NEW DELHI – In 2017, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) conducted two investigations into complaints that convicted and undertrial prisoners were facing torture and inhuman treatment–including religious slurs against their Muslim identity – in the Bhopal Central Jail.
Both investigations concluded that the prisoners were facing physical and mental torture at the hands of prison authorities, and even highlighted the illegality of their continued solitary confinement. Almost three years later, neither the jail authorities nor the state government of Madhya Pradesh has taken note of the findings of a statutory body formed under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.
The NHRC, too, has not pursued the matter except for writing to the Madhya Pradesh government asking for its response to its findings. Based on the findings, a petition had also been filed in the Supreme Court, which referred it to the Madhya Pradesh High Court in Jabalpur. During the last three years, even the high court has remained unmoved.
Now a letter sneaked from inside the Bhopal jail reveals that torture and inhuman treatment of the said prisoners continue unabated. The letter has been written by Safdar Nagori, a convicted prisoner serving life-term for a 2008 case in Indore. His appeal against his conviction is pending before the High Court. Nagori is former general secretary of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), an organisation banned since 2001. Bhopal Central Jail hosts ten convicted as well as 21 undertrial prisoners allegedly belonging to the organisation.
Nagori says he was not given a fair trial in the Indore case for which he was arrested on suspicion. Throughout the proceedings of the case, he was kept in the Ahmedabad central jail in another case. He was called to the witness box in Indore at a stage when the court was finalising the case. He was sent back to Ahmedabad within two to three days. He was declared guilty and given life-term in his absence. Soon after the judgement, he, along with nine others, was brought to the Bhopal jail in 2017.
In the undated letter, which is made available to Clarion India by Nagori’s elder brother Haider Husain Nagori, he gives a chilling account of the treatment the jail authorities are giving to its inmates classified as ‘SIMI prisoners’. They are denied “almost all human rights which, otherwise, are available to all other prisoners as mandated by the Jail-Manual-Rules,” says the letter. It says ever since Nagori and his co-prisoners were shifted from Ahmedabad to Bhopal in May 2017, they have been facing physical and mental torture. They were received at the jail with beating and all sorts of abuses that continue till date.
Threats, expletives and religious slurs are routine because of which, Nagori says, he is living in constant phobia. He says if he complains or if they suspect that he has conveyed his mistreatment to his family or lawyer, he faces more beatings. He is told that he would be lodged with Hindutva brigades who would finish him; he would be killed in a fake encounter; he would be injected with AIDS; he would be implicated in fake cases thus spoiling his jail records, and many such other threats.
Nagori is being kept in solitary confinement and not allowed to interact with anyone within the jail; taken out of his cell for one hour in a day, that too in a yard of 25×20 feet; there is no provision of entertainment or sport for him; no congregational prayer is allowed; even weekly Friday prayers are denied and allowed Eid prayer only once so far; woken up from sleep on hourly basis on the pretext of enquiring his ‘khairiyat’ (well-being); mocked by security men if medicine is sought in case of illness; as heart patient he does get medicine but it is thrown from a distance without any wrapper; and support belt for backache is often forfeited.
Recently, Nagori’s solitary confinement has further been toughened. He has been shifted from normal cell to “Anda Cell” (apparently, a replica of the infamous poorly-ventilated and dim-lit, egg-shaped cells of some other jails in the country). Here, like his earlier cell, food is served in a humiliating manner, being slipped through grills using disposables. The food pushed through often falls on the ground leaving it inconsumable. He is asked to use the same disposable glass for months. No tooth-brush or comb has been provided to him for the last two years.
High-brow Nagori is a mechanical engineer and post-graduate in several subjects, including mass communication, and, while in jail in Ahmedabad, has cleared a course in Gandhian studies with flying colours from Gujarat Vidyapith, a university set up by Mahatma Gandhi. Yet, he is denied newspapers and magazines. A copy of Quran has been provided to him but no other book is allowed; no pen or paper is allowed inside the cell despite court orders and disrespect is shown to Quran during searches. His religious sentiments are further hurt by passing anti-Islam slurs and playing anti-Islam songs.
Haider, the elder Nagori, says his family has not been allowed to see him ever since lockdown was declared in March 2020 following the coronavirus scare. In the name of ‘social distancing’, a protocol of the lockdown, jail authorities have disallowed weekly visits by family members of Nagori and all other so-called SIMI prisoners. But, according to Haider, the same facility is continuing for other prisoners through video-conferencing. Haider says the duration of weekly family ‘mulaqaat’ (meeting) is 20 minutes. But even when meetings were allowed on normal days, the jail staff would not give him only ten minutes of time.
In his letter, Nagori complains that the conversations that he has with his family members are closely monitored by the accompanying ‘convicted overseers’ (convicted prisoners appointed by jail authorities). He says he and others like him are beaten after such meetings if they are found to be complaining about their treatment in the jail.
He cites one specific case of beating on April 10, 2019. He sustained serious injuries but was denied medical check-up or medicine. The following day, a judge of the Gujarat High Court hearing his case through video-conferencing, noticed his injuries and ordered medical check-up.
The jail authorities, according to the letter, pressurised him to take back his complaint or face more beatings. He was threatened to be killed in a fake encounter or implicated in false cases. Nagori did not budge and reported the matter to the judge in the next hearing on April 18. This infuriated the jail authorities and the level of his torture increased further.
Nagori is facing a number of cases in several courts in the country. He claims he has been booked in all the cases on mere suspicion. Even if his claim is wrong and the state has evidence against him, he has every right to defend himself. But the jail authorities at the Bhopal Central Jail are guilty of not allowing him to appear in courts at Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai.
“Even after receiving warrants from these courts, he and other SIMI prisoners are not taken to these courts. Reportedly, the Bhopal jail authorities give the plea that these are ‘dangerous’ people. They may escape or cause damage to public peace. As a result, his cases in other courts are pending. Even his appeal against his conviction in the Indore case is pending in the High Court for the last three years,” said Haider, his brother. Nagori’s lawyers are also not allowed to see him. “Except for the advocate in the Ahmedabad case, advocates in other cases are being refused an audience with him,” says Haider.
Nagori in his letter has demanded that he be immediately transferred out of Bhopal jail and placed in jail anywhere in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad or Ahmedabad so that he is able to pursue his cases.