Most under-trials are from backward classes, castes, communities, suffering enormous prejudice, jailed on concocted charges

Wrongful ImprisonmentBy N Jayaram*

Abdul Nasser Maudany may be one of the better known of India’s lakhs of under trials, having spent many years locked away for crimes he did not commit, often in the news because of the heinous reluctance on the part of state and central governments to grant his plea for proper medical treatment for a plethora of ailments. The near-blind and wheelchair-bound, who had earlier spent nine years in jail after false implication for the 1998 Coimbatore blasts, was only recently allowed out on conditional bail to be admitted to a hospital under the watchful eyes of two dozen policemen (click HERE to read more).

Even Maudany figures in the news but rarely. And few, if any, of the 2,54,857 under trials as of December 2012, going by National Crime Records Bureau data, get even a fraction of the media attention Maudany has received.

“Thousands of poor and voiceless under trial prisoners, by the government’s own admission, are locked away for long periods in prison awaiting trial for minor offences,” says G. Ananthapadmanabhan, Chief Executive of Amnesty International India, which has just launched a campaign – “Take Injustice Personally”– to highlight the plight of those languishing in jail for long periods, merely because they lack access to a decent legal counsel.

“This campaign aims to ensure respect for the rights of under-trials who have been in jail for prolonged periods and are eligible for release under Indian law,” says Ananthapadmanabhan, explaining that those who have already been in jail for than half the term they would have received if convicted, are eligible for release on personal bond under Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The “Take Injustice Personally” campaign urges people to support it by giving a missed call to 080888-88899 or sign a petition online via www.436A.in.

More than 65% of those in prison are under trial, notes former Right to Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi.

“This places us amongst the worst ten countries in the world. Our jails are overcrowded and one of the reasons for this is not releasing people who are eligible to be free as per the provisions of Section 436A. We are concerned about animals being in cages. But forget our fellow citizens who languish in prisons, without any reason,” Gandhi says.

In one state, Karnataka, alone, Amnesty found that effective under trial review committees were absent in many districts, lack of adequate legal aid in Bangalore Central jail as well as delays in court production of the detainees due to a shortage of police “escorts” and ineffective video-conferencing facilities.

The result: between January and June 2014, about 70 per cent of under trials in Bangalore Central Jail did not attend court hearings either in person or through video-conferencing.

Most of the prison population in India consists of people from backward classes, castes and communities, including Dalits and Muslims – the latter suffering enormous prejudice and often picked up and jailed on concocted charges. The Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association has done yeoman work in this regard in documenting numerous instances of falsely implicating Muslim youth. Especially its reports, “Guilt by Association: UAPA Cases from Madhya Pradesh” and “Framing of Muslim Youth – A Report from Karnataka” have recorded in detail such cynical instances. Dalits and other indigent people too poor to seek legal counsel obviously spend too long a time behind bars, unable to seek justice even when they might be innocent.

Someone fortunate enough to get out in a month is Chetan Mahajan, now President of HCL Learning and author of “The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail”, an account of his prison experiences.

“Financial and emotional support from friends and family helped me live through those days with some hope,” Mahajan recalls. “Today I wonder if it wasn’t for the support I had, whether my fate would be different.

“This is the case for many under trials – faceless and forgotten. Without any support to fall back on, they are in effect presumed guilty and punished. Punished to remain confined for excessively long periods because they are powerless and moneyless souls for whom the Indian criminal justice system does not seem to care. Some of them may remain in jail beyond the maximum sentence they would have faced if convicted.”

Mahajan is a passionate advocate of the “Take Injustice Personally” campaign.

It is not as if the police, prison officials and government departments are all uniformly cynical. Many officials, especially prison officials too are appalled but helpless over the injustice meted out to the under trials, their careers and lives destroyed for either minor crimes or no crime other than that of merely being poor.

“Excessive under trial detention has high costs for individuals and their families, but also for the criminal justice system. Under international law, anyone detained on a criminal charge has the right to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial,” Ananthapadmanabhan notes.

