Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Our Jails, Their Jails

India’s burgeoning population is, of late, being felt in its jails as well. Yes, for past few months, the number of prison inmates have been increasing like never before. Gracing the list are Category A VIPs: cabinet ministers (Suresh Kalmadi, A Raja) MPs (Kanimozhi, Amar Singh) and super, stinking rich mining and IT barons (Janardan Reddy, Satyam Raju).

I was trying to find out how these rich crooks are treated in the jails. At least one media report (Tehelka) confirmed what I always suspected:  they are getting special treatment, sometimes by paying bribes, other times just for being what they are: powerful crooks.

As I read this, I picture came before my eye: groups of children, some of them as young as 8 year old, locked behind bars along with hardcore criminals. They are minor law offenders, rotting in jail, because the state had no money to provide a juvenile home.

I am talking of Arunachal Pradesh – a state in the North east India.

The Juvenile Justice Act (brought in 2000) provides for the establishment of separate facilities for the care and detention of juvenile suspects and offenders. According to the act, any offender below 18 years must be kept in an observation home and if the state can’t provide that, they should be released on bail.

But more than a decade later, there is no observation home and the state is sending its young law offenders here it sends real criminals: jails.

You don’t have to travel too far to verify this. Just walk into the main police station of the state capital Itanagar. Ask the officer in charge what they do with the minor  undertrials and he will tell you that they are kept in a cell, right in the police station for a while, before being packed to the prison.

Now let’s see the profiles of these offenders: some have been arrested for petty theft ,some are accused of having underground connection (read relative of an insurgent), some are not offenders at all, but rather victims of trafficking and other crimes.  These children need care and protection. Instead, they are in prison, sharing space with inmates who have committed murders, rapes among other things.

And what is the reason why there is no juvenile home? ‘Lack of fund’, the state child welfare development board officials will tell you, after you promise them anonymity.

In New Delhi, Kanimozhi – the MP charged in 2G scam, is getting better food and cleaner room than what other inmates get. Kanimozhi is accused to have stolen of Rs 200 crore.  How many juvenile homes could have been built with that money?

You can only imagine!

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