In these dark-stifling-suffocating times, with shrinkages on each and every given front, I have been thinking of the jailed citizens. Our fellow citizens sitting imprisoned.
In between reading and re-reading the books authored by several released prisoners and the dark detailed experiences they have recounted and detailed of their jailed years, I have been wondering: Can we, the not-so-jailed population of the country, get to hear what are the urgent basic needs of the jailed. Are the jailed independent enough to voice their concerns, woes, wants, pains and miseries, without fears and apprehensions of the aftermath…of those dangerous off shoots!
It is only just about occasionally we get to grasp in those rather too indirect ways of the conditions of the jailed, when the who is who amongst them falls seriously ill. This summer (on 25 May) news that came through was of the AAP leader and former Delhi minister Satyendra Jain collapsing in the bathroom in Tihar Jail,” due to dizziness”. (This was the second time Jain has fallen in the Tihar jail bathroom during his imprisonment…Jain has been lodged in prison since his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with a money laundering case.) What if Jain was not a politician, then would the news of his collapsing in the confines of the Tihar jail come to the fore?
Also, direct, or indirect relays to over-crowded jail cells and wards come up when there are news reports of prisoners attacking each other. Also, when they try to break free from the over-stuffed cells.
Can they cry out for open-jails, where they can perhaps experience some level of free movement of their limbs, in a less stressed-out environment and atmosphere? And with that feel less caged. But even there, hundreds of mosquitoes could make life hell and hellish for them. And though the sarkar talks of killing hundreds of the hapless two-legged human beings in encounters galore but cannot kill the small four-legged mosquitoes! Strange reality of the times! The Sarkari bandolas and machinery not empowered enough to get rid of the mosquitoes sucking every drop of our blood, unsparing even the anaemics, imprisoned and the also those not-so-imprisoned!
I have been also wondering that prison conditions could have been better in those decades gone past. That probably explains why Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and several other freedom fighters could write such significant volumes whilst lodged in prisons during the British rule.
Here, let me hasten to add that in these recent years the books I have read by former prisoners have been written by them when they were out of the prison confines…when they were set free from those imprisoned state. Why could not they write volumes whilst jailed! Several other basic factors to the prisoners keep hitting: a large percentage of those imprisoned in the country are under-trials, so technically innocent, yet they waste so many years of their lives, languishing in jails. Such a waste of those precious years, of precious human lives. Can there be counselling centres and counselling sessions for small time or the first-time offenders? Can there be guidance and more along the strain, so that the young can be saved from traumas and their lives not wasted? Can there be an earnest call to save lives in the actual sense of the term?
Yes, instead of imprisonment there ought to be something called forgiveness and pardoning by the State, if there is genuine remorse and willingness to improve. Moving on still further, why not a complete ban on hangings. Yes, stopping of the death penalty. Why kill, when the State cannot give birth or even sustain those born! Maybe an innocent hanged!
Also stands out the fact that even the convicted ones were not born criminals! Perhaps, circumstances drove them towards crime with disastrous offshoots. Also, petty criminals could be mere foot soldiers, seemingly under the control of the political mafia. Many a time the naïve and young, framed and with that their lives completely messed up, as they are then ‘used’ by the nexus and mafia at work. Master players, untouched and un-arrested, whilst the naïve arrested and with that ruined for times to come.
Also stands the fact more Muslims are jailed – more in terms of their population ratio! Why? What are reasons for this dismal reality? Also, a connected fact. Why so many are men (from the Mewat region/ belt)- in jails?
There are so many dismal and dark realities…dark enough to make one sit up and introspect.
I leave you to ponder and keep on pondering on what Mahatma Gandhi had to say on the jailed … his views on those amongst us who are sit jailed. To quote from the November 1947 issue of Harijan: “All criminals should be treated as patients and the jails should be hospitals admitting this class of patients for treatment and cure. No one commits crime for the fun of it. It is a sign of a diseased mind. The causes of a particular disease should be investigated and removed. They need not have palatial buildings when their jails become hospitals. No country can afford that, much less can a poor country like India. But the outlook of the jail staff should be that of physicians and nurses in a hospital. The prisoners should feel that the officials are their friends.
They are there to help them regain their mental health and not to harass them in any way. The popular governments must issue necessary orders, but meanwhile the jail staff can do not a little to humanize their administration.”
Ending this week’s column with stunning and hitting verse of the Bengaluru based poet
NANDITA BOSE, from her poetry book titled – Dewed (Published by Atta Gallata):
‘Grief and I are old lovers/ meet often by chance/ in mildewed mausoleums/ without smiles/ or recognition in our eyes/ yet gently/ welts still fresh earth-warm/ like bread baking/ no questions / just a stray coupling/ to see each other through.’
Humra Quraishi is a Gurgaon based independent writer-columnist-journalist.