We would like to draw your attention to the protracted hunger strike that has been undertaken by Zabiuddin Ansari (alleged to be Abu Jundal), undertrial no. 362, housed in Barrack Number 12 of the Arthur Road Jail. Ansari has been refusing food since 5th August 2015 in protest against his solitary confinement since his arrest in 2012.
Ansari has been in barrack number 12 at least for two years and eight months, i.e., almost a thousand days of isolated existence. While officially the structure that houses Ansari is termed a ‘barrack’, it is in fact no more than a metal and concrete tomb. Lodged in the middle of a three-storeyed building of reinforced concrete, covered on the outside by layers of metals and a glass sheath, which has a small gate – the only point of entry and exit. Once inside the gate, it is impossible to determine whether it is night or day, rain or sunshine outside. The inner walls of the cells – three on each floor – are covered with a copper sheet and a high voltage bulb burns day and night without a moment’s break. Ansari’s only human contact for the past 33 months or so have been the guards who push the food in through the door.
In its very design and architecture, this cell goes far beyond our ordinary understanding of solitary confinement. Only a perverse penal imagination can think of lodging a living being into this windowless vault, guaranteed to torment the inmate and drive him to madness and self-destruction. The oppressive and forced atomized existence has been implemented apparently with the noble intention to protect Ansari, but appears more a harsh, excessive and degrading punishment inflicted even before his trial has concluded.
As a last and desperate resort, Ansari has been driven to undertake this hunger strike, which is now entering into its second month now. All he is seeking is to be moved from this cell to another, any barrack, to be allowed to live with human dignity.
Ansari is an accused in the Aurangabad arms haul case and 26/11. However, the nature of the crimes alleged must not detract us from the fundamental principle of natural justice, i.e., he is but an under trial at the moment, his guilt yet to be established in the court of law.
Nor should we lose sight of the fact that this prolonged solitary confinement over two years and eight months of an undertrial is unprecedented and militates against every shred of constitutional provisions, judicial pronouncements, as well as India’s commitment to international covenants. In short, it is illegal and unconstitutional under Indian Law.
In Sunil Batra vs. Delhi Administration and Ors. etc. (1978) 4 SCC 494, the Supreme Court held:
“88. If solitary confinement is a revolt against society’s humane essence, there is no reason to permit the same punishment to be smuggled into the prison system by naming it differently. Law is not a formal label, nor logomachy but a working technique of justice. The Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code regard punitive solitude too harsh and the Legislature cannot be intended to permit preventive solitary confinement, released even from the restrictions of Section 73 and 74 I.P.C., Section 29 of the Prisons Act and the restrictive Prison Rules. It would be extraordinary that a far worse solitary confinement, masked as safe custody, sans maximum, sans intermission, sans judicial oversight or natural justice, would be sanctioned. Commonsense quarrels with such nonsense.” (Emphasis added)
Further it said: “Solitary confinement has the severest sting and is awardable only by Court. To island a human being, to keep him incommunicado from his fellows is the story of the Andamans under the British, of Napoleon in St. Helena!”
Again, in Triveniben v. State of Gujarat, [(1989) 1 SCC 678], the Supreme Court observed that keeping a prisoner in solitary confinement is contrary to the ruling in Sunil Batra and would amount to inflicting “additional and separate” punishment not authorized by law.
As recently as 2014, in Shatrughan Chauhan v. UOI [(2014) 3 SCC 1] case, the Supreme Court lamented that “despite enduring pronouncement on judicial side, the actual implementation of the provisions is far from reality. We take this occasion to urge to the jail authorities to comprehend and implement the actual intent of the verdict in Sunil Batra (supra).”
We, the undersigned, fear that he may lose his life. Already 35th day into his fast, Zabiuddin Ansari cannot move without help, and is now beginning to lose his eye sight. If however, he is forced to withdraw his hunger strike without his demand to be moved from this cell being met, he may lose his mind and even inflict self-harm.
We write to you to kindly intervene in this situation to save Ansari’s life. He must be immediately shifted to another secure barrack, which allows him human contact. The security of a prisoner, as well as the maintenance of law and order in a prison is the responsibility of the jail authorities. They must do everything to ensure this; however it cannot become a pretext to torment and deprive the prisoner – who is an undertrial, not even convicted yet – of his rights to human company and even a ray of sunlight. We mustn’t forget that Zabiuddin Ansari’s mental well-being is also crucial to the two significant trials he is an accused in.
We also demand that an independent panel of doctors, psychiatrists, members of the civil society be allowed to visit him to assess his situation.