Prisons evolved over time on the development of civilisation. It is almost universal barring a few countries that prisons for reformation and not for retribution. But Senthil Kumar, Superintendent of Prisons, Cuddalore Central Prison thinks that prisons is a place where he will deliver instant justice, treat prisoners like African slaves, and satisfy his sadistic pleasures.
Before going into the story, it is relevant that how the Supreme Court laid down the rights of the prisoners in Ramesh Kaushik Vs BL Gig, Superintendent and others.
The goal of imprisonment is not only punitive but restorative, to make an offender a non-offender. In Batra’s case this desideratum was stated and it is our constitutional law, now implicit in Art. 19 itself. Rehabilitation is a prized purpose of prison ‘hospitalization’. A criminal must be cured and cruelty is not curative even as poking a bleeding wound is not healing. Social justice and social defence – the sanction behind prison deprivation-ask for enlightened habilitative procedures. A learned writer has said: The only way that we will ever have prisons that operate with a substantial degree of justice and fairness is when all concerned with that prison-staff and prisoners alike-share in a meaningful way the decision-making process, share the making of rule and their enforcement. This should not mean three “snitches” appointed by the warden to be an “inmate advisory committee”. However, if we are to instill in people a respect for the democratic process, which is now the free world attempts to live, we are not achieving that by forcing people to live in the most egalitarian institution that we have in our society. Thus, ways must be developed to involve prisoners in the process of making decision that affects every aspect of their life in prison.
We, therefore, affirm that where the rights of a prisoner, either under the Constitution or under other law, are violated the writ power of the court can and should run to his rescue. There is a warrant for this vigil. The court process casts the convict into the prison system and the deprivation of his freedom is not a blind penitentiary affliction but a belighted institutionalisation geared to a social good. The court has a continuing responsibility to ensure that the constitutional purpose of the deprivation is not defeated by the prison administration. In a few cases, this validation of judicial invigilation of prisoners’ condition has been voiced by this court and finally reinforced by the Constitution Bench in Batra (supra). The Court need not adopt a “hands off” attitude in regard to the problem of prison administration. It is all the more so because a convict is in prison under the order and direction of the court.
The upshot of this discussion is but this. The Court has power and responsibility to intervene and protect the prisoner against mayhem, crude or subtle, and may use habeas corpus for enforcing imprison humanism and forbiddance of harsher restraints and heavier severities than the sentence carries. We hold these propositions to be self-evident in our constitutional order and is supported by authority, if need be. Therefore, we issue the writ to the Lt. Governor and the Superintendent of the Central Jail that the prisoner, Prem Chand, shall not be subjected to physical manhandling by any jail official, that the shameful and painful torture to which he has been subjected-a blot on Government’s claim to protect human rights-shall be ended and the wound on his person given proper medical care and treatment. The Central Government will, we are sure, direct its Jail staff not show too pahydermic a disposition for a democratic government. For example, specific guidelines before punishing a prisoner had been given in Batra’s case and yet the prisoner Prem Chand has been lodged in the punishment cell, which is almost the same as a solitary cell, with cavalier disregard for procedural safeguards. Merely to plead that many prisoners are ‘habituals’ is no ground for habitual violation of law by officials.
Inflictions may take many protean forms, apart from physical assaults. Pushing the prisoner into a solitary cell, denial of a necessary amenity, and, more dreadful sometimes, transfer to a distant prison where visits or society of friends or relations may be snapped, allotment of degrading labour, assigning him to a desperate or tough gang and the like, may be punitive in effect. Every such affliction or abridgment is an infraction of liberty or life in its wider sense and cannot be sustained unless Art. 21 is satisfied. There must be a corrective legal procedure, fair and reasonable and effective. Such infraction will be arbitrary, under Article 14, if it is dependent on unguided discretion, unreasonable, under Art. 19 if it is irremediable and unappealable and unfair, under Art. 21 if it violates natural justice. The string of guidelines in Batra set out in the first judgment, which we adopt, provides for a hearing at some stages, a review by a superior, and early judicial consideration so that the proceedings may not hop from Caesar to Caesar.
