India’s Guantanamo Bay

India’s Guantanamo BayNot many know that this little hellhole festers just outside Port Blair, where cardinal violation of human rights is routine.Abhimanyu George JainA hundred rupees by auto from Port Blair takes you to Prothragarh, a small place that houses the Prothragarh Jail and open prison. The open prison is a temporary holding place for foreign nationals caught in Indian territorial waters without sufficient reason to explain their presence. Nobody is quite certain who these people are. Most of them are Cambodian, Burmese or Bangladeshi nationals who might be fishermen blown out into the open sea, smugglers, poachers or even human traffickers. Once caught, they are tried, sentenced and sent to jail. After they have served their prison terms, they are interred in the open prison until they can be deported back to their native countries.Shockingly, however, some of the inmates are kept in the open prison for years after they have served their prison terms. There are a few who have been in the open prison since 1998, which effectively means that there are people in Prothragarh who have not been released even eight years after serving their sentences. There are at least two inmates in the open prison who are yet to be charged with a crime. They have been detained without charges being brought against them for several months, let alone being presented before a magistrate within 24 hours, which is mandatory under the Indian laws.Worse still are the conditions within the prison. The prison has a capacity to hold 110 inmates. It holds more than 300! Prisoners are housed in tin sheds that become cruelly effective boiler houses under the hot Andaman sun. Short of space, several inmates are forced to sleep out in the open, under sheets tied between adjoining sheds. The toilets overflow with faeces and waste, and clean drinking water is a mythically rare concept. Inmates have extremely limited access to medical facilities. The food is so dirty that inmates are forced to wash the rice they are served, dry it in the sun and eat it the next day. There are also limited sources of protein, so several of the inmates (primarily the Cambodians and Burmese) have taken to catching and eating snakes and lizards. Open drains run through the compound. The inmates are not provided with any clothing and are beaten up by prison guards when they try to use the bed sheets given to them as lungis.These are the more mundane of the atrocities to which these prisoners are subjected to — gruesome living conditions, which could, with the most meagre of grimaces, be passed off as standard features of Indian prisons in general. Unfortunately, the horrors do not end here. Minors are housed with adults at the Prothragarh open prison. This is a clear violation of the Juvenile Justice Act. It is also not surprising that an inmate of the prison recently died of AIDS. It would be an exercise in infinite tedium to list the violations of statutory regulations, and international treaties and conventions at Prothragarh. There is a definite violation of human rights in the Prothragarh open prison, which is a serious assault on the character of the Indian state as an upholder and protector of human rights. A case demanding correction of these violations is currently pending before the Supreme Court after being summarily dismissed by the Kolkata High Court. Not many know that this little hellhole festers just outside Port Blair, where cardinal violation of human rights is routine. Prothragarh open prison is an atrocity that no one really seems to care about. It is high time to act now and change these circumstances.

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