The alleged suicide of a 29-year-old woman in Tihar jail is condemnable. It is the second death in recent weeks in this jail in suspicious circumstances. It comes in the wake of the death of rape accused Ram Singh, who was found hanging from the iron bar of the ventilator of his cell a few days ago. These deaths do not speak well of the conditions within the jail or of the treatment meted out to them. Tihar Jail is urgently in need of reform in lines with modern penology. Prison is meant to be a place of correction and reformation and not of affliction for the persons incarcerated within it. Prisoners in Tihar live in overcrowded and filthy conditions. Tihar houses nearly twice its original capacity, in nine separate jails. It is one of the most populated prisons in the whole of South Asia with approximately 11,738 inmates as opposed to its capacity of housing 6,250 persons. 82 per cent of Tihar’s inmates are under-trials, while convicts and juvenile detainees make up for the remaining 18 per cent. Women prisoners constitute roughly 4 per cent of the population. All of them require better conditions to live their lives in incarceration, which is meant to be a corrective to their earlier transgressions, and not reproduce unlivable situations which might have driven them into the arms of crime in the first place.
As bad as the physical conditions the inmates live in is the denial of rights to them. Being in jail does not mean that the convicts are without rights. Both convicted and under-trial prisoners have certain rights that are fundamental to their existence, such as the right to dignity, protection against torture and other inhuman practices, right against discrimination by fellow inmates or jail guards as well as right to health. According to the law, all prisoners who not yet convicted, such as the under-trials, are presumed to be innocent till the time they are found by the courts to be guilty of a crime. Legally, it is an accepted norm that even where persons are convicted and imprisoned under sentence of court, they do not lose the fundamental rights belonging to all persons under the Constitution, excepting those which cannot possibly be enjoyed owing to incarceration, such as the right to move freely or the right to practice a profession. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners recognises the rights of prisoners to medical care, education, recreation facilities, in addition to the guarantees of physical protection and security within jail premises. It is time, therefore, for the authorities to sit up and take prison reforms seriously. The cases of suicide in prison should not be repeated.