Release the Under-Trials and Political Prisoners: Pinjra Tod

Inside overcrowded Indian jails, prisoners are not only far away from their families, but also cannot observe COVID-19 protocols.

Pinjra
Overcrowded Indian prisons have seen a surge in COVID-19 infections among the inmates. Image Source: Reuters

Pinjra Tod activist Natasha Narwal’s interim bail of three weeks came a day after her father Dr. Mahavir Narwal passed away of COVID-19 in a hospital— too late to be provided any comfort.

Natasha, who was arrested for her alleged role in the violent attacks that conspired in East Delhi in Feb 2020 has spent almost a year in prison as a UAPA undertrial. On Monday after the activist’s release, Pinjra Tod, took to Twitter to highlight the plight of inmates in overcrowded prisons during the pandemic.

The country has been struggling to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for medical assistance during the second wave of the pandemic. Day after day there have been reports about prisoners testing positive for COVID-19 and failing to secure proper healthcare. But the outbreak of COVID-19 was inevitable with the State choosing to not release even undertrials.

Inmates in Prisons are Struggling for Medical Assistance

Inside the overcrowded Indian jails, prisoners are not only far away from their families, with very little possibility for them to observe COVID-19 SOPs but are also discriminated against by the authorities. They don’t get the needed healthcare and especially now the denial to access medical help must be looked at as a violation of their right to life and health.  

On May 5th while hearing a plea filed by students and Pinjra Tod activists Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, the Delhi court had directed the superintendent of Central Jail-6 of Tihar Jail to procure COVID-19 vaccines for the inmates aged between 18-44. The compulsory online registration on CoWIN to get vaccinated has been causing issues for the prisoners with no AADHAR card or PAN card or mobile number. The court said that their prison ID and mobile numbers of their close relatives can be used for the purpose, the Wire reported.

Given the “density of occupancy” in prison, the court has directed that all the inmates must be vaccinated to prevent a COVID-19 spread. But the problem here is that this is not the only jail in India that is overcrowded where prisoners are at the mercy of the State. Prisoners cannot make personal arrangements for their healthcare, while political prisoners get some coverage and it has shown that even they have written numerous applications only to be denied medical treatment by the authorities; common prisoners are majorly ignored. In several instances, families have filed petitions seeking permission to provide the care required by their loved ones lodged and suffering in prisons. In this situation, Pinjra Tod asks that “What is the moral right of this state to continue to incarcerate people? and demands the release of all under-trials and political prisoners.

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