The state-run hellholes aka prisons receive public attention only when their inmates clash or stage rooftop protests, making various demands. Else, nobody spares a thought for the ordinary prisoners suffering in silence except their near and dear ones.
We see on prison walls very eye-catching slogans intended to change people's attitude towards prisoners, the most interesting being 'Prisoners are also human beings'. Sadly, the very obverse of this slogan is reflected in the way prisoners, save the affluent ones, are treated.
The Supreme Court has had to intervene to secure the release of a person kept in a remand prison until the other day in spite of a High Court order that he be released in October last year. T. Ramesh Kumar arrested under the draconian anti-terrorism laws walked to freedom on Wednesday at long last. But for the salutary judicial intervention, how long he would have been kept there is anybody's guess. Those who wrongfully held him for so long must be made to pay for what they have done. Government politicians, their progeny and henchmen never spend a single day in remand prison; they get admitted to prison hospital as we saw recently when a minister's son was ‘remanded’ for assaulting an army officer.
One wonders whether the prisons have evolved into autonomous entities where the writ of the state has ceased to run. They are awash with drugs of all kinds, liquor and mobile phones with which they keep in touch with their partners in crime elsewhere. But, no one has been held responsible for allowing such banned items to be brought into heavily guarded prisons. Everybody knows that some corrupt prison officers are in cahoots with criminals but nobody does anything about it. There have also been instances where rich drug dealers like Kudu Nauffer and Kimbulewela Guna threw parties for jailers inside prisons! It was from his cell at Welikada that Nauffer planned and coordinated an operation to assassinate High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya. A few weeks ago, he was caught with a copy of the plan of the Bogambara Prison, where he is currently being held! Evidence has surfaced that the Kahawatte killings were also committed at the behest of a gang leader with political connections while he was in prison. A few years ago we reported that a gang of extortionists led by its mastermind serving a prison term had demanded protection money even from some prominent members of the ruling party.
What Ramesh Kumar's case has brought to light is just the tip of the iceberg, we reckon. He may not have been alone in his predicament. Some suspects have been languishing in remand prisons for years without trials as their records have gone missing, according to anecdotal evidence. Such stories may not be unfounded. For, in 2008, an eighty-year-old suspect who had been kept in remand and a mental asylum alternately for 50 years without trial was released. Kumbukwewe Perumbada Pediyalge Jamis had been arrested and remanded in 1958, when a family member died and foul play was suspected. His records were lost and he was completely forgotten thereafter.
The government should seriously consider ordering a probe to ascertain whether there are anymore forgotten convicts or suspects in prisons without trial.
Ordering Ramesh Kumar’s release, the Supreme Court said its conscience had been shocked at the manner in which the prisoner had been dealt with. All right thinking people must have felt the same way. But, unfortunately for the voiceless people suffering behind bars due to the callousness of the prisons authorities, the conscience of politicians, if any, never gets shocked.