Fifty-year-old Darshan Singh, who was serving the final year of his sentence at the Central Jail in Bhatinda, Punjab, died following a sudden fit of convulsions. This death in custody would have slipped by unnoticed had it not been for the facts that were thrown up by a private study carried out by Dr. Vineeta and Ved Prakash Gupta, under the aegis of the NGO, Insaaf International. The results of this investigation were published in a report titled 'Caged Human Rights' released on July 7, 2003. In the wake of Darshan Singhs death, the report focuses on the troubling issue of human rights conditions in prisons in Punjab, and exposes the stark difference between rhetoric and reality.
The official version of Darshan Singhs death reports him to have suffered from convulsions at about 10.50 AM on the day of the death. Immediately after he reported at the jail hospital, he was shifted to the civil hospital, Bhatinda, after receiving first aid. Death is reported to have occurred at 11.25 AM. However, the investigation report presents a different picture. After talking to inmates, family members and some confidential sources, the Insaaf team discovered that Darshan Singh was rushed to the jail hospital at about 10 am after having reported his convulsions. The doctor was absent, and the pharmacist refused to call the doctor as he declared nothing to be the matter. He then gave the patient an injection and asked his fellow inmates to wait.
But Darshan Singh became more serious. On his friends protests the doctor was called, and he was referred to the civil hospital. For about 40 minutes he lay unattended, till the jail vehicle was summoned to take him to the civil hospital. Eyewitnesses at the jail disclosed that he was literally thrown in the foot space at the back of the vehicle with his legs hanging out. He was not provided any IV drip, oxygen, or any kind of required aid, though the jail authorities claim otherwise. Witnesses at the civil hospital also confirm that Darshan Singh was brought to the hospital, lying in the foot space with his legs hanging out.
He lay there in that position while the jail and hospital authorities discussed whether to declare him dead or alive upon arrival. The two parties finally reached some conclusion, but by then it was too late. Darshan Singh was already dead.
Darshan Singhs custodial death is a case in point, reflecting on the grim scenario prevalent in most prisons in Punjab. While the written rules guarantee prisoners rights and regulate prison conditions, but very little of this gets translated into practice.
During the course of its investigation, Insaaf came across gross violations of human rights in prisons. Proper allocation of living space, hygienic living conditions, efficient management of prison administration, and proper and prompt medical care in jails in Punjab, were all conspicuous by their absence. Further, instances of inhuman, degrading treatment, concealed physical and mental torture like long sun exposure in summers, prolonged physical work even during ill health, delay or refusal to provide medical care, discrimination in getting utilities, refusal of interviews with family members, and illegal access to drugs, also came to light. What makes matters worse is the insensitivity and lack of training on the part of officials regarding reforms.
The details that are unearthed about prison conditions are alarming. Take the issue of overcrowding in jails one important cause for lack of decent living conditions. Some prisons house more than double their official capacity of prisoners. One glaring example is that of Bhatinda Jail, where, at present there are 1,111 inmates against its authorised capacity of 600. Almost the same is the case with the Jalandhar jail that houses 1,041 inmates against its capacity of 600. In the Sangrur jail, the number of inmates on March 31 was 714 against its capacity of 300. In the Amritsar jail, the population on March 31 last was 1,819 against its official capacity of 1500. The Jail in Muktsar is virtually spilling over. In this jail, the number of inmates is 152, three times its capacity.
Understandably, the levels of hygiene and living conditions that exist under such circumstances are very poor. More than double the number of users end up using the toilets everywhere. Blocked or overflowing drain systems are common. In many prisons, the inmates who are allowed to cook food do so in front of the small place adjacent to toilets. According to reports Punjab jails are overflowing with under-trials. Despite clear directions of the Supreme Court, the measures to regulate bail, parole and speedy trial are ignored, resulting in ever increasing number of inmates. In some of the cases poor and underprivileged prisoners languish in jails longer than the sentence they might receive for the charges they face. In some of the cases, under-trials are known to have confessed to the crime, simply because they had already served the sentence for that offence, and could be released earlier that way.
Kishori Ram Hospital Building,
Basant Vihar, Bhatinda, Punjab,
Phone : 91-164-215400
Fax : 91-164-214500
Further to this investigation, Insaaf intends to co-ordinate and collaborate with national and international human rights groups to bring focus on prisoners rights in Punjab.