Tribulations of the undertrials

Hopeless scenario Many of the undertrials belong to poor families and are unaware of their rights
Hopeless scenario Many of the undertrials belong to poor families and are unaware of their rights

The last time I met Abbu was in July 2001 at the Bara Hindu Rao Hospital. He was lying on the hospital bed. I knew he would not survive. That is why I had been brought there to have a last meeting. Abu’s eyes were filled with indescribable sadness but when he looked at me I could feel the warmth of his infinite love.

Mohammed Aamir Khan | Framed as a Terrorist

Mohammed Aamir Khan is still in agony. He could not make it for his father’s burial as he was denied parole. Today when he is out of prison after battling 19 cases framed against him, Khan is at a loss of words to explain the traumatic 14 years he spent as an undertrial to prove his innocence. With a broken heart he states the reality: “The opposite of rich, strong and powerful is poor, weak and helpless — and these are the undertrials”.

He has a reason to say so. After being arrested in the 1997 twin bomb blast case (Karol Bagh, Delhi), Khan was tortured to give false statements and sign blank papers. The tormentors threatened to pluck his nails out if he dared to resist. Similar to Khan, there are many undertrials who had to go through the worst of brutalities. In case of acquittal there is no compensation for the suffering they have endured all these years.

As far as the rich and the influential are concerned, they don’t have to endure such ordeals. The legal proceedings are expedited for their convenience. We have examples of ministers, industrialists and Bollywood actors.

“Today, everyone is not getting the benefit of the judiciary. There is no equality in the treatment of people. Why?” asks Khan. Perhaps, he has raised an important question.

In January 2016, the Kejriwal government told the Delhi High Court to release undertrial prisoners, following the 2014 Supreme Court ruling. In a status report filed by the Delhi government, as many as 1,460 prisoners were languishing in jail over offences for which the maximum punishment is less than seven years. The report was submitted after the court’s query on the overcrowding in jails and detention of prisoners, both male and female, for prolonged periods.

The Supreme Court, though, took cognizance of the overcrowding in jails in 2014 and passed an order stating that undertrials who have spent half of their maximum sentence for the offences they are charged with, should be released.

A bench headed by then chief justice RM Lodha said, “The judicial officers (Magistrate/ Sessions Judge/ Chief Judicial Magistrate) shall identity prisoners who have completed half of the maximum period of imprisonment provided for the offences they are charged with. After complying the procedure under Section 436A of the Criminal Procedure Code, they shall pass appropriate order in jail itself for the release of such prisoners.”

“They shall visit once a week for two months in each jail under the jurisdiction for the purpose of the effective implementation of Section 436A for releasing prisoners.”

The crux of the matter is that those languishing in jail are socially and economically disadvantaged who cannot afford to pay the bail bond and sureties. So, this judgment was a step in the right direction. However, it is not being followed.