Caste System In Indian Prisons: Unconstitutional But Legal

Source: The post is based on the article Caste System In Indian Prisons: Unconstitutional But Legal” published in The Times of Indiaon 6th March 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 –Governance

Relevance: Prison Reforms

News:The article discusses the prevalent caste system in Indian prisons and measures required to bring reforms.

How is the caste system still present in Indian prisons?

The law that governs management and administration of prisons is still the colonial era law – Prisons Act, 1894. 

The idea of purity and impurity is still present in the prison manuals.

Persons from the most marginalised and disadvantaged castes are often expected to perform activities like manual scavenging, cleaning and sweeping.

Manual scavenging is prohibited by the Prohibition of Employment as Manual scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. 

However, this law has not been able to prohibit manual scavenging in the Indian prisons because the 2013 Act does not cover prison administration.

Prison manuals also protect the status of “savarna Hindus” by ensuring they enjoy a monopoly on cooking and carrying the food for all prisoners.

Christmas and Easter are recognized as jail holidays while Diwali is excluded from it.

Therefore, the Constitution of India and acts like Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1980 have not been able to prevent discrimination in Indian prisons.

What are some steps taken at the global level for better treatment of prisoners?

The United Nations General Assembly in 2015 adopted the Nelson Mandela Rules.These rules provide for all prisoners to be treated with dignity and state that there should be no discrimination amongst the inmates on the grounds of status.

These rules are however not binding but they help at strengthening prison management and providing humane conditions for inmates.

The Ministry of Home Affairs released a Model Prison Manual in 2016, based on the Nelson Mandela Rules, for all states to adopt.

However, states never felt the need to bring changes in its prison system and re-evaluate its prison manuals.

What measures can be adopted to bring equality amongst the prisoners?

First, state governments should amend outdated prison manuals and adopt the Model Prison Manual of 2016.

Second, state governments should ensure the implementation of change in policy, sensitization programmes for prison authorities and awareness campaigns for prisoners.

Third, reconsider the draconian provisions of the Prisons Act, 1894.

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