The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lawyer strike ignites jail mutiny

Asansol, Dec. 3: The first violent backlash against the lawyers’ strike swept through a prison today, but the jailer was at the receiving end. An agitation by 300 prisoners, all eligible for bail but still in prison because of the strike, culminated in the assault of the officer of the sub-divisional jail here.

The prisoners had served the statutory 90-day period without the police being able to file chargesheets. To secure bail, they need lawyers to approach the court but have been left high and dry because of the strike.

Last week, jail minister Biswanath Chowdhury had warned that the lawyers’ action was putting prisons at a huge risk. The minister said the number of prisoners was rising, as courts across the state were not functioning from November 13, when the lawyers went on strike to protest the court fee hike.

Police said the Muslim prisoners began assembling in the jail courtyard since 10.30 am, shouting that they be freed before the month of Ramazan ends on December 6.

When jailer Swarup Mukherjee tried to explain that his hands were tied because of the lawyers’ strike, the prisoners became more agitated. Sources said the prisoners wanted to go on an indefinite fast if they were not released.

As tempers rose, Kalu Sheikh hit Mukherjee on the head with a heavy earthen pot. The jailer suffered a deep cut on his head and was taken to hospital, where he was admitted.

The jail administration has lodged an FIR against Sheikh for assaulting the jailer and for being the most violent among the agitators. Sheikh, who is in prison for alleged possession of arms and dacoities, has spent over 90 days without being charged formally in a court.

After the attack, jail guards tried to force the inmates back inside their cells but the inmates refused to go in and sat down in the courtyard, declaring they were on a fast. A huge police contingent, despatched from the Asansol (South) police station, cordoned off the jail to prevent the situation from going out of control.

Sub-divisional officer Sumit Haldar rushed to the spot to try and pacify the prisoners. “I have asked the jail authorities for a full report on what had actually happened,” Haldar later said.

Deputy inspector general (prisons) Anup Tripathy drove down from Calcutta to defuse the tension. He explained to the prisoners that chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was personally trying to make the lawyers resume work and that the jail authorities were helpless.

It was only then that the prisoners went back to their cells and had their meal.

n  0 and Metro

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