A letter written by an inmate of Guwahati Central Jail, saying that at least 95% of the inmates have been infected by COVID-19, has raised serious concerns about the situation inside the jail. The letter was reportedly dropped by a COVID-19 positive inmate from a vehicle used to carry prisoners in front of the main gate of the central jail.
The claims made in the letter by the inmate who identified himself as Dudul Das have added to the controversies surrounding the treatment of inmates inside the jail. Last week, 55 inmates of the jail including peasant leader Akhil Gogoi, had tested positive for SAR-CoV-2. Following this, the jail was declared as a containment zone on Saturday, July 11.
The letter, written in Assamese, claims that over 95% of the prisoners inside the jail have been affected by COVID19. It reads, “All have not been tested. After detection of COVID19 positive, we were left without treatment or a proper diet.”
“When asked, the jail authority said they know nothing. And today, when we set fire in our room, we are being sent to the medical (hospital),” jail inmate Das said in the letter.
He also wrote: “Both positive and negative prisoners are living together inside the jail. In a room inside the jail, 50 prisoners are allowed to sleep in a distance of just 2 ft.”
The prisoner in the end wrote in English: “PLEASE SAVE US, WE ARE ALSO HUMAN BEING NOT BLOODY GHOST”.
Meanwhile, the conditions inside the jail and the status of prisoners have been mired in controversies. Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti leader Gogoi, who has been imprisoned for over 200 days, was first tested following an NIA court directing the jail authorities to conduct tests on him and his two associates, Bittu Sonowal and Dhaijjya Konwar on July 7. Interestingly, even though Sonowal and Konwar tested positive, there were uncertainties around Gogoi’s condition as the first test turned out negative. There were two more tests and only the last antigen sample was positive, Inspector General (Prisons) Dasarath Das had told the media on Saturday.
The NIA court’s directive was issued after the lawyer of the KMSS leader had approached the court regarding the deteriorating health of Akhil, Bittu and Dhaijya. The apathetic attitude of the jail authorities and the government towards the inmates have faced serious criticism from several quarters.
In the last week of June, over 1,200 inmates include Sonowal, Konwar and Gogoi had gone on hunger strike for two days demanding better healthcare facilities for the inmates. The eight-point demands of the inmates included quarantining the new inmates before they are assigned cells with the existing inmates. They have also demanded other healthcare facilities and regular supply of clean drinking water,increase the scheduled 2 minutes of conversation time with the relatives and lawyers to at least 10 minutes, etc.
It has been reported that the prisoners resorted to the hunger strike after several letters to the jail authorities demanding better facilities, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, remained unanswered. The prisoners also demanded that visitors, especially lawyers, be allowed to meet the prisoners, following COVID-19 guidelines.
Notably, the jail premises had been sealed last month, too, after an inmate had tested positive for COVID-19. "In view of the detection of a COVID-19 positive patient at Central Jail in Guwahati city, in the interest of maintenance of public hygiene and to prevent further spread of COVID-19 virus in the said area, the Central Jail area is declared as a Containment Zone,” the order dated June 5 issued by the Kamrup Metropolitan Deputy Commissioner Biswajit Pegu had said, according to PTI