New Delhi: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has ordered its own superintendent of police to conduct an on-the-spot investigation into allegations of custodial torture and inhuman treatment levelled by family members of 21 undertrial prisoners lodged in the Bhopal central jail, allegedly members of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and accused in various terror cases. The family members had earlier met NHRC member Justice (retired) D. Murugesan, along with members of five civil rights organisations, on May 24 and submitted a detailed letter addressed to NHRC chairman H.L. Dattu on the issue.
The NHRC in its order noted that “it is of the view that true facts need to be ascertained in the first instance” and as such it said “the DIG (I) of the Commission is requested to constitute a team of officers, headed by an SSP, to conduct an on the spot investigation and submit their report at the earliest in respect of the truth or otherwise of the allegations made in the complaint.”
The relatives of the undertrials and the representatives of the organisation said that all the 21 prisoners who were being tortured had been arrested in various cases in December 2013 along with eight others, who were killed in a controversial ‘encounter’ on October 31, 2016 in Bhopal.
The NHRC was told by eight of the family members as well as advocate N.D. Pancholi, Kavita Srivastava of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties, Manisha Sethi from the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, Mathew Jacob of People’s Watch and Ansar Indori of the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations who had accompanied them, that the torture of the undertrials began following the encounter. Apart from these organisations, Quill is also part of the protest movement.
Denial of medical treatment and adequate food
In the case of Abu Fazal, the families said he had “complained of repeated physical torture resulting in leg fracture”. He too, they said, was “being forced to chant anti-Islamic slogans and (to) convert (his) religion.” Fazal was being “tortured and beaten during prayers and forced to wake up after every two hours of sleep”, they said, adding that he was “locked-up in barracks without respite” and the “jail authorities are repeatedly threatening to kill him and Mohd Iqrar or urging them to kill themselves”.
Mohammad Adil had also complained of physical torture and mental harassment, and claimed that he was being served inadequate amount of food and denied basic necessities.
Another undertrial, Sajid Hussain had complained of mental harassment and physical torture, which led him to even attempt suicide, the delegation said, adding that he was also denied medical treatment.
Similarly, it said, Irfan Nagori was denied medical treatment for an eye ailment, resulting in blindness in one eye and deteriorating vision in the other.
The group also presented to the NHRC the submissions made by family members of Adil, Irfan, Mohammad Zubair and Mohammad Javed to various authorities regarding the denial of medical treatment.
The delegation also submitted that Khalid Ahmed, one of the persons killed in the ‘encounter’, had several months before his death complained of being served adulterated food with drugs, resulting in severe body pain.
“Most of these UTs are denied basic necessities, served food in limited quantities, denied meeting with their relatives; relatives (are) kept waiting for long periods and meeting time cut short to few minutes,” they said, adding that during the brief meetings too, ATS personnel are constantly present and they obstruct the conversations and privacy. “Even access to legal counsel is restricted and UTs can only interact with their counsels through video conferencing,” it was alleged.
On the issue of denial of medical treatment, they said in some cases despite courts directing treatment of the undertrials, the jail authorities continued to deny it. In several such cases, the courts did not act when the issue was brought to their notice.
Submissions invite reprisals
“When the UTs through video conferencing or through their counsels/relatives have placed before the courts the complaints of torture and inhuman treatment, the UTs have faced reprisals and further harassments by the jail authorities,” the delegation said, adding that such behaviour was noticed in the case of Iqrar and Fazal.
“The reprisal by jail authorities is clearly demonstrated through the case of Mohd. Iqrar,” they said, adding that “he had on April 26, 2017, through the video conferencing, submitted before the magistrate about repeated physical torture with injuries on head, thighs and hips. His beard was forcefully cut and forced to chant anti-Islam slogans. He was constantly threatened with death if he mentioned about jail conditions to the magistrate.”
They said there was also a “common feeling” among several of these undertrials that they may be killed by jail authorities. “In several cases, UTs fear for their lives and fear that it will be shown as a case of suicide.”
“Madhya Pradesh State Human Rights Commission has not even taken cognisance of several complaints which have been placed before them,” the delegation said, presenting the complaints submitted till December 16, 2016 with the petition.
The family members of the undertrials and the civil rights groups urged the commission to enquire into the human rights violations against the 21 undertrials. They asked the NHRC to record statements of all the 21 UTs in conditions where they can speak freely and without fear of repercussions.
The group recommended that the commission ensure the appointment of a senior criminal lawyer for the undertrials. They also asked the commission to undertake a surprise visit to Bhopal jail to ascertain the living conditions. The NHRC has also been urged to petition before the Supreme Court to transfer the case out of Madhya Pradesh for an independent and speedy trial.