The notification issued by the Rajasthan Home Department on February 2, disallowed discrimination inside jails based on caste and religion. This followed recent media reports based on a research paper of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) on caste practices prevalent inside prisons across different states in India. Issued via a notification by the Governor N.L Meena, it reads: “No inmate shall be selected for cooking on the basis of his caste or religion” and “No tradesman shall be chosen on the basis of his caste or religion”.
This notification has been issued as a positive step, in response to Rajasthan High Court’s direction to apprise the court regarding the proposed steps for complete overhauling of the Prison Manual and “to ensure that the prisoners are not forced to indulge in menial jobs like cleaning toilets etc. merely on the basis of their caste and also that no under trial prisoner is forced to perform such jobs in the prison”.
The High Court was hearing a batch of petitions that raised issues regarding prison reforms. The Division Bench of Justices Sandeep Mehta and Devendra Kachhawaha perused “a very disturbing report” published on a website regarding existence of a caste-based work assignment system in the prisons in Rajasthan. The report was based on a research paper of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and the CHRI researchers interviewed various prisoners (since released) from prisons in Rajasthan which made shocking revelations.
The Bench said, “As per the report, every person, who enters a prison in the State, is asked about his caste and once identified, menial jobs like cleaning toilets, sweeping the prisons etc. are assigned to the persons from lowest echelons in the society irrespective of the nature of the offence committed…The report also refers to the fact that the Prison Manuals of various states are still plagued by the archaic and derogatory caste system, which the Constitution of India pledged to eradicate”.
In addition to such observations, the noted that no under trial prisoner should be forced to perform such jobs in the prison and “Rather, considering the progressive democratic set up of our country and in order to ensure maintenance of proper hygiene in the prisons, it would be expedient in the interest of justice that the State Government considers installation of mechanized/automated cleaning facilities in all the prisons in the State of Rajasthan”.
A detailed investigation in The Wire in December last year, revealed details of prison life and how some of them were forced to clear up choked septic tanks despite a law against it (Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act). While cooking and management of medical care in the prison is considered a high-caste work, sweeping and cleaning is straightaway assigned to the lower caste inmates.
The notification and order may be read here:
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