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Delhi High Powered Committee Denies Request To Release Women & Transpersons In Delhi Prisons During The Pandemic [Read Letters]

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
3 Sep 2020 4:10 PM GMT
Delhi High Powered Committee Denies Request To Release Women & Transpersons In Delhi Prisons During The Pandemic [Read Letters]
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The Delhi High Powered Committee recently denied the request for reclassification of persons to be released from prisons on interim bail/ parole to include all women, children and transpersons, owing to their social status. The Committee said that it had "absolute discretion" to classify prisoners who may be released from prisons, on account of the pandemic. The said discretion...

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The Delhi High Powered Committee recently denied the request for reclassification of persons to be released from prisons on interim bail/ parole to include all women, children and transpersons, owing to their social status.

The Committee said that it had "absolute discretion" to classify prisoners who may be released from prisons, on account of the pandemic. The said discretion was exercised after taking into consideration all the 'relevant factors' and on the basis of 'objective satisfaction' arrived at by the Committee.

It is stated that the Committee cannot adopt a 'prisoner-centric approach' and that it has already relaxed some of the condition with respect to women, vis a vis the male prisoners.

"On bare perusal of the observations/directions given by the Hon'ble Supreme Court vide its order dated 23.03.2020, it is apparent that the High Powered Committee so constituted was given an absolute discretion to determine which class/category of the prisoners can be released on interim bail or parole depending not only upon the severity of the offence, but also the nature of offence or any other relevant factor. It is further apparent on perusal of the subsequent order dated 13.04.2020 of Hon'ble Supreme Court whereby it was clarified that it has not directed the States/Union Territories to compulsorily release the prisoners from their respective prisons.

Thus, no prisoner in whatsoever category/class he/she falls and for whatever nature of offence he/she is facing trial, can seek or claim to be released from prison, as a matter of right and/or inclusion of his/her/their category in the recommendations so made," the Committee said.

The above observations were made in response to the letter sent to it by Dr. Uma Chakravarti (Historian/ Retired Faculty, DU); Dr. Navsharan Singh (Independent Feminist Researcher); Dr. Mahuya Bandyopadhyay (Associate Professor, IIT-Delhi); Prof. Jhuma Sen (Associate Professor, JGLS); and Dr. Pratiksha Baxi (Associate Professor, JNU).

They had urged the Committee to review its decision and release all inmates, who are vulnerable by virtue of gender, class, caste, religion, and race; and disability, co-morbidities, illnesses and age, irrespective of nationality, sentence or offence during the pandemic, for the following reasons:

  • Women and transpersons are in minority as compared to the total prison population. As per Ministry of Women & Child Development, 'Owing to the fact that women still remain a minority in comparison to total prison populations, they do not receive adequate Specialized Services or Infrastructure.'
  • Women and transpersons in prisons are numerically small, comprising 2.7 of the total prison population. The release of small numbers of women and/or transpersons and/or use of noncustodial alternatives does not threaten law and order.
  • As a class, women and transpersons do not have the means, positions and standing nor the social, physical (through use of violence) or economic capacity to influence witnesses or the capacity to flee.
  • Since special women prisons are sparse, most women prisoners are locked up in a small, congested spaces in male prisons, that are oblivious to their gender -specific needs.
  • The prison medical complex is by definition— male and transphobic. The specific needs of women and transpersons bodies is not a priority in any medical system that the prison system may adopt. There are inadequate women doctors and nurses in prisons, if any.
  • Pregnant women, mothers and children should not be taken into custody during the pandemic, considering their vulnerability to contracting COVID-19 in the custodial institutions.
  • Discrimination on the basis of caste, community, race, descent and religion should be avoided.
  • Rather than see all foreigners as a class that do not deserve preferential treatment on the grounds of their nationality, they should be seen as vulnerable populations, and as custodial minorities in a foreign prison who deserve the protection of law flowing from principles of substantive equality.

Notwithstanding these submissions, the Committee observed,

"This Committee while adopting various criterias in its earlier meetings had taken into consideration women as separate class and accordingly relaxed some of the condition with respect to them vis a vis the male prisoners.

The object was only to release some of the prisoners and not all the prisoners on a reasonable classification arrived at on the basis of orders passed by Hon'ble Supreme Court, intending to implement the same in letter and spirit."

Click Here To Download Letter [Request]

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