PUCL Bulletin, April 2002

Sudhir Sharma, a prison inmate struggles to gain access to books

(This letter is a sequel to the case of Shri Sudhir Sharma, inmate of Central Jail, Goa that the General Secretary had taken up with the NHRC. It was published in last month's Bulletin.)

February 5, 2002
Respected Chhibbar Ji,
Today when I was called to the gate of the jail to sign for a registered letter, I went to the gate thinking that some author might have sent some books by registered post. I was surprised to see a letter in the hands of the post person and not a parcel. Seeing the sender's address I became inquisitive because I was never in contact with the PUCL.

I sought the permission of the officer on duty… to open the letter to see what was in it, as generally the unopened letter is taken away from the prisoner and is taken to the main office from where he gets it and the next day after it has been censored… on opening the letter my face registered surprise, happiness, disbelieve. The officer concluded that something unbelievable happened. I was asked, "Why Sharma, which author has sent the letter?" I stopped reading and thrust the letter in his face and said, "Sir this letter has come from Shri Chhibbar of the PUCL. Kindly censor it here and now return it to me." The officer was afraid of his superior… he started reading the letter and he was also very much surprised, "Sharma these people are really something. They have taken up the cause of a prisoner" other employees were also listening. They abused the officers for their actions. I related the content of the letter to my fellow prisoners.

They were also electrified and started discussing the letter.
I got back the letter after about two hours. Fellow-prisoners, whose English is better, snatched the letter from my hands and started reading it. They explained the contents of the letter, sentence by sentence, to everyone. Everyone said, "Sharma now we will stand up to the jailor." After half an hour when we were let off to move around in the evening my fellow prisoners gathered the educated prisoners from other barrack and read out the letter to them. Some of them wanted zerox copy of your letter to show it to jailor.
Chhibbar Sahib, your letter has filled everyone's heart with happiness and strength. I cannot express it in words. As I am writing this letter others are discussing your letter in groups. It is a very important event. This letter has electrified everyone. I had become despondent (so were seven or eight other colleagues who read and correspondent with authors). My knowledge in English is not very good, but there are others who have explained it to me. We are still in a state of disbelief that an unknown and ordinary prisoner has received your active help. I will be indebted through my life.

I never knew that you had written to the NHRC in March 1998 about the injustice being done to me and that the NHRC has issued instructions that all the prisoners in jails throughout the country have the right to read and write and can send for books and literature from anywhere and that every jail should have a library… but in our jail we are still deprived of these facilities. Now we will be able to confront the officers with this decision.

We have read from time to time about the PUCL but I did not know that Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan and … Justice Tarkunde were connected with it. Once or twice we saw your name also but this is the first time that we have come to know about the PUCL. I used to think about the activities of the PUCL. This incident is a sufficient introduction and it has given me an understanding of the word 'human'.

Chhibbar Sahib, you cannot understand the meanness of the jail officials… the conditions in our jail compel me to take your valuable time. The District Collector is the I.G. of the prison. He/she gets time to visit the jail once or twice in a year because this is an additional responsibility. The IG has no knowledge of the prison rules or about the prisoners. Consequently they are dependent on the superintendent and the jailor. They dispose off all the matter in their office. The result is that officers on the spot are free to follow their whims. Till five years ago there was no permanent superintendent in this jail.

When a regular superintendent was appointed, he was a person from the civil service. People from the civil service, being uninformed about prison administration, are totally dependent on the superintendent and the jailor. The present jail superintendent was an assistant jail superintendent for a long time here. He has come up via promotions. He used to be very much irritated with my interest in literature. He was responsible for stopping my registered mail and books etc. I had written to the NHRC, the Chief Minister, Court etc. I wrote to an IPS officer Shri Vibhuti Narayan Rai. He talked to a journalist Shri Sumanth Bhattacharya and it was then that my news was published in Jansatta and Indian Express. After that I started getting my registered letters but my ordinary letters were never given to me.

The Superintendent became very angry when the Indian Express published my news. For three years I got my mail through other prisoners. Officers from the NHRC also visited the jail.

Recently on December 29, 2001 I had written a long letter to Kusum Ansal, a known writer. It was torn and thrown away by the superintendent. I had received a letter from Ms. Tanuja Chandra, a film scriptwriter & director. The superintendent referred to me jail rule numbers 17 and 18 and said that I cannot correspond with authors. On further quarries he became more angry and asked the what was my relationship with Tanuja Chandra? You are freeloaders in the jail and are writing to these people. You can write only four letters in a month only to your home, relatives, friends, and lawyers. Scriptwriters and Directors cannot be your friend. When I told him that clause 19 of the Constitution and Supreme Court give me the right to read and write he became very angry and tore the letter that I had written to Kusum Ansal. He threatened me with physical torture. I was deeply hurt by his behaviour.

I concluded that hiding behind jail rule he will not let me correspond. Nothing had happened to him in the passed six years, only an item was published in a newspaper but he received no reprimand, he was not questioned at all. I got an application drafted with the help of an English knowing friend about my institutional rights and sent it on January 30. I depended heavily on a book by Dr. Mutthaiya, librarian, Tata Institute of Social Sciences 'prisoners' rights. Now I have received your letter. Now the superintendent will stop my mail and I will be mentally tortured…

Chhibbar Sahib, if you send someone to inspect this prison facts can be found out.

All my fellow-prisoners send their greetings to you and other members of the PUCL. -- Sudhir Sharma, Prisoner No. 307, Central Jail Agauda, Candolim, Bardez, Goa-403519

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