Darkest Heart

Recent reports would suggest that the prison system is being reformed in India; at least some prisons seem to have had the right ideas. In this vaguely feel-good ambience, the Death Penalty India Report, prepared by the National Law University, Delhi, comes as a rude shock. The researchers interviewed a majority of the 385 prisoners on death row, of 

  • Published 9.05.16
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Recent reports would suggest that the prison system is being reformed in India; at least some prisons seem to have had the right ideas. In this vaguely feel-good ambience, the Death Penalty India Report, prepared by the National Law University, Delhi, comes as a rude shock. The researchers interviewed a majority of the 385 prisoners on death row, of whom one said he would be happy to be killed rather than being tortured every day. Torture is just one among the violations of constitutional, Criminal Procedure Code and Supreme Court directives. State legal aid, for example, is mandatory for those who cannot afford it. Of 189 prisoners, 169 did not have a lawyer. Again, although anyone being arrested has to be given the reason for the arrest, 136 prisoners said they were taken away to 'sign papers' and never allowed home again. Besides, 166 prisoners were not produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest as mandatory. Weeks and months could pass before they were so produced; sometimes the arrest was recorded then. The interim was often spent in torture, of which there are various kinds. Of 270 prisoners, 216 said they had been tortured. One woman had a miscarriage. Of 92 prisoners who had confessed in police custody, 72 had made statements under torture. Death row prisoners were sometimes kept locked while trial proceeded, and two were so far removed from the stand they followed nothing of their own trial.

The report does not deal with guilt or innocence at all. It just looks at how death row prisoners are treated. It would seem that inhuman treatment is part of their penalty. Principles of custodial care remain theoretical for them, although it is obligatory for the police to take care of their well-being and health. More than that, human rights apparently become theoretical the moment an accused is believed to be destined - or made ready - for capital punishment. The darkest heart of the prison system has evidently been excluded from reform too.

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