J-K undertrials in Punjab jail called terrorists, stripped naked: Lawyer

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Two undertrials from Jammu and Kashmir, who are currently held in the Gurdaspur Central Jail in Punjab, have alleged that they were “mercilessly beaten up” and stripped naked by fellow inmates who “may be politically influential”. The two said that they face a threat to their life owing to their religious identity, according to their lawyer.

In a written complaint to the Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh based advocate Ankit Grewal has intimated the court that Sajad Husain and Irshad Ahmad, both residents of Jammu division’s Surankote, were “subjected to mental and physical harassment due to their identity and religion”. 

While the harassment was not new, it had worsened two days after reports emerged that an army trooper Gurcharan Singh, a resident of Gurdaspur, was killed after the armies of India and Pakistan traded fire on the Line of Control in the Rajouri District on 10 June, said Mr. Grewal. 

On 15 June, Mr. Grewal received a phone call from his clients informing him of an incident that occurred three days ago, on 12 June evening, wherein the two undertrials were attacked in their barrack. “They said they were stripped naked, beaten, and humiliated,” Mr. Grewal has written in his complaint. “They were called ‘terrorist’ just by virtue of being Kashmiri Muslims.”

Mr. Hussain and Mr. Ahmad, it is stated in the complaint, were “intentionally separated” from other inmates at the jail and shifted to a barrack reserved for “influential prisoners”, where they were humiliated. The two “have been forced to clean their clothes, fetch drinking water, and remain on the beck and call of the [influential] prisoners”. 

Mr. Grewal has alleged in the complaint that “the jail officials are complicit with the perpetrators” and every attempt to raise the issue has been met with further threats. “They have been living in constant fear of death and physical harm, which has manifested poorly on their mental and physical health.”

In the complaint, Mr. Grewal had stated that his clients did not disclose the perpetrators’ identities “since they are under the strong apprehension that they will be eliminated or inflicted with bodily harm” and “that they would be falsely implicated in some fabricated case by the jail officials if they would make any complain”. 

Speaking to The Kashmir Walla over the phone, Mr. Grewal said that his clients did not share details over the phone as the jail’s lines were “under surveillance”. He said that the duo were awaiting a verdict in their trial but court proceedings – the last being in March 2020 – had been halted due to the lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. “They said they would name them before officials if an inquiry is done into the issue,” said Mr. Grewal, adding that the humiliation was increasingly becoming physically violent. “They were made to strip naked. They cried on the phone as they spoke to me.”

Balkar Singh Bullar, superintendent of the Gurdaspur Jail, told The Kashmir Walla that the allegations were “exaggerations” of a “minor issue” between the inmates and was aimed at “demoralising the administration”.

Mr. Bullar said that he had not received any complaints so far and that the aggrieved inmates should have submitted a complaint to his office before going to the court. “They have spoken to the lawyer, we have that as well. We know what they have spoken about”, he said.

In the written complaint, Mr. Grewal has sought the Chief Justice’s attention towards the “violation of their [the undertrials’] fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution of India, failure of state machinery” and to “direct the concerned authorities to respect national and international conventions on the rights of prisoners”.

Mr. Grewal has also sought attention to the hurdles in the inmate’s access to justice during the pandemic as having lead to “additional injustices” against religious minorities and Dalit prisoners in Punjab. “This should be the backdrop of investigating the ongoing violence and environment of exploitation and persecution of minorities within prison[s],” the complaint states.

Mr. Ahmad was arrested by the Punjab Police in 2016 for alleged links to Pakistani intelligence while his cousin, Mr. Hussain was later added as another accused in the complaint registered in Pathankot. According to their lawyers, the final judgement is expected early next month.

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