Prisons of Injustice

Feb 13, 2010

Why are there still unjust conditions in prisons? Prisoners might have done crimes to retaliate for injustices they experienced. Criminals are not born but made.

Madhur Bhandarkar, the director of the recent movie "Jail", has tried to depict the pathetic condition of our brethren in prisons of today. One question that haunts me is why should all prisoners be given the same punishment for different degrees of crime? One may kill to rob, while another to save his fiancée. Is justice just?

India is ranked fifth in the world’s prison population. Over 3.73 lakh prisoners are lodged in nearly 1336 prisons in India. One lakh of them have been added in the last 10 years. 33 out of every one lakh people of India are in jail. Why is crime never decreasing?

Fyodor Dostoyevsky in his novel The House of the Dead has well scripted his own life in prison when he says "I was buried alive and shut up in a coffin." This seems be the experience of many of our brethren today.

The biography of a prisoner is painful. I had an opportunity for such an exposure along with the youth of a parish I was working with, during my formation days, two years back. Since then I have kept up my association with the prison ministry. Some have just minimal facilities whereas others have five-star comforts. Why are crores of rupees spent only on safeguarding Kasab, the terrorist, who disrupted the peace of our nation?

Life in prison is particularly hard and one suffers the nastiness of the other prisoners, of different backgrounds. Gradually one is forced to overcome his/her disgust. There will be convicts of different temperaments, their stories hinting at varied reflections on the psychology of crime. Some say their experience is like being in the house of the living dead. The journey of a prisoner begins with physical torture and only for few it does take to a spiritual awakening. A prisoner goes through deprivation and struggles to seek freedom.

Therefore, we need to sympathize with their plight, and also express admiration for the energy, inventiveness and talent they exhibit in prisons, which continues to be their world for couple of years.

The initial experiences and impressions of a prisoner change with new place as new people in the context of the bath-house, games, hard daily labour, celebration of feasts like Independence day, Christmas, Republic day and stage-shows all become part of the routine. These tragic facts constitute life for the prisoner.

A Pathetic life

"Man is a creature that can get used to anything," it is perhaps the best definition of man, says Dostoyevsky who himself was a prisoner in Russia. "I was beaten up for everything, and in the end I got used to it," was what one of his fellow prisoners had to say.

A prisoner does not feel at ease. He learns to adjust to the air which he/she is not used to. The whole human person needs to be viewed in terms of his/her material needs as well as demands of his/her intellectual, moral spiritual and religious life.

Freedom and intelligence are what distinguishes a human from an animal. The suffocating life behind bars begins with the thunderous opening of the door by the prison guard every morning. One cannot wish to sleep more than what is allotted. Curtailing of such freedom is the greatest humiliation for them. They desperately long for freedom, yet they somehow get used to confinement as they know it will not be as they wish. Yet they move on with life.

Moral deprivation is harder to bear than physical punishment. But one endures it. Systems of forced labour do not reform the criminal but only secure society. We need to mend their hearts for good, because forceful reformation does not help but sucks the vital sap of constructive energy from them. Though the criminal is labelled all along one considers oneself to be always in the right. If an animal goes without food and freedom it will die, but not humans.

They too possess the desire to be loved. Though the world shuts them up like a bird in a cage, they get used to it desiring that one day they be set free.

Convicts are dreamers

The word convict literally means ‘men without a will of their own.’ The convict knows that he is a convict, an outcast, but no fetters will be able to make him forget that he is a human being. Money never remains in their pockets. They dream many great adventures when inside prison. Though they feel themselves buried in a coffin, with a lid hammered down; they know that all efforts to retaliate will go in vain. But they still wish to be cheerful, to convince the officers of their genuiness so as to get an opportunity to be free.

At times they even dream of starting new businesses. If not caught they sometimes turn out to be capitalists, entrepreneurs, supply-agents and so on. In prison they study the movement of guards to plan their escape. They know how to win the respect of others.

They dream of listening to music and acting in plays, films, and at times visualize the day when they would be united and live happily with their loved ones and relatives.

Power rules prisons?

Vanity and arrogance are common to all of us. With money, nothing is impossible. Money gives one power over others. The convict who has enough money suffers ten times less than the ones who have none. Greed remains in a person until he/she decides to overcome it. Once a person is gripped by power, he turns his back to return on human dignity and repentance.

"Man, as an animal, is violent. But the moment he is awakened to the spirit he cannot remain violent," said M K Gandhi. There are some who don’t feel guilty about killing. They seem to have lost their humanness. Destruction need not be taught. They seek to listen to what their mind and senses dictate and live.

Most prisoners repent of their deeds and wish to live humanly again. Is their choice respected? Nowadays, those wishing to pursue studies are granted permission? But does not partiality play its game here? For prison life makes them tired and pale. Most have determination. Is it right to people like Pappu Yadav and Manu Sharma to go on parole when they have not yet been properly cleared? Are they not greater threats to security?

