Custodial killings, torture, suicide: Why the state of Indian prisons is a national shame

 Manjula Shetye, 40, was a few months from being released when she was killed, allegedly by five guards and the jailor, in Mumbai’s Byculla prison on June 23. Her murder imparts urgency to an old question: how long will we ignore the brutality and the poor living conditions in India’s prisons?

Closed institutions engender impunity. This is evident in the prevalence, and widespread acceptance, of custodial torture. Twice as many inmates die by suicide in our jails today than 15 years ago. In 2015 alone, at least 77 of the 1,584 people who died in jails took their own lives. There are three times more mentally ill prisoners than 15 years ago. There is only one psychologist for every 23,000 prisoners. Small wonder then that the suicide rate is one and a half times higher in jails than outside.

About the only time attention is paid to risks to life during incarceration is when an affluent or influential inmate dies. When Rajan Pillai, the “Biscuit Baron”, died in Delhi’s Tihar Jail for lack of treatment in 1995, his wife created a row that forced the setting up of an inquiry commission. Its recommendations led to an increase in the number of doctors at Tihar, but not much else. Read More