But in recent weeks, jail authorities in India have been called out for being especially cruel to prisoners, particularly the govern-ment’s critics who are described as “human rights defenders” by international rights groups.
Earlier this month, the Bombay High Court reminded officials of Mumbai’s Taloja jail that they needed to show some “humanity” while dealing with the needs of inmates.
“We need to conduct workshops for jailers. How are such small items denied? These are all human considerations,” Justices SS Shinde and MS Karnik said.
The “small items” here were spectacles that jailed activist Gautam Navlakha had been denied.
The judges’ comment came after his family told the press that his spectacles were stolen in prison and that when they sent a fresh pair, the authorities refused to accept them.
“He was allowed to call me on 30 November, three days after his glasses were stolen. He’s 68, he needs a high-powered lens and without them, he’s nearly blind,” his partner, Sahba Husain, told me.
Since the start of the pandemic in mid-March, India has stopped all visits by family or lawyers to jail. Inmates are not even allowed to receive parcels.
Husain says Navlakha told her that he had spoken to the jail superintendent and had been assured that he would receive his spectacles.
Husain, who lives in Delhi, quickly got a new pair made and posted them on 3 December.
“I checked three-four days later and realized that the parcel had reached the jail on 5 December, but had been refused and returned.”
It was only after the judges read out a lesson in “humanity,” and subsequent outrage on social media that jail authorities provided a new set of spectacles to Mr Navlakha.
A former secretary of the non-governmental organisation People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Navlakha is no ordinary prisoner. He’s spent a lifetime working for civil liberties and is respected globally.
He’s been in jail since the middle of April in connection with what is known as the Bhima Koregaon case.
He’s among 16 activists, poets and lawyers who have been arrested over the past two years on charges of instigating caste violence at a Dalit rally in Bhima Koregaon village in the western State of Maharashtra on 1 January 2018. They all deny the charges against them.