An Independent committee of senior national human rights activists, in its Preliminary Report released on April 16, expressed its deep concern at the government handling of the beating up of 22 inmates of the Sabarmati Jail on March 25, and called for a full enquiry, preferably a judicial one by a judge of the High Court, into gross violations of the Jail manual and human rights norms established by the Courts and the NHRC. Regrettably, the incident reinforces the image of Gujarat as a state where the human rights of religious minorities and weaker sections are not honoured.
The inmates, most of them Muslim, who had been on a hunger strike, were denied medical attention after a brutal attack on them by jail staff, which left at least three of them unconscious for so long as to start rumours in the city that they had died. They were subsequently denied access to the counsel, their relatives were refused permission to meet them for three days, and then the Sabarmati Police Station failed to register an FIR as sought by relatives and counsel of the victims.
The independent committee consisting of Dr. John Dayal, Member, National Integration Council, Govt. of India; Adv. K. Kesavan, Joint Secretary, CPCL, Tamil Nadu; Dr. J. S. Bandukwala President, PUCL, Gujarat; Dr. S. Q. R. Ilyas, Editor, Afkar-e-Milli, New Delhi; Mr. Gopal Menon, Film Maker, Bangalore; Mr. Mahtab Alam, Coordinator, Association for the Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), New Delhi; Ms. Harini Krishna, Film Maker, Mumbai, and Ms. Ruchi Shroff, Civil Rights Activist, Mumbai; and Mr. Gautam Thakar, Secretary, PUCL, Gujarat was in Ahmedabad from April 15 to 16.
At a public hearing, the Committee heard statements from mothers, wives and sisters of the jail inmates who gave detailed narrative of the events in the jail as they had heard from the inmates when they were finally allowed to meet them. The women presented blood stained clothes of the inmates. Counsel gave the committee copies of the PIL filed in the Gujarat High Court, the medical report filed by two lawyers who had met the inmates in jail, as also correspondence with the jail and police authorities seeking justice and medical care for the injured.
The committee made several efforts to approach the authorities. The committee in fact went to the Sabarmati Jail and met Superintendent Chandrashekhar who refused permission to visit the concerned ward and meet the inmates. Inspector General of police Mr. Keshav Kumar, despite a written request followed up by repeated visits to his office and a telephone conversation with him would not find time for the committee. The visit to the Sabarmati Police Station was an eye-opener where ACP Vaghela, SHO Joshi and Inspector Parmar all but justified the violence against the inmates saying they were criminals accused in bomb blasts, and had indulged in violence in the jail. The three officers admitted an FIR had been registered at the behest of the Jail authorities. They denied they had even received complaints from the families of the victims in this case.
The investigating committee does not comment on the cases in which these 22 persons are in jail, or even on several other events that have taken place in the Sabarmati Jail in recent weeks which go to show that all is not right with its administration. But it is clear from the testimony of the relatives of the victims and the admission of the police officers that the chain of events has been triggered off with the coming of the new Jail Superintendent who stopped long standing practices of taking ill and injured inmates to the civil hospital, provision of highly specialised medicine and curtailed other rights. It was in response to this that the prisoners went on a highly publicised hunger strike.
The committee will submit a detailed report in a couple of weeks.
Initial observations of the team are:
1. Beating of the Jail inmates are admitted in an affidavit filed by Jail authority.
2. Draconian jail manual laid down by the British is followed till date, even though parts of it are contradictory to our Constitution.
3. Advocates and relatives of the inmates were not allowed to meet them for a long time, which is a serious violation of Prisoners’ Rights.
4. No FIR of the relatives has been registered till date.
5. In spite of 22 prisoners suffering injuries, some of them being fractures, they were treated within the jail; they should have been admitted to civil hospitals.
The committee demanded that
1. National Human Rights Commission should intervene in the issue and report to the Supreme Court.
2. Proper medical help (to the Jail inmate) should be given by the civil hospital.
3. PUCL Gujarat and Human Rights groups should be allowed to meet and gather first hand information.