FJA Shortlist 2021

Category: Contribution to Civil Rights

Author: Sukanya Shantha (India)

Series:

From Segregation to Labour, Manu’s Caste Law Governs the Indian Prison System; 

Rajasthan HC Takes Suo Motu Note of The Wire's Prison Report, Orders 'Overhaul' of Prison Manual; 

The Wire Impact: After 70 Years, Rajasthan Amends Prison Manual That Sanctioned Caste-Based Labour.

The original publication is available via the following links: 

https://thewire.in/caste/india-prisons-caste-labour-segregation 

https://thewire.in/law/caste-prison-rajasthan-high-court-prison-manual-suo-motu 

https://thewire.in/caste/rajasthan-prison-manual-amended-caste-labour 

From Segregation to Labour, Manu’s Caste Law Governs the Indian Prison System

In several states, prison manuals still dictate that labour within the prison should be assigned on the basis of caste.

The Wire, India - December 10, 2020

This article, part of the series ‘Barred–The Prisons Project’, is produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

New Delhi/Mumbai/Bangalore:On his first day at the Alwar district prison, Ajay Kumar* was gearing up for the worst. Torture, stale food, biting cold and harsh labour – Bollywood had already acquainted him with the grisly realities of jails. “Gunah batao (Tell me your crime),” a police constable, placed at the undertrial (UT) section, asked him as soon as he was escorted inside a tall iron gateway.

Ajay had barely mumbled something, when the constable snapped, “Kaun jaati (Which caste)?” Unsure, Ajay paused and then hesitantly said, “Rajak”. The constable was not pleased with the response. He further inquired, “Biradari batao (Tell me the caste category). An inconsequential part of his life so far, Ajay’s caste identity, as part of a “Scheduled Caste”, was now to shape his 97-day stay in the prison.

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Rajasthan HC Takes Suo Motu Note of The Wire's Prison Report, Orders 'Overhaul' of Prison Manual

The order has reproduced several findings published by The Wire in a report on institutionalised casteism in prisons, and has termed them as “striking”.

The Wire, India - December 18, 2020

Mumbai: “Disturbed” by a report published in The Wire, the Jodhpur bench of the Rajasthan high court has directed the state government to undertake steps to ensure the complete overhaul of the state prison manual.

The Wire, on December 10, published a detailed investigative piece on the caste practices prevalent inside prisons across different states in India. These practices, as per archaic prison manuals, were followed in most states that sanction caste-based occupation in jail. While prisoners of the Brahmin caste group in most states are assigned only cooking, or supervision work, those from the ‘lower’ castes are forced to carry out menial work like manual scavenging and cleaning.

Both caste-based discrimination and manual scavenging are criminal and unconstitutional. 

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The Wire Impact: After 70 Years, Rajasthan Amends Prison Manual That Sanctioned Caste-Based Labour

The move comes nearly two months after The Wire’s report had exposed conditions of institutionalised casteism in prisons of Rajasthan and several other states in India.

The Wire, India - February 13, 2021

Mumbai: For over 70- years, the Rajasthan state had followed an unconstitutional and violative prison manual that allowed assignment of labour on the basis of a prisoner’s caste. This institutionalised caste practice had continued unchallenged until The Wire’s report exposed the conditions in prisons of Rajasthan and several other states in India.

The report had prompted the Jodhpur bench of the Rajasthan high court to suo motu demand an overhaul of the prison manual. And on February 2, the state’s home department was compelled to repeal all those prison rules which allowed caste-based labour assignments in prison.

This is a significant decision since so far, the Rajasthan state had continued to dishonour the Indian constitution by discriminating against incarcerated persons on the basis of their caste. The Wire’s investigative report, published on December 10, had exposed the prevalence of rampant caste practices like manual scavenging being forced upon prisoners belonging to Scheduled Castes. This practice, although unconstitutional and also a criminal offence, had continued because it was stated as a rule in the prison manual.

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