On their last legs Human rights: Many inmates of Ranchi jail spend their nights standing
When the iron bars of Birsa Munda Central Jail, Ranchi, clang shut behind them, it sounds the death knell for many prisoners from tribal, Dalit and backward communities. In jail for petty crimes, they find themselves in inhuman conditions that spell severe health hazards.
On July 10, 1998, Rajendra Sardar of Sarmara village, Ranchi district, died of tuberculosis. Two years later, Ganesh Oraon of Lapur Bakhatoli in Lohardaga district succumbed to a combination of diseases, of the lung, brain and tuberculosis. Both the tribals were prisoners in the Ranchi jail.
Forty inmates have lost their lives to disease since 1998, and 30 of them were tribals or Dalits. Though built to keep 585 prisoners, the jail has 1852 inmates, 23 of them women, including a pregnant Chaiti Devi.
Before being jailed, the prisoners were acknowledged as physically fit. Said Deonath Linda of New Sarai, Ranchi: "I have been in this jail for the last six months facing an 'attempt to murder' charge. Three months ago, the doctors diagnosed I had TB." It was only after his condition deteriorated that the jail doctor referred him to Rajendra Medical College Hospital in the city. The prisoners are chained to hospital beds in violation of a Supreme Court verdict against it.
According to a jail official, prisoners belonging to the weaker sections suffer the most. Jailed for petty crimes, they find themselves being put through a rigorous daily routine. From dawn to dusk they have to work and render 'service' to the jail staff and to hardened criminals cooling their heels in the same jail. At sunset, they are thrust into the wards like loads of sack and their only rest for the night is to stand in the lavatory as there is no room even to sit.
"They are living like pigs in the wards," said a member of a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) team that visited the jail a few weeks ago. "One of the inmates told me that he wanted nothing but room to sleep." The poor prisoners are not provided proper, timely treatment and the food is either stale or rotten. Instead, nutritious food like milk, curd, meat, fish and eggs are channelled to the authorities and the rough-neck criminals.
There seems to be an evil nexus within the jail involving the staff and the hard-core criminals. The jail comprises five wards and any increase in the number of prisoners proves profitable for the jail officials. They use the most hardened of prisoners to achieve their end, all with the lure of money. Each ward is illegally auctioned off to hard-core inmates of the jail. Once the wards come under their control they extract as much money as possible from the prisoners for a few square feet to sit or sleep. The monthly rate for a seat is Rs 100 while a bed is fixed at Rs 500. Those who are unable to pay up spend sleepless nights for weeks.
The political clout of the hard-core criminals can be gauged by the fact that Governor Prabhat Kumar and Chief Minister Babulal Marandi of Jharkhand were received and welcomed to the jail on August 15 by the notorious criminal Anil Sharma.
With only two jail doctors to look after the prisoners, the number falling ill will only multiply. As one doctor said, "At least 80 prisoners are suffering from TB, 15 from asthma and 300 from skin diseases. Besides, there are 22 mental cases." The jail authorities had notified higher officials to shift the mental cases to the city asylums but the request remains unanswered. A plea for improving jail standards could also merit similar inaction.