Unsafe prisons

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Cold-blooded murder of a gangster in jail highlights the lack of security in a majority of Indian prisons

Munna Bajrangi died the same way he is believed to have killed many of his victims — in a hail of bullets. While many will have no sympathy for Bajrangi or his family, the manner of his death is troubling because it took place inside the confines of a State-owned property, that too in a jail. It is not as if Indian jails are particularly violent — jails across the world are incredibly violent places where hardened criminals, many of them with anger management and rage control issues, are kept in closed confines. Violence is inevitable but what is surprising is that many in society condone violence in jail, believing that criminals are getting their ‘just desserts’ and this is a very universal feeling across societies, not just in India. When in the United States jokes are made about prisoners, almost always male getting raped in prisons, it is often seen as par for the course rather than a failure of the state. When one of the December 16 convicts was murdered inside the Tihar Jail, most people shrugged it off, some even claimed it was retribution.

The fact of the matter is that it is not retribution. The State takes retribution on convicts by imprisoning them and it is the moral duty of any State, not just India, to ensure that prisons are as safe as they can be for convicts. Nobody is arguing that countries go the full Scandinavian route, but just because someone is in prison, no matter what the crime he/she committed even if it involved a child, does not mean that the convict has lost his/her human rights. Even if State-sanctioned execution is allowed in countries such as ours, it has to be done in a humane way. The problem is that we do not even treat prisoners humanely, many prisons across India suffer from chronic overcrowding and there seems to be a strict prison caste system in place. If one is a Bollywood star, he/she can get parole easily, others suffer in silence as undertrials for years, often longer than the prison sentence.

Just because actions behind the prison walls take place away from society at large and most of society has contempt for criminals does not mean that we ignore the problems in jails. Jails should not be places where shootouts happen, where new gangs are allowed to fester and in several cases in India, criminals enjoy the god life. However, much like several other problems in India, the solution to some of the woes of Indian prisons comes down to reforms in the police and judicial systems.

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