Why are Damodar Turi and Other Undertrials being kept under Solitary Confinement?

PPSC condemns the arbitrary and illegal manner in which Giridih Central Jail Administration has imposed solitary confinement over undertrials arrested after the crackdown on Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti (MSS). MSS, a registered Trade Union was banned on 22nd December by the State of Jharkhand following which scores of persons were booked under four FIRs. Four persons Ajay Hembrum, Mohan Murmu, Daya Chand Hembrum and Damodar Turi continue to face incarceration as a result. Turi is not even a member of the MSS. These and other undertrial prisoners have been put in solitary confinement since 23rd March 2018. In response, prisoners went on a hunger strike on 27th March. Under pressure, since 2nd April the Jail Administration has allowed the prisoners to mingle with other prisoners only twice a day for two hours. This continues to be in violation of the constitutional and statutory rights of prisoners as guaranteed by the law of the land.

According to information received from relatives of these prisoners, the cells in which these undertrials have been kept are unclean and without any basic facilities. Relatives have been prevented from giving basic items like mosquito repellents, food and clothes to the inmates. Number of persons who can visit and the frequency of visits have also been arbitrarily curtailed.

It is to be noted that it is unconstitutional and illegal to keep undertrial prisoners under solitary confinement in India. Solitary confinement is envisaged only for convicts (s.73, 74 IPC) and that too on compliance of strict statutory conditions. Further, it is only under an order of a Court that such confinement can be authorised (Sunil Batra v Delhi Administration, 1978 AIR 1675). Internationally, solitary confinement is recognised as a form of torture and India is a signatory to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1987.

In Jharkhand, apart from the move being illegal, it is part of the series of repressive measures following the ban on Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti (MSS) and the arrests of its members. MSS was arbitrarily declared to be an unlawful association under section 16 of the CLA Act, 1908, accused of being a “frontal organisation of the CPI (Maoist)”. However, MSS has been working for the rights of doli mazdoor and other workers since 1989 in Giridih, Bokaro, Dhanbad, Hazaribagh, Ranchi, Ramgarh, Gaya, Kharsawan and Jhalda districts of Jharkhand. It has a membership of around 22,000 workers. The organization has also exposed the fake encounter killing of one of their members Motilal Baske in June 2017, and has been protesting against the amendments to the land laws (Chotanagpur Tenancy Act 1908 and Santhal Pargana Act 1949) aimed at dispossessing Adivasis and Moolvasis of their land. As part of the ongoing repression, the government has also banned another organisation Popular Front of India (PFI) in February leading to 3 FIRs, arrests of its members and sealing of their offices. PFI has been involved in exposing the role of administration and cow-vigilante groups in lynchings of Muslims and intimidation of their families.

PPSC demands that:
1. Ban on MSS and PFI be revoked,
2. Cases against members of MSS and PFI be withdrawn, and
3. Persons incarcerated be released immediately.

Stan Swamy, Sudha Bhardwaj


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