In the present context of recurring instances of deaths in custody in Tihar, it seems Right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution has become an exclusive right that ceases to be a fundamental right, behind the closed doors of prisons. The alleged suicide of the Delhi gang rape accused Ram Singh in Tihar, reverberates the same approach of sheer disdain on the part of the jail authorities, towards the rights of the prisoners.
In defending the right to life of the accused, PUDR in no way defends the crime for which he was incarcerated; however, the selective guarantee of the most basic of rights to citizens is unacceptable. While the issue of negligence on part of the custodians resulting in the alleged suicide takes prominence, PUDR also questions the empirical projection of his death as ‘suicide’. The facts that Ram Singh was not in a single cell, and there were three other inmates in the same cell who slept through the night while Ram Singh made all the preparations to hang himself, that one of his arms did not work and the ceiling of the cell was 8 feet high, evoke suspicion. Ram Singh had earlier complained of sodomy and torture including blade attacks. He was kept under 'suicide watch’ after ‘he had stopped talking and interacting in jail’. However, it is only after his death Tihar authorities have claimed that he had been removed from ‘suicide watch’.
Ram Singh’s death adds up to the escalating figures of custodial death in Tihar numbering 18 in 2012. In 2013, there are reported 2 deaths in custody already. Early this month an inmate Santosh Kumar, a handicapped undertrial, died. The inquiry into the death has revealed serious lapses on the part of the jail authorities resulting in his death, the inmate lost 30 kg within a span of 15 months in prison, and died of an infection at the site of a surgically inserted feeding tube that started leaking in prison. Even in such cases where there are seemingly no evidences to suggest any foul play in the custodial death, it does not absolve the custodians of the responsibility of ensuring the right to life of the prison mates. Given these considerations, and the mounting figures of custodial death, even if Ram Singh’s death is accepted as a case of suicide, it still indicts the jail authorities of negligence and an approach of scorn towards the fundamental right to life, deserving strong condemnation.
Ashish Gupta, D. Manjit