prisoner was kept in chains at the hospital. “Now, when he has already been sent to Bhagalpur, the matter is over,” he said on Monday.
In any case, the jail administration or the hospital authorities were responsible for keeping the prisoner in shackles, Singh said.
Araria jail superintendent Rajeev Jha tried to wash his hands of the matter. “The jail administration is responsible only for inmates inside the prison. Once they are out for medical treatment, the onus shifts.”
District civil surgeon BK Thakur offered a similar hand-off view. “An undertrial prisoner is sent to hospital under police protection and the hospital is responsible only for his treatment.”
But he tried to rationalise the incident, saying there was panic in the hospital after the prisoner broke a window pane.
Rajesh Kumar, deputy superintendent of the hospital, blamed the jail administration for delaying the shifting of Yadav to the Bhagalpur facility since May 18, the day the transfer order was issued. The jail authorities attributed the delay to the home guard strike.