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India: What Else Was Expected Other than Sanaullah's Murder?

India: What Else Was Expected Other than Sanaullah's Murder?

Children are conceived, some born, others grow, and many die in Indian prisons. There is nothing particular about this, since such incidents happen in prisons across the world. However, what is unique to India is that custodial violence, of which many resulting in deaths, is no more news. Yet, the assault upon Mr. Sanaullah Ranjay, a Pakistani citizen, who died in custody, after being assaulted by a fellow prisoner at the high-security Kot Balwal prison in Jammu is special.

To say the least, government of India is responsible for the assault upon Sanaullah, and his subsequent death at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research where Sanaullah was treated for his injuries. Sanaullah's murder is the direct consequence of the government's pathetic failure to ensure security of an alien, imprisoned in India and the manner in which New Delhi, and the state government of Punjab dealt with the assault and murder of an Indian citizen in Pakistan, Mr. Sarabjit Singh.

In the murky politics between two neighbouring countries, that is often charged with narcissistic considerations of the respective governments - political parties in India and the military apparatus in Pakistan - than any foreign policy, persons like Sarabjit and Sanaullah are the victims, along with the people of the two countries. The fact that paralleling the murder of Sanaullah and Sarabjit itself will evoke protest in both countries is proof to the fact how blinded some individuals are on both sides of the border.

The Supreme Court of India is one institution that has refused to be blinded with fake nationalism on this issue, at least concerning the death of a prisoner within its jurisdiction. Acting on a petition filed in the court, the Supreme Court said: "e are pained and concerned at the attack on Sanaullah. We are more concerned why such incidents are happening in jails ... It is a serious matter and cannot be accepted … It is happening from Jammu to Delhi. It is happening in a jail and it is a serious sign. Why adequate steps were not taken? You should have anticipated that when something had happened in Pakistan …"

The answers to these questions are of at least two separate limbs. First, the manner, in which Sarabjit's murder was handled, by both the Government of India as well as the state government of Punjab, was pathetic, if not alarming. Statements made by persons, including those who hold responsible positions in the central cabinet, were careless and irresponsible, if not incitement to violence, a crime in the penal law.

Politicians of all colours competed, to be in the news commenting on the murder, and to visit Sarabjit's family. There were public calls by politicians to declare Sarabjit a national hero. Worse, the state government went ahead declaring three-day official mourning and financial compensation to Sarabjit's family.

Only three dailies in India asked the two important questions concerning Sarabjit's case: (i) as to what had the government done so far concerning Sarabjit, who did not even have proper legal representation during his trial and appeals in Pakistan; and (ii) clarity concerning the background in which Sarabjit was arrested, also suggesting how the military and the intelligence apparatuses in India use poor villagers living along the Indo-Pakistan border, to carryout espionage missions in Pakistan. Like all governments, the Government of India also disowns Indians getting arrested having accused of espionage in alien soil.

Most of the Indian media otherwise parroted the political hyperbole, unparalleled even when the Pakistan army detained and murdered two Indian soldiers, Lance Naik Hemraj and Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh, that too allegedly crossing over to Indian territory. The family of the murdered soldiers had to hold a hunger strike to move the government, since it chose to neglect the incident initially.

In the past, many Indians have faced similar or worse fate in alien prisons. In none of these cases, the government has taken any interest in their cause. Families have to beg and plead the government, often without success, to ensure assistance to Indians facing legal proceedings outside India. When Indians die abroad often families have to borrow money to bring the deceased back to India. Some of the Indian foreign missions are notorious for non-cooperation with Indians living in their jurisdiction, and officers reported to be corrupt, demanding money for every service Indians are entitled to obtain through these missions.

Daily, Indians are tricked and trafficked to foreign countries. Police officers in-charge of immigration at the Kochi International Airport is currently under fire, not from the government, but the High Court of Kerala, for running a human trafficking syndicate based at the airport. So far, the government has been trying to defend these officers, estimated to be 27 in number and of all ranks. The state government of Kerala, for instance, is yet to adequately answer the court's question, as to how many Indians have been trafficked out of India by this syndicate, and how many persons who could pose a security threat to the country have entered India through Kochi International Airport.

Equally compelling is the second question, asked by the Supreme Court concerning Sanaullah's murder in custody. This is concerning safety of prisoners in India. Conditions in Indian prisons are the befitting accompaniments to a seriously flawed criminal justice system in India. The Supreme Court of India need not venture any further from New Delhi to understand prison conditions in India. Overcrowded and lacking infrastructure, prisons across India are dungeons managed by demoralised officers.

Despite the efforts, Tihar Jail, the largest prison complex in South Asia, notorious for being run by corrupt officers and bullying prisoners where drugs, bribes, sex and weapons are available, for those who need it and have means to procure it. The complex is overrun with lack of infrastructure. It is a prison where the ratio of HIV positive persons is higher than the national average. All detention centres in India suffer from their impossibility to adequately separate under-trials from convicts. Detention centres in India are the graduate schools of crime, from which suspects emerge as hardened criminals.

The Supreme Court itself has tried repeatedly to push the government to reform prisons. Inadequate legislations regulate the administration of prisons in each state. Additionally, the government has failed to implement recommendations made by state-sponsored committees like the Mulla Committee of 1993, which goes into details like living space of prisoners and conditions of women prisoners.

In a general environment as iterated above, had a person like Sanaullah was not attacked in prison, it would have been in fact a surprise. Nothing else would have resulted following the orchestrated hate speech that followed Sabarjit's murder.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

ENDS

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