Byculla jail killing represents collapse of institutions: CHRI demands National Commission to review prisons

June 28, 2017

New Delhi,

The alleged beating and torturous death of 40-year-old Manjula Shetye in Mumbai’s Byculla Jail on Monday, 23rd June, is a stunning indictment of the internal rot and impunity that characterizes India's penal system.

"The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) demands an immediate judicial inquiry into the incident as well as the setting up of a National commission to review the state of prisons nationwide immediately with the latter headed by a former Supreme Court Chief Justice with a time bound mandate and whose recommendations must be implemented by all states within a finite time span." said Sanjoy Hazarika, CHRI’s Director.

In addition to the vigorous application of the criminal process, arrest and termination of the five constables and jail officer, CHRI demands that there be a time bound judicial inquiry into the circumstances that could allow this brutality to be perpetrated and prisoners who witnessed this barbaric incident be transferred to another jail. Nothing else will signal the gravity of this abuse of power.

"CHRI calls on the National Human Rights Commission and the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission to send independent teams to investigate the incident and place the findings in the public domain while urging civil society groups to robustly press for specific changes, which have been pending since the Mulla Committee submitted its report in 1983 on prison reforms," said Hazarika.

Prisoners are wards of the State which has a duty to keep them safe.

Yet, in Maharashtra, a prisoner dies every three days. Suicide rates within prisons run at 40% higher than in the general population.

Ms. Shetye was allegedly stripped, beaten and had a lathi inserted into her private parts before her agonized death - not for asking for more but complaining about the shortage of two eggs and five slices of bread in the barracks she was supervising as a convict warden. All this by a woman officer and constables whose primary job was to ensure every prisoner’s safety. The post mortem report confirms her death by grievous injury.

This latest ugly incident is a clear reflection of the state of prisons across India. It also flies in the face of Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi’s statement to the UN Human Rights Council at Geneva last month that the concept of

torture was alien to Indian culture. Over the past 15 years the prison population has increased by 13% and women population by 61%. Almost all inmates come from amongst the poor and vulnerable in society.

Nearly two-third of all inmates are people awaiting trial. Overcrowding can run to 400%, and prisons are left in the hands of poorly paid, badly trained staff with shortages that run high. Overall conditions are abysmal with little thought given to rehabilitation or correction. Yet, resistance remains stiff to outside scrutiny or disclosure under the Right to Information Act, 2005. CHRI’s recent reports on the status of prisons’ statutory boards of visitors, legal aid delivery and the Supreme court mandated undertrial review committees vouch for the fact that there is neither supervision nor accountability for what is going on unseen and neglected in these places.

"If serious steps are not taken to reverse the corrosion in the prison there is every possibility more lives will be lost and destroyed. Independent visitors must be immediately appointed and their reports must be submitted to prison heads and the government every month.” said Mrinal Sharma, Programme Officer handling prison reform issues at CHRI.

For more information, please contact:
Mrinal Sharma
Project Officer, Prisons Reform Programme