Why is Shiney Ahuja’s case been portrayed so as to win the sympathy of the public? Why are only ordinary people branded for rape? Are film stars and celebrities allowed to be criminals?

"An unjust law is no law at all." said St. Augustine. By curtailing freedom in prisons, the inmates only become worse. At least why not people in prison be called by their names rather than numbers?


The guard coming to open the cell door every morning opens up a moment of helplessness for the prisoner. It is like hell. No one wishes to live long in prison. Every person wants to be happy. We need to analyze the situation of criminals. Any law that uplifts human dignity is just. Any law that does not do this is unjust.

How can humans ever think of killing their own brethren unless it comes out of oppression? Some may do it out of greed. But criminals ought to get punishment to the extent it makes them realize the need for return to humanness not more not less. Even a prisoner tries to find meaning in his agony. Those that have money have a say, whereas the one who has nothing gets no benefit from the officials.

Despite the increase in the rate of prisoners, why is crime growing at a speedy rate? I think irresponsible elders are to be blamed. Kasab still feels no guilt about his action because he was asked to join the dreaded organization by his own parents to curb the situation of family poverty. But this is not acceptable.

What about the bandits of daily Jammu clashes and 2002 Gujarat riots? Few dare to arrest guilty politicians. Neither can we dare to forget the Kandhamal bloodshed with its most culprits scot-free, till today. Are these not a greater threat than those people who have done small little mistakes and are dumped in prison? A rape committed by an ordinary citizen finds more news in newspapers while those done by the elite are overlooked or go adjourned in courts. Are not laws made by the powerful to oppress the helpless?

Why are fundamentalist groups like MNS and Shiv Sena not prevented from destroying and killing at their own whims and fancies? Are these lesser evils than those of the culprits in prisons? Aren’t ballot boxes being turned into bribery boxes? Aren’t politicians who buy people’s votes, worse criminals? Is it a crime to be a Harijan or a dalit? Isn’t it a crime when the clergy boss over everything, underestimating the laity in the church?

A thing to cheer is the new concept of the Open Jail that has brought in a ray of hope assuring better conditions for prisoners and has embraced even female prisoner in Yerwada Central Jail in Maharashtra on December 26, 2009. This has been existing for many years only for male prisoners. Open Prisons have less stringent security systems allowing prisoners to work outside the jail premises, with minimal supervision during the day. It assures them of better quality of life and remission of punishment.

If one gets selected for Open Jail, his or her term will be legally reduced. This helps prisoners to change their approach towards life and also to raise money. They are allowed to work in the farming sector and others are given experience in skilled labour.

Crime today is used to settle scores between religions, married couples, lovers, employers and employees. The quote "live and let live" seems to be modified technologically to "kill and let kill."

Why are there still unjust conditions in prisons? Prisoners are just failed reformists. They might have done crimes to retaliate for injustices they experienced. Criminals are not born but made. It is very true that injustices can produce a Gandhi, a Mandela or a terrorist. It all depends on how society, (especially the elders) have helped the individual to grow. Everyone has a conscience. In the end, confinement must renew the personality of an individual. Then only we can applaud the worth of prisons.

Every individual has to wrestle in the conflict between good and evil in order to find meaning. The Open jail aims at building trust. But it is not given to those involved in narcotic trades, gang wars etc. May many more policies reign to bring the prisoners hope and relief. Let the prison be a re-habilitation centre and not centre of just secure habitation.

Lancy Fernandes - Archives:

by Lancy Fernandes, Pune
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Comment on this article

  • Felix F., India/Ksa

    Sun, Feb 14 2010

    The following excerts from arab new feb 14 will further explain the term prisons of injustice Quote RIYADH: An Indian expatriate who received a royal pardon from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah after 11 years in jail gave authorities a bit of a headache as he had forgotten his mother tongue and personal details. Vinod Menon was one of nine prisoners at Al-Hair jail who were pardoned to mark the return of Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation, to the Kingdom. They were sentenced to jail for their involvement in drugs-related cases. Four of them were from the state of Kerala, while the others were from Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. All were serving sentences between five and 20 years. Indian Embassy officials visited the jail to identify the prisoners, but had difficulties identifying 40-year-old Menon, who knew only Arabic and had forgotten his personal details as he had been locked up for so long.

  • Manohar Veigas, UDUPI

    Sun, Feb 14 2010

    Dear Lancy Fernandes, appreciate your efforts by focussing on a subject where the plight and agony of the prisoners can be compared to nothing than a 'hell' on earth. I would also like to share that there are thousands of individuals languishing in jails who have done no crime but put beyond bars since they do not have money or anybody to plead their case of innocence, also there are thousands of 'scape-goats' put beyond bars to close the cases of influential and powerful ones. For most of them there, what worst hell can be than what they experience there on earth.


    Sat, Feb 13 2010


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