Sunday, May 26, 2024

Light Theesko :Want mosquito-free cells?
Be lion-like among prisoners!

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Tibetan Buddhists’ current spiritual and temporal leader Dalai Lama once remarked: “You think you are too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito”.  The profundity of the illuminating statement apart, none of us would tolerate a mosquito while hitting the bed at a mundane level.

On November 3, Ejaz Lakdawala, an undertrial gangster, brought a plastic bottle filled with dead mosquitoes to a court in Mumbai to highlight the menace caused by them in Taloja prison in which he has been lodged since January 2020. He had sought a mosquito net, but his plea was rejected by the sessions court.

Noticeably, Lakdawala was no mosquito among the inmates of the jail. His peers would reverentially call him a sher (lion). A former associate of fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim, Lakdawala is facing multiple criminal cases. In his plea, Lakdawala mentioned that in 2020 when he was remanded in judicial custody, he was permitted to use a mosquito net.

However, in May this year, the prison authorities seized the net, citing security concerns.The court, while rejecting the application, said Lakdawala could instead use any mosquito repellent.

The Taloja Central Prison is notorious for having forced activist Stan Swamy to file an application in a special court in Mumbai for using a straw and a sipper. The 83-year-old activist, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, had no choice, though he had been unable to even hold a glass properly.In September this year, activist Gautam Navlakha had also filed an application seeking permission to use a mosquito net. The plea is pending.

Prisons and their administration being a State subject under the Constitution, there is a bewildering variety of jails and jail conditions as well as customized inmate handling across the country.

Under law and in terms of the directives of the Supreme Court of India — given as part of its major judgments on various aspects of prison administration — at least three broad principles regarding imprisonment and custody are clear: one, a person in prison does not become a non-person; two, a person in prison is entitled to all human rights within the limitations of imprisonment; three, there is no justification for aggravating the suffering already inherent in the process of incarceration. Legal luminaries say The Prisons Act, 1894 and the Model Prison Manual have been made for the prison administration to ensure that inmates are not deprived of their fundamental rights.In general, undertrial prisoners are given more rights than convicted prisoners.

Overall, it is the responsibility of the jail administration and the government to provide basic facilities to prisoners. As per the Model Prison Manual, prisoners should be given clean water, fresh food, clothes to wear, bedding and medical facilities.

They are to be given fresh breakfast, lunch, and dinner in jail. Besides, they are to be given free legal advice, and the facility to write letters and meet their families. Prisoners are allowed to work inside the prison, and they must be paid for such work.

When it comes to accessing facilities and enjoying benefits in prisons, it appears that a lot depends on the public persona or profile of the prisoner, regardless of the official category of prisoners to which he or she belongs based on the gravity of the crimes committed by them. This explains why the likes of Ejaz Lakdawala are denied a mosquito net, while politicos, business tycoons, defrocked godmen and other VVIP khaidis get kid-glove treatment.

According to media reports, former Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalitha’s aide VK Sasikala, former finance minister Chidambaram, former Indian Olympic Association chief Suresh Kalmadi, DMK leaders Kanimozhi and A Raja, former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sahara India Parivar chief Subrata Roy, Unitech directors Sanjay and Ajay Chandra,Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim, Sant Shri Asaramji Ashram head Asaram Bapu and other such high-profile inmates could ensure homely atmosphere in the prisons in which they were lodged.

Thanks to the benevolent jailors concerned, these VVIPs got the gamut of special treatment, had AC room with TV, Wi-Fi and video conferencing facility (eg Subrata Roy), could order special food or (like Sasikala) cook within cells, or have special cooks (e.g.,Lalu Prasad), and indulged in extended mulakats. Grant of frequent paroles and furloughs is another perk they enjoy in prison.

Going by the evolution of prisons, the day is not far when high-profile prisoners can pay and opt for three-star or five-star comforts. In September 2019, the media reported how a VIP room could be accessed in Ajmer Jail for Rs 8 lakh a month and a packet of cigarette for Rs 15,000.The busting of a bribery racket in Ajmer jail by the Anti-Corruption Bureau revealed that many ‘well-off’ inmates of the jail were provided banned products and given special treatment inside barracks. The paying prisoners enjoyed special cleanliness, special food, clean clothes and what not. The bribery racket involved payouts of Rs 25 lakh per month. Nothing significant happened after investigations into this and other such jail jhumlas.

The bottom line is that treatment of a prisoner depends on whether he is a mosquito or a lion in the eyes of his jailors. Officially speaking, a ‘first-class’ prisoner has a separate cell-like room with attached toilet fitted with round-the-clock water facility. He has exclusive access to a newspaper, along with freedom to arrange for periodicals or books as per his wish with no limit. There is extra light in his room for the sake of reading. Food is served at his/her cell.  He is allowed to pass time playing indoor games like card/ludo/chess. He can stroll in front of the cell yard morning and evening. He can have a cot and pillow to sleep. If he is VVIP enough, the prison concerned will ensure that no mosquito comes near him!

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