Kashmir: 97 prisoners, many undertrials tested positive for COVID-19

Human rights activists and politicians in Kashmir have accused the Narendra Modi Government of being “vengeful” as Covid-19 is surging in prisons in Kashmir, with many imprisoned without charge or trial testing positive, despite in other states prisoners released en mass to reduce the spread in overcrowded jails.

97 prisoners at Anantnag district jail in Kashmir have tested positive for novel virus till Thursday. At present, there are 190 prisoners in the already overcrowded prison.

“Government is deriving sadistic pleasure at the misery of these prisoners, most of whom are in preventive detentions & under trials, who should have been released after the Supreme Court of India guidelines after Covid outbreak,” Khurram Parvez, a human rights activist and programme coordinator of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) said.

The first prisoner to test positive for the COVID-19 virus in the jail is Zahoor Ahmad Bhat, younger brother of JKLF founder Muhammad Maqbool Bhat. In March this year, Zahoor was slapped with third PSA in a row. 

In March, the Supreme Court ruled that prisons should release inmates who were awaiting trial to quarantine at home to limit the spread of virus inside prison.

“Political prisoners detained under PSA should have all been released. Supreme Court asked to decongest jails, but the belligerence of Indian State is relentless when it comes to Kashmir,” Parvez added.

Responding to the statements made by the jail officials that proper care is being given to the inmates, a brother of an inmate told Maktoob that 190 prisoners are living in a small space having a capacity of only 60 people. 

According to the Kashmir Monitor, there are a total of 3,628 inmates in 14 jails across Jammu and Kashmir as against a capacity of 3,232. Eighty eight percent of them are under-trials, 7% are booked under PSA, and only five per cent are convicts.