September 20th’2012 saw IBJ India make an attempt to not just understand the problems faced by Women Prisoners, but to agree upon a course of action that will alleviate the conditions of the Prisoners and grant them some reprieve from their problems. This event started as an awareness drive, as has been the mandate of IBJ India, and the team comprised of Mr. Ajay Verma, Sister Mary Scaria, Ms. Karuna Nundy and Ms. Pallavi Saxena visited Tihar Jail No.6. A bit of research was done while organizing the drive, in order to understand the issues that govern the inmates of Tihar Jail No. 6, also the only Women Prison in New Delhi. This research was necessary in order to provide information which will be beneficial to the prisoners, therefore this drive meant we had two separate sessions, wherein the first one was with the inmates accused of dowry death, and the other was with the foreign inmates who have been accused of the crimes under Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.
When Section 304 B was introduced in IPC, it was to prevent the evil of dowry death and to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice. However, one cannot deny that this section has become one of the most abused and misused section of IPC. Complete families are put in prison, just on mere suspicion and, more often than not, are denied bail due to the ‘seriousness and gravity of the offence’. In the first session, we met many such inmates, and most of them had been denied bail on the grounds of seriousness of the offence or that the main witness testimony is yet to be recorded. At this point, Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was introduced to them, which deals with inherent power of the High Court to make such orders as may be necessary to give effect to any order of the Code, or to prevent abuse of the process of any court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice. As per this section the inmates were informed that they are well within their right to make any application to High Court under this section if they genuinely believe that there are no grounds for their arrest, and the charges should be dropped. The importance of telling the lawyers the whole story was pointed out to them repeatedly, as also was the fact, that sometimes when one gets emotional, they forget to point out the obvious. Therefore, as most of them knew how to read and write, they were told to read the FIR as well as the chargesheet, when it is filed so they are able to point out the discrepancies in it. The necessity of being aware about their rights as well as of the charges that are alleged against them was pointed out, as most of them were relying on the family members to look into the facts and did not even know some very basic facts.
The session with the foreign inmates was intense, as there was lot of anger and frustration of being stuck in another country for so long. They all wanted deportation, but the same is not possible due to not just the law of India but also other Countries, as one would need to look into the extradition treaties that are in place. The idea was put forward to file a petition for speedy trial as most of the inmates were there for more than 3 years. Though they were agreeable to it but it was not the preferred option for them. As the law concerned for all of them is NDPS Act, where the provisions are stringent, bail is hardly ever an option, especially for a foreigner as they do not have permanent residence. Another grievance was that they are not allowed to meet anyone during the weekly meeting time. Later, we were informed by the Prison Authorities, that as per the rules, an individual needs to have an identity card, however the foreign nationals who have overstayed their visa do not want to show their passports, therefore, no one comes to meet them, and not that they do not have the permission to meet. However, such assurances do not assuage the feeling of an individual who feels that their life as they knew it has come to an end, as was pointed out by one female, who said that she has been in the prison for the past 10 years, and in the meanwhile, her father, mother, brother and sister have passed away. When we enquired about her from the authorities, we were informed that she has been convicted and application for her deportation is pending; therefore, there was not much that we could do in this instance.
The drive ended with a promise that, a follow-up session will be conducted with the prisoners who need legal aid, as due to paucity of time we were unable to give individual time to the prisoners. This follow-up session will gather data where legal aid is required by the inmates and also about the foreign inmates so a petition can be filed for a speedy trial, to ensure that an innocent person does not end up spending time in the jail.