Serious lapse

The alleged suicide of Ram Singh, the prime accused in Delhi’s December 16 rape-cum-murder case, in Tihar jail, exposes not only the lack of security in the jail but also the laxity in the prison management system. It is still not clear how the undertrial died. Only an enquiry will throw light on the incident and the circumstances surrounding it.

Relatives have charged that he was killed. There are also charges that he was ill-treated in jail and had been assaulted by other prisoners. Ram Singh had been on suicide watch, as he had shown signs of depression, and so had shared his cell with other prisoners. A guard had also been posted outside the cell. In spite of all that, the prison authorities could not prevent his alleged suicide.

It would be cynical to think that Ram Singh would in any case have been punished for his crime, as there was a solid case against him. Every prisoner, however serious his crime is, is entitled to protection and to a fair trial. The ends of justice have not been served with his death, whether he committed suicide or was killed. It is the society’s responsibility to bring a person, who has committed a crime, to trial and then punish him according to the law of the land. This was entrusted with the prison authorities and they failed in their duty. The failure to ensure the safety of a prisoner who was under strict watch is also symptomatic of the poor functioning of the prison. Prison reforms have often been talked about but incidents like this show the poor state of affairs in the country’s prisons. They are still governed by the Prisons Act of 1894.

Tihar jail is considered to be better equipped than other jails and the conditions there are also thought to be better. But suicides and unnatural deaths have not been uncommon there, with one or more being reported every year. The jail is also overcrowded and has 12,000 inmates while its capacity is half that number. Facilities in jails and monitoring of  the life of prisoners have to improve so that untoward incidents do not take place. Ram Singh’s suicide became public because his case had attracted attention. Most often such cases are not even reported. The rights of prisoners are not favours given to them but are an essential part of the system of justice. 

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