But are state governments and the centre that have kept an Abdul Nasser Maudany without a trial for long years bothered about the fate of the lakhs of others languishing in overcrowded jails?

* Courtesy: http://www.indiaresists.com. N. Jayaram is a journalist based in Bangalore since early 2012 after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi. He was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions.

 

Act Now: Take injustice personally

By Chetan Mahajan*

Chetan-Mahajan“Innocent until proven guilty” is a basic principle of Indian criminal law.

Did you know that 2.5 lakh people in India are currently in jail without having been proven guilty?

The government admits that many of them are poor people accused of minor offences, locked away for long periods because they don’t know their rights and cannot access legal aid.

Punished before being proven guilty.

I was one among those 2.5 lakh.

It was the 24th of December 2012 when I was arrested and jailed.

I am Chetan Mahajan, currently President of HCL Learning.

In 2012, I was 42 years old, with two MBAs–one from India and one from abroad, a big house, a good salary, a loving wife and two kids.

The company, that had employed me 3 months earlier, was accused of fraud. Being the senior-most representative of the company in the city at that point, I was the one arrested, taken into custody and locked up.

I was put into a large room around 70 feet long and 20 feet wide, with two dim, yellow bulbs and 25 other men. There were a few small windows with thick iron bars, and thin ropes across the wall with clothes hanging from them.

I spent 29 days in jail, 30 days in captivity.

I lived with cold food, constant fear of torture, mistreatment and violence and regular demands for money from other prisoners and jail officials.

Those 29 days changed my life completely.

I made new friends within the prison. Many of them had not yet been convicted. Their trial was ongoing and they did not know when they would be able to come out of those dingy dark cells and stand under the blue sky.

I finally came out in 30 days on bail, and was soon acquitted of all charges.

Financial and emotional support from friends and family helped me live through those days with some hope.

Today, I wonder if it wasn’t for the support I had, would my fate be different. This is the case for many undertrials – faceless and forgotten.  Without any support to fall back on, they are in effect presumed guilty, and punished.

Just like me, many of these men are probably innocent. But they are assumed guilty, and punished.

Punished to remain confined for excessively long periods because they are powerless, moneyless, forgotten faces for whom the Indian criminal justice system does not seem to care. Some of them may remain in jail beyond the maximum sentence they would have faced if convicted.

Under Indian law, undertrials can be considered for release on personal bond if they have already been in prison for over half the term they would have faced if convicted.

This is laid down in Section 436A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

But there are problems with the records and information maintained in many of our prisons about undertrial prisoners which would help identify people eligible for release under this law.

I did not know if any of those men I shared my time with were guilty or innocent. All I knew was that many of their names and identities were lost in piles of mismanaged records.

This could happen to any of us. It happened to me, and it could happen to you.

Let us break the silence. Join me, and Amnesty International India in taking this injustice personally and changing this system.

Please urge the Karnataka Home Minister to identify and release undertrial prisoners eligible under Section 436A of the CrPC. In doing so:

1. The government should maintain accurate records of undertrial prisoners which include: Name of Prisoner, Offence, Date of admission in Jail, the maximum sentence they would face if convicted, and the date on which they would finish half this period.

2. This information must be made available to the undertrial at the time of entry into jail.

The effect of your action will be far-reaching. It can help change the future of victims of a callous criminal justice system. They have rights too, and you can help defend them.

While I was fortunate to have privilege to fall back on, most undertrials don’t.

But they have you.

(From: http://436a.in/act-now-take-injustice-personally.Chetan Mahajan is currently the President of HCL Learning and is the author of the book “The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail”. The book is a factual tale describing an undertrial prison and its inmates. He wants people to sign an online petition by clicking www.436A.in.)

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2 thoughts on “Most under-trials are from backward classes, castes, communities, suffering enormous prejudice, jailed on concocted charges

  1. After I originally commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the same
    comment. Perhaps there is a means you can remove me from that service?
    Thanks!

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