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Of jails, politics and NGOs

KARACHI- Interest in jails and their internal situation have been increasing since the new rulers came into power. It is therefore not surprising that a provincial minister, home secretary and Inspector General (IG) Prisons visited Malir Jail (Landhi jail) probing different aspects such as the jail’s congested spaces, the alleged corruption and the state of medical and other facilities.

The setting up of a speedy trial court inside the prison for minor crimes, a legal aid centre, provision of medical treatment and appointments of full-time psychiatrists was suggested. A detailed report about cases not being heard regularly was also sought. Though some attempts have been made in the past, such as the jail reforms committee in the 90s and the recent amendments in the concerned law to grant bail especially to women, regrettably no perceptible changes have been witnessed there.

Frequent jail riots over the officials’ (presumed) undesirable attitude, corruption and other reasons, especially in the Interior Sindh, indicate a lack of political will by the authorities to address the problems being faced by thousands of prisoners. The very purpose of the jails, which was to reform the criminals into becoming productive citizens, has been destroyed.

Hence in this regard, the visit of the aforementioned officials to the Landhi jail (Borstal) is a welcome step. It is relevant to note here that the Landhi jail was supposed to be a model jail in Sindh, which means that its conditions should be better than other prisons and committed staff be appointed to train the prisoners. But unfortunately, this did not happen as news reports revealed disturbing things there.

As the new government had apparently shown interest in reforming the prisons, it will be advisable that the media and the NGOs should be allowed unhindered access that would help control the possible abuses by jail authorities. Moreover, researchers and students of sociology and other fields should be encouraged to conduct studies inside the jails and identify possible motives behind the criminal behaviour that will also help control the lawlessness by addressing the same. Also, the government will do well if it ended the imposition of fetters, solitary confinement and other degrading punishments.

There is little dispute among city observers that the provincial capital is undergoing significant changes. There are several trends. First, there are signs of the growing estranged relations among the different ethnic groups with talk of ‘Talibanisation’ and a series of mysterious blasts, which the officials believed were a different kind of terrorism as compared to the prevailing religious terrorism.

Second, the sectarian violence is rearing its ugly head again in the city with the killing of some persons including a doctor few weeks ago.

Third, relations between provincial coalition partners are deteriorating as they have openly talked against each other, which is likely to adversely affect the city. Fourth, the people’s problems are being aggravated and there are no signs of hope.

These factors might push the metropolis in political upheavals.

If the diversity is to be accepted, then there can be several ways to manage the relations and maintain harmony among different ethnic groups. The resurgence of sectarian violence indicated failure of the government’s practice of banning suspected militant organisations. It is also intriguing as why the authorities had allowed them to carry out their activities, which is evident from the disturbing wall chalking everywhere in the city.

Differences among coalition partners are a norm, as is also the case in India. But at least efforts should be taken to bring the same at a manageable level.

Other disturbing developments were also noticed last week such as the clandestine plan to clear out mangroves for commercial use. It was disturbing to find out that the officials were allegedly involved in it. Sea pollution is increasing, around 0.1 million tonnes of solid waste is generated every day in the city. Reportedly about 150 to 175 million gallons of untreated industrial and sewerage water is thrown into the sea.

One of the key reasons behind these deteriorating states of affairs is considered a growing population whose attendant problems were highlighted during World Population Day. However, it is good to see that the government has plans to provide skill training to young men so that they can find employment opportunities as 43 per cent of the population consists of youths.

It is also heartening to see that concerned citizens along with noted personalities and artistes have joined hands to fight against the menace of terrorism by launching an NGO called ‘Yeh Hum Naheen’.
Source: Dawn
Date:7/17/2008

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