When Prisoners are Senior Citizens

Prisons have changed little since the colonial days when the British first conceived the prison system in the subcontinent as a tool to silence any challenge to their authority.

Today prisons in India are overcrowded with adivasis resisting the loot and plunder of their forests, land and water, dalits, peasantry resisting the violent acquisition of their agricultural lands, anti-displacement activists, people fighting for their right to self-determination, Muslims who have been the target of the so-called 'war on terror' of the Indian security establishment in aegis with the Uncle Sam. Anyone who has been uncompromisingly fighting for their right to lives and livelihoods, for a future free from all forms of exploitation have all been branded as Maoists and put behind bars.

A penal state desperate to browbeat all forms of dissent and resistance from the masses of the people, unable to find answers for a system that is sinking deeper into the whirlpool of crisis have resorted to a strategy to prolong the incarceration of the political prisoner for the longest period through hook or crook. Apart from fake-encounter killings by security forces and vigilante gangs and disappearances of people, prolonging the incarceration of the political prisoners in prisons has become the calculated strategy of the state.

Given the prison conditions in India which are the worst in the world, the number of custodial deaths is also alarmingly high due to torture in custody as well as extremely unhygienic conditions with little medical and health facilities. The state of Bihar itself reported the record number of deaths (781) in prisons between 2004 and 2009 i.e. in a matter of 5 years. Between 2008 and 2011 Bihar recorded 413 deaths in prisons. If the state of Bihar has recorded so many deaths one can imagine the situation in states like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. And the situation in Bengal is no different. Here custodial deaths and illegal confinement in police stations are on the rise. To add to this is the general scenario of slow trial in the judiciary. To make matters worse for the political prisoner various intelligence agencies from different states as well as the centre will see to it that a large number of cases in different states are filed against him or her. To prolong the imprisonment the state will never disclose as to how many cases have been filed against a political prisoner. If the conditions of the general prisoners are that worse to cause so many deaths, one may dread to hazard a guess on the condition of the political prisoner who is a senior Citizen.

The case of Sushil Roy, alleged Maoist leader who could get reliable and quality treatment for his serious illness only when the authorities were certain that he won't live longer. Till then he was administered pain killers by the jail doctor so that he would complain less about the severe pain in his urinary bladder and resultant bleeding. Only due to the timely intervention of civil libertarians and human rights activists could his life be saved. There are several such senior citizen political prisoners who need timely health care for their age related problems lest they face the danger of loss of life due to criminal negligence from the side of the police. Sheela didi, Beelavendhan, Meesakar Mathavan, Gnanaprakash, Qadeer, Kobad Ghandy, Narayan Sanyal etc., are a few names of the numerous senior citizen political prisoners.

The cases on the senior citizen political prisoners should be considered on a fast track court with competent judges on the bench.

For one thing there are also provisions that the State can evoke to release a senior citizen prisoner given the specific health condition of the person. Such instances abound as is the recent case in Kerala where Balakrishna Pillai who was facing trial on serious charges of corruption was released on the senior citizen grounds. [contributed]

Vol. 46, No. 29, Jan 26 -Feb 1, 2014

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