I had been in different jails, first in Sorda Sub-Jail, then in Brahmapur Circle Jail and later in Bhanjanagar Special Sub-Jail of Odisha, from mid-2011 to 2015, approximately three and half years, under false charges of ‘sedition’. I was arrested again in 2019 for the second time in connection to an eight-year-old case that was utterly false and fabricated and put in Sorada and Bhanjanagar jails for another one and a half years.
I am on bail now. I have been acquitted in three of all the ten cases filed against me, the remaining seven cases are under trial. Here, I am providing a brief realistic account of the prison life I spent for five years in different jails of Ganjam District, Odisha during my two terms.
About 99 per cent of the undertrial prisoners are from economically backward sections of the society, from Dalit and tribal sections, are mostly illiterate. They call the ‘prison’ as Thana (police station). They are ignorant of law of the land and don’t know its jugglery. They look up to the God, and often condemn themselves for the suffering they bear inside the Thana. They worship the Almighty in the dawn and dusk and think that it is the God who would rid them of this Thana. They never ask a judge or jailer to enquire progress of their case. They leave that matter to the God.
More than half of the people have been languishing inside the jails for years together without trial. In their cases, Case Diary, Chargesheets, framing of charges, commitments (fit for trial) etc. are arbitrarily done by the police. It takes three to four years for a case to get commitment.
Private witnesses of a case appear before the court as and when desired. But the government witnesses deliberately take years to appear. Despite repeated notices and summons, the government witnesses do not appear before the court on the plea of transfer to another district. Hence, they intentionally cause delay to the hearing of the case. Here, the sufferer is the undertrial prisoner who is waiting to get released.
It is upon the whim of the police when to send CD Report, chargesheet and escort van. The police will send the CD report if they wish, produce the chargesheet if they feel so and provide the escort van if they want. If the police fail to discharge their responsibilities properly, the poor man will be condemned to be perished in the jail for years together. Ninety per cent of the people, in this or that jail, are entangled with false and fabricated cases lodged against them. If government employees, by chance come to jail, they will be inside the jail for only ten to fifteen days and by hook or by crook, will escape on bail.
Politicians and rich people are getting bail smoothly even on theft, robbery and murder cases. During their stay in jail, they also get a lot of respect. But when a poor and innocent person enters the jail, he is clueless when he is going to be out. Even if many people apply for bail, and even if they are granted bail, they remain in that jail because they fail to arrange required documents of land or house leases (conditions of surety for going out on bail) in their favour. It is because they themselves belong to the homeless category.
While I was in Bhaanjanagar jail, one day three innocent poor tribal youths came. They were from Rayagada district. They mistakenly made a phone call to a strange number. That phone number belonged to the Bhanjanagar Sub Divisional Judicial Magistrate. Those tribal youths, without knowing the receiver, had some fun during the phone call. That fun bought them dark days in their lives. They remained in the jail for nearly two years. They could not even go on bail as they did not have the money. No lawyer could plead their case. Even their family members could not come to Bhanjanagar and visit them in the jail due to want of funds. Due to such a minor mistake, they remained behind the bars for two years. They could not express their sorrow before anyone. After being jailed for nearly 22 months, the court sentenced them for further two months for that minor mistake they committed unintendedly. They left after remaining another two months’ term in jail as per the court’s verdict.
Poor people from many such Dalit and tribal families are deprived of getting justice. Those who raise their voice for the rights of Dalits and Tribals, are also treated as ‘traitors’.
Laws and rules are there to provide education, sports materials for recreation etc. to the prisoners, but everything remains in pen and paper. Nothing is available in actual sense. The menu of food is not being communicated to the prisoners. Foods with sub-standard quality are being given to the prisoners. The rights of prisoners are being looted by jail officials. Legal Aid lawyers, who are supposed to make the poor aware of the law, simply sign the attendance register and leave. I don’t remember that I have attended any legal aid camp organised in any jail during my stay in these five years.
I was in Brahmapur jail between 2012 and 2014. There I observed that one of the inmates could not tolerate the insult of being arrested in a false case and one day consumed poisonous drugs, thus suddenly fell ill. He died while undergoing treatment at Brahmapur Medical College Hospital. Upon his death, the concerned doctor reported in the post-mortem report that the prisoner died of a heart attack. The doctor, the jail officer, all took recourse to falsehood and suppressed the matter.
In another incident, a person was arrested and brought to Sorda jail. He was beaten up black and blue by the police while in police custody. He died within four to five days of coming to jail. It’s a very serious issue. But under pressure from some influential persons, the police, the doctors and the jail authorities suppressed the matter. Everyone kept quiet as if nothing has happened. That’s when we came to know about this incident, we started ‘SIT in DHARANA’ within the jail premises against this brutal murder. The matter was then brought to light. But, instead of being immediately suspended, the police inspector, involved in this crime, was transferred on promotion.
If any prisoner opens his mouth against any injustice, he will be beaten up with a plastic pipe and put isolated in a dungeon like small room.
The day the judge or district collector comes for inspection, there is wholesome good food to be served in the jail. After he leaves, the prisoners will get the same under-nutritious and sub-standard watery dal and rice full of small stones. A prisoner has to remain in the prison cell for 15 long hours out of twenty-four hours a day. The dishonest and corrupt practices of the jail administration has never come out. A large number of officers are there in our system of governance who run fake administration after taking oath in the name of the Constitution. Never the corrupt practices of public life are discussed in any forum.
Rights of undertrial prisoners:
After I came from jail I was talking with our advocate friend and other democratic rights activists regarding rights of the undertrial prisoners. They are like senior advocate of Odisha High Court, Prasant Jena and other human rights activists. Our advocate Mr. Jena replied, “Who will be granted bail and who will not, is an optional matter and discretion of the judges in the Indian Courts till date. The Supreme Court is even saying that while granting bail, it is not necessary to mention the reason why the court granted the bail. But it is, of course, being said that the ‘discretion’ should never become a ‘discrimination’.”
He also said, “If an accused is not granted bail after applying for the same in the Lower Court, we have the facility to approach to the Higher Court and if the accused is unable to engage a pleader, after asking the accused in this regard, the judge himself hand over the case to the Legal aid centre of the National Legal Services Authority for free legal aid. Moreover, if the time limit prescribed for submission of the chargesheet is over but the police fail to submit charge sheet within this time limit, the facility of getting bail is available in the Indian courts and the accused is entitled to bail as a matter of right, from the magistrate court itself, even in sessions’ cases.”
However, the judges of the lower court do not feel it as their responsibility to tell to the poor prisoners that he or she is entitled for the bail if the chargesheet of his or her case is not produced. As a matter of right of an undertrial prisoner to get bail, whether he applies or not, he must be ensured to avail such facility to be bailed out. But, our legal system lacks of such provisions, which is also a weakness of our judicial system.
(Post Script: Tribal land that was encroached upon by politically powerful sections in Sorda and Polsara areas of Ganjam district, Odisha got free due to continuous agitation of same tribals. Nirakar Nayak was actively playing a role in that agitation and for that he came under the aggression of those encroachers. He was jailed for many years under false charges of riots, theft, criminal conspiracy and sedition (under UAPA & Sec.124 (A) of IPC). His jail experience was first published in Odia magazine Sangrami Chetanara Ganabhitti. Lalatendu Samantara has translated it from Odia. The cases against Nirakar Nyak are still under trial. Contact: email@example.com )