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Keralam—The Prison Model

Thrissur High Security Prison

P A Shyra

Ahigh security prison, which violates the constitutional rights of the prisoners and prison laws, was opened on 3/07/2019 in Keralam, which is considered to be the last bastion of the Left, that too in Thrissur where the Sahithya, Sangeetha and Natak Academies are housed and is known as the cultural capital of Keralam. It is the first ever full-fledged high security prison that has started functioning in India moulded from the model for government prisons.

This is not an isolated development. Keralam is among the front runners in implementing the draconian UA(P)A, Sedition (124A) and Waging war against the State (121) cases. This, despite not a single loss of life and limb or serious bomb blasts being reported in the last four decades in Keralam.

The history of high security prisons can be traced back to the recommendation of the notorious  Sedition Committee headed by SAT. Rowlatt who had recommended Rowlatt Act (The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act 1919) and high security prisons for isolating anti-British agitators and revolutionaries. The infamous septic tank theory is the basis for formulating the idea of high security prison, that is", keep the poisonous gas Within the tank and ensure the safe custody of those who are emitting it", they being "left to rot or die in wilderness". This was formulated by Reginald Cradic, then Lieutenant General of British administered Burma.

The purpose of the high security prison in Thrissur too is similar—keeping political prisoners under cellular confinement for years together in order to isolate them and break their determination. As part of this Maoist and Muslim prisoners who are implicated under UA(P)A were transferred to the high security prison on 8/07/2019.

The newly built high security prison, said to have cost Rupees 32 crore, does not have mandatory amenities such as kitchen, hospital, interview room, library and legal aid centre. Make shift cooking arrangements were made later.

The Government had neither issued any notification in respect to the high security prison's structure or operation nor modified any rule exclusively for it. In the absence of such mandatory procedures this prison is actually functioning as an illegal detention centre.

Right from the time of their transfer, the undertrial prisoners have undergone various types of harassment and custodial torture in the form of strip search as the only form of body search, continuous cellular confinement aggressive intrusion on privacy by way of installing CCTV cameras inside the cells for 24x7 surveillance, blocking the outside view through covering the grills of the outside verandah and engaging Scorpions—armed special commandos (anti-Maoist combat)—for body search of the prisoners.

The Government, under the chief ministership of CPI(M) PB member Pinarayi Vijayan who is in charge of the home ministry, is reluctant to hear the just demands of the prisoners. In fact it did not even implement an agreement reached between a Maoist prisoner Roopesh, who had gone on an indefinite hunger strike for reinstating the constitutional rights of the prisoners and against flouting of prison rules. The issue had come up at the special N1A court at Ernakulam through a petition filed by the prisoners. The NIA court instructed the NIA Special Prosecutor and another state Prosecutor for filing counter. Despite this the LDF Government engaged the State Attorney for defending the prison department and denying even the remaining residues of prisoners' rights. Engaging State Attorney is done in very important cases and on rare occasions only. So the appearance of the State Attorney in this case is surprising, if not mischieveous.

It is clear that the LDF, if not mischieveous Government is pooling maximum resources for legalising the draconian high security prison. The very same Government had recently lost its case against Corporate and Plantation Cartels due to its failure in assigning expert legal hands. But at the same time it is relentless against prisoners' rights. Keralam has a long history of struggles for prisoners' rights and resistance against draconian prison laws and practices. Communist leaders like Krishnapilla, AKG, EMS and various other political prisoners had shaped the democratic politics of Kerala society through their sacrifices inside the prison. Repressive apparatus and instruments like this high security prison are diametrically counter to that tradition. They will only help ruthless autocrats such as Modi and Amit Shah. The LDF Government is paving the way for them like the Social Democrats did in Germany and Italy.

It is high time to raise voices for the just cause of the prisoners.

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Frontier
Vol. 52, No. 34, Feb 23 - 29, 2020