Advocate Sudha Bhadarwaj of Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh writes:
After two attempts, in which we were refused for some technical reason or other, finally myself and Advocate Sadiq Ali managed to meet with the two women undertrials K Shanti Priya @ Malti Reddy and Meena Chaudhari presently lodged in the Central Jail at Raipur in connection with cases of waging war, sedition and offences under the Arms Act.
Both these women were on a protest hunger-strike between August 27 and September 8 (both days inclusive). Though they are not on hunger-strike now, Meena Chaudhari is still rather weak, is having low blood pressure and is complaining of giddiness.
The details of the events, as told to us during our jail interview with Meena and Malti are briefly as follows:
1. It had been amply clear for some time that the jail authorities were looking for some excuse to lodge these "Naxalite" women prisoners in the newly constructed solitary cells of the women's wing of the Central Jail, Raipur.
2. On August 23, during the Collector’s visit, Meena and Malti had raised some of the common grievances of all the women prisoners in an application, On 25th they were taken to the hearing as usual.
3. On August 26 at about 7 pm, eight women jail staff, four women convicts and one woman gatekeeper took hold of Meena and said that it has been ordered that she must be taken to the "gunha khana" (convicted cell). Meena and Malti repeatedly asked to see the order for this and protested. Upon which these people dragged Meena by her hair, kicked her into a flower-bed and then dragged her kicking and beating her and locked her up in a solitary cell. She had bruises and scratches on her thighs, wrists etc. but has not been medically examined so far. Meena protested vociferously and nearly lost consciousness from the exertion of her protest by 10pm. At this, the jail authorities probably panicked and they took her out of the solitary cell and brought her back to her regular barrack.
4. The next day, i.e. August 27, the two women squatted on the "chabutra" (platform) in the main courtyard of the women’s jail and demanded that they be shown the order under which Meena was forcibly put in the solitary cell. They refused to take food and had to be brought back to the lock-up each night.
5. These women prisoners wrote letters to the DIG, Jail, the IG, Jail, and the Collector. Even earlier, in April, these women had undertaken a three-day hunger-strike to ensure that the Deputy Collector carried out his regular inspections.
6. The Jail Superintendent, Mr. SS Tigga, came on the 28th. Fortwo or three days the women refused even water, which forced the DIG to visit them on 4th. He said that all their grievances mentioned in the letter to the Collector were being investigated, and advised them to eat their food. He claimed he had received their letter only on that very day. However, despite repeated iteration, no order was shown to them. In fact, it has not been shown to them to the present day. They were not medically examined even once despite the fact that they were on hunger-strike for 14 days.
7. Even the story of the contents of the mysterious 'order' have continuously changed. First, the jail authorities said it was on the basis of the argument they had with the lady jailor on the 26th when Malti had requested that she be given "rakhi"and the jailor had passed the order. Later, they said it was an order of the court, which is not true. Finally, they said the Superintendent had passed an order on the basis of some charges against them but Mr Tigga denied this on the 28th. Clearly some backdated cover-up process is going on and possibly some 'order' might have been manufactured by now. In fact, the prisoners complained that they have come to know that 15 to 20 women inmates have been forced to write false complaints against them by threatening them with enhanced penalties of two to three years! In reality they were having very cordial relations with all the other inmates. Though Meena was so badly beaten, it is being falsely made out as if she had attacked the jail staff which is a sheer impossibility.
8. The most shocking thing was the attitude of the State Human Rights Commission. A team of the commission visited the jail while the women prisoners were on hunger- strike. At that time Malti was so weak that she could barely write an application, as asked. But the team refused to take their letter and rather admonished them that "they should listen to the Madam Superintendent". Clearly the commission has no independence vis-a-vis the jail or police authorities. When a citizen is in the custody of the State, then it is extremely important that he/she is at least given a fair hearing by some independent agency. Otherwise there can be no hope of justice for them in the period of their incarceration.
9. Ever since Meena and Malti were incarcerated, owing to their protests, the beating of women inmates had completely ceased. But now the other prisoners are threatened with dire consequences if they even speak to them. Thus they are being isolated even when they are kept in the common barrack. The women prisoners are now given more workload and worse quality food, and the jail staff tell them that all this is the result of the protests of the "Naxalite" women.
10. Since this incident the two women are not permitted to do the computer activities or stitching which they were doing earlier. They are being harassed by diluting their dal and vegetable to make the food even more unpalatable and non-nutritious. Even the list of items that they requested to be purchased at their own expense are not given to them.
The above are the bare facts. Please forward these to all concerned individuals and organizations. We seek the co-operation of all of you in ensuring that prisoners in Chhattisgarh are treated lawfully and with dignity and that undertrials are not persecuted for alleged political offences.
EWS 90, Nehru Nagar, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh.
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