Our Sanaullah shame

By failing to protect him, India's government has become complicit in a callous tit for tat game

Barely a week after Sarabjit Singh was flown home in a coffin, there has been another death, of a Pakistani prisoner held in an Indian jail. Sanaullah Ranjay, assaulted in a Jammu jail, died of his injuries on Thursday. That the Pakistani authorities failed to protect Sarabjit was a grave lapse on their part. That India was unable to ensure Sanaullah's safety after Sarabjit's death is a national shame. In its inability to prevent or stanch the cycle of retaliatory violence, the Indian establishment has come across as weak and helpless, at best, and in fact complicit in a tit for tat game. Immediately after Sarabjit's death, the Union home ministry had circulated an advisory asking states to step up security for Pakistani prisoners. In Jammu and Kashmir, this warning obviously went unheeded.

Lost in the din of the Supreme Court's pronouncements on the government and the CBI on Wednesday was another important demand for accountability. The court sought an explanation from both the state and the Centre on why such an assault had not been prevented. It was worried that such attacks took place in jails. Prison violence is common in India, although most of these crimes typically go unreported and unobserved. Indian jails are hellish spaces, overcrowded by 135 per cent and without sufficient staff to keep a direct watch on inmates. Prison administration in India is still founded on the colonial-era Prisons Act, 1894, which has no provisions recognising the rights of inmates. In this situation, prisoners from across the border are doubly vulnerable. Seemingly outside the pale of due process, they languish, with their own government refusing to claim them or being denied consular access. The Foreigners Act gives wide powers of detention to security forces but delineates no standard operating procedures for the treatment of prisoners, such as informing their families of the arrest, consular services and early processing of

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