Monday, June 1, 2020

Puzhal prison turns Covid hotspot !!


Prisons should make people fear not committing any crimes.  Given that Venezuela has the world’s second highest homicide rate, it’s probably no surprise that Venezuelan prisons are considered to be some of the most violent in the world.  Another dreaded one is in Guantanamo.   The Guantanamo Bay detention camp is a United States military prison located within Guantanamo Bay Naval Base,  on the coast of Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. The camp was established by President George W. Bush's administration in 2002 during the War on Terror.  .. .. .. yet the cruelest one would be ‘Kala pani’ – the Cellular Jail @ Andamans. 

The Cellular Jail, also known as Ka-la- Pa-ani (Black Water), was a colonial prison in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  The prison was used by the British especially to exile political prisoners to the remote archipelago. Many notable dissidents such as BatukeshwarDutt and Veer Savarkar, among others, were imprisoned here during the struggle for India's independence. For once, all of us need to re-read history – those prison sentences were not the political sentences that Gandhi, Nehru & Congress underwent, where they could talk to people, write letters to kith and kin.   Those prisoners  sent to Andaman suffered solitary punishment, having to live in cramped cells with hands / legs tied, underwent torture,  denied food and basic necessities, suffered cruel treatments many a times, leading to death. The true cruel face of British latched on them and maimed them hard.

Many a times politicians derive mileage from imprisonment though these are not fighting for our freedom, yet whenever one is arrested, they would cry victimization.  Way back in 1999, those travelling by local EMU from Egmore towards Parrys and vice versa could not believe – perhaps initially they would have thought of some movie shootings but when stones started raining, they realized that the scene of prisoners running riot standing on the wall with knives, casuarina logs, cycle chains and every other weaponry was real.  On that day a notorious Kasimedu gangster died inside the prison and there was rioting !

Many of us would remember that landmark building as we travel on the bridge towards Central – after Bodyguard Muniswarar temple – a big complex, Madras Central Jail.  It had as its inmates – great freedom fighters including VO Chidambaram, CV Rajagopalachari, Barathiyar, and many prominent freedom fighters as also many other political prisoners.  Madras Central Prison was one of the oldest prisons in India. It was started during British rule in 1837. It was initially called the Madras penitentiary until 1855 when it was renamed to Central Jail. It is said that the call for independence found its echo more in the Madras Presidency than elsewhere in the princely States. Many of those freedom fighters were arrested and lodged here; it is said a few of them died in custody.

The word "Prison" the synonym of the word 'Jail' or 'gaol' or 'Penitentiary' has been defined as a place properly arranged and equipped for reception of persons who by legal process are committed to it for safe custody while awaiting trial or for punishment. It is stated that during the period of Kings, hardcore criminals were housed in a different prison than others who committed petty crimes.  Lord Macaulay a member of the Indian Law Commission initiated the Prison reform in 1835 for the first time in India. Indian Prisons Act of 1894 regulated the prison system in the country.  The Presidency Jail for women in Vellore, was the first prison constructed in Tamil Nadu during the year 1830 followed by Madras "Penitentiary" during the year 1837.  

Keeping in view of severe over crowding in Central Prison, Chennai and the need for increasing the capacity, new prison complex at Puzhal was constructed at a total cost of Rs.77 crores. It has a separate building for keeping women prisoners. The prison complex is situated in a sprawling area of about 212 acres. It became operational in 2006 and prisoners were moved from the old building, which was later demolished and a new complex annexe of Madras Medical college has come up over there.

Earlier there were some news that some prisoners enjoy life inside the prison ! Now comes the news that  Puzhal Central Prison-1 in Chennai has become Tamil Nadu’s next Covid-19 hotspot. A total of 30 inmates of the prison tested positive for the virus on Friday, taking the total number of infected inmates to 37 in the state in the last three days. A prison staff also tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday. Official sources said the samples of 31 out of 93 inmates and prison staff returned positive for Covid-19. These persons were isolated from the rest of the inmates. Most of them were above 40 years.

Upon searching – was surprised to read that the Madras Central Prison had  housed Subhas Chandra Bose and Veer Savarkar during the days of independence movement.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
30.5.2020.

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