Srinagar: As many as 96 prisoners of the Anantnag district jail, mostly undertrials, have tested positive for Covid-19 over the past week, ThePrint has learnt. The infections constitute nearly 50 per cent of the jail’s inmate population of 193. A staffer has tested positive too.
“Out of 193 inmates lodged at the jail, 96 have tested positive. There are 56 staffers and one tested positive for Covid-19,” a senior government official said.
The inmates at the jail include local political leaders rounded up after the revocation of Article 370 last year, and those accused of stonepelting, among other charges.
The authorities have admitted Covid-19 cases at the prison, but not issued an official figure.
The Anantnag district administration has begun shifting the patients out of the jail, including to hospitals. However, the authorities have refused to tell the media where exactly they are being taken.
“We have taken all the necessary precautions. We have quarantined the inmates and some of them have been shifted out of the jail too. However, we won’t be able to share the location of the patients due to security reasons,” said Anantnag deputy commissioner K.K. Siddha.
Families of the inmates have alleged overcrowding at the jail, claiming that it hosts over three times the number of prisoners it was built to accommodate (60).
Asked to comment on the allegations, Siddha said the jail authorities would be in a better position to comment. However, Director General (Prisons) V.K. Singh, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Prisons Mohammad Sultan and jail superintendent Sheroze Ahmed did not respond to calls or messages sent by ThePrint.
‘Not allowed to see my son’
According to government sources, only 20 patients have so far been shifted out of the jail.
Speaking to ThePrint, many panicked families of inmates said the jail authorities had neither informed them about the whereabouts of their relatives nor their current health condition, leaving them in a state of anxiety.
The Covid-19 patients at the jail include Zahoor Ahmad Bhat, younger brother of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) founder Maqbool Bhat. His family has been informed that he has been shifted to the district hospital.
“We tried to visit the hospital to get an update about his condition but we were denied entry,” said Bhat’s nephew Adil.
Others, meanwhile, await an answer. Srinagar resident Haseena Sofi, whose son Abdul Basit (22) has been imprisoned since 2017 on stonepelting charges, was informed by jail authorities Tuesday that he had tested positive for Covid-19. She visited the jail early morning Wednesday but claimed she was given no information about her son.
“I took a pair of new clothes and some medicines with me and begged the jail authorities to at least give the stuff to my son, even if do not allow me to meet him,” she said. “They didn’t agree. Then we heard that some of the inmates had been shifted but I have received no information if my son has been shifted too.”
“There are other inmates who are even younger than my son. I worry for them too. They are like sons to me too,” she added.
Another Srinagar resident, Abid Malik (24), whose 22-year-old brother Aamir Malik, a student of arts, has been in jail since May 2017, is also clueless.
“My family went to the jail with some medicines and clothes. We also brought sanitisers, which we thought would help, but the authorities didn’t allow us to meet him, nor did they tell us if Aamir was lodged inside,” said Malik, who owns a small shop in Srinagar. Malik said his brother, like the majority of the inmates at the jail, is an undertrial and could be released temporarily in light of the circumstances.
“He would have already been out had it not been due to the consecutive lockdowns, one after the scrapping of Article 370 and second one due to the pandemic. As a result, my brother got only three hearings in the last 10-12 months,” Malik added. “The only thing that remains between him and bail is a witness who wants to give his statement but hasn’t been able to do so as the court staff has been delaying the hearings”.
Uzma Rafiq, wife of Muslim League activist Rafiq Ganai, said her husband had been in and out of jail for over 18 years but the current situation warranted immediate release of prisoners from “jails that have Covid hotspots”.
“My husband has tested positive for the virus and he has a history of diabetes and hypertension. We could quarantine our family members at home. The jails are extremely overcrowded and it is impossible for the inmates to stay safe,” said Uzma.
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