The Court went on to lay down guidelines about prisoners rights.
We direct strict compliance with those A norms and institutional provisions for that purpose.
Likewise, no personal harm, whether by way of punishment or otherwise, shall be suffered by a prisoner without affording a preventive, or in special cases, post facto remedy before an impartial, competent, available agency. R The Court is always ready to correct injustice but it is no practical proposition to drive every victim to move the court for a writ, knowing the actual hurdles and the prison realities. True, technicalities and legal niceties are no impediment to the court entertaining even an informal communication as a proceeding for habeas corpus if the basic facts are found; still, the awe and distance of courts, the legalese and mystique, keep the institution unapproachable. More realistic is to devise a method of taking the healing law to the injured victim. That system is best where the remedy will rush to the injury on the slightest summons. So, within the existing, dated legislation, new meanings must be read. Of course, new legislation is the best solution, but when lawmakers take for too long for social patience to suffer, as in this very case of prison reform, courts have to make-do with interpretation and carve on wood and sculpt on stone ready at hand and not wait for far away marble architecture. Counsel rivetted their attention on this pragmatic engineering and jointly helped the court to constitutionalise the Prisons Act prescriptions. By this legal energetics they desired the court to read into vintage provisions legal remedies.
Thiru Senthil Kumar is a native of Thanjavur and is a direct Jailer through Group I services. He commands a notorious reputation of beating up prisoners wherever he went and he has a long list of complaints like Hanuman’s tail.
The Cuddalore Central Prison was constructed in the year 1865 by the British following the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. This prison housed Bharathiyar for a couple of months. The Cuddalore prison on an average houses 900 prisoners that includes 300 and odd convicts. The post of Superintendent of Prisons is the all powerful post in a prison. The post carries its legacy from the colonial days. Prison is a place where the writ of the Superintendent is final. Everything in prison begins with the Superintendent and ends with him.
Senthil Kumar normally commands a reputation as being a strict officer.
This author was an inmate of the prison for 63 days from 16th September following a conviction by the High Court of Madras in a contempt of court. He was privy to first hand information of the happenings in Cuddalore prison which is a dark zone where information doesn’t come out easily.
Senthil Kumar pretends to be a very strict officer and portrays himself as a super strict officer among his subordinates. Once when he asked a constable to call a prisoner, the constable called the prisoner using a Tamil slang “vaada”. Senthil Kumar pulled up the constable and gave a lecture for 20 minutes as to how to treat a prisoner with compassion and respect. Such is his skill in theatrics.
Even during his days as Additional Superintendent of Prisons, Senthil Kumar every day used to beat up inmates in Trichy Central Prison which resulted in a mini riot. A former inmate of Trichy prison said this “He is a psycho sir. If he fails to beat up a few prisoner everyday, he won’t sleep. We used to call him “Psycho Senthil”. He recalled nightmarish experiences during his stay in Trichy. When the prisoner said, he continues his psychotic behaviour in this prison too” which created an interest to this author to dig about the happenings inside Cuddalore Prison and the activities of Senthil. And the information was shocking.
Senthil Kumar was denied his promotion for an allegation of assaulting social activist Piyush Manush but this punishment has not deterred him in any manner.
Kannan @ Kuppai Kannan is a history sheeter. He was earlier in Trichy Central Prison when Senthil Kumar was its Superintendent. There was an argument between them. As fate had it, Kuppai Kannan was arrested in another case and this time sent to remain under the clutches of Senthil Kumar. Kuppai Kannan was caught with a mobile phone inside prison. His nightmares started.
Kannan was lodged inside eighth block in which prisoners with mental disabilities are “locked up”. More on this later. Kannan was kept in one of the cells of 8th block in solitary. He will remain locked up round the clock except 15 minutes for bath everyday. No prisoner or warder will be allowed to talk to him. He won’t have any access to advocates or visits by friends and family. His phone facilities and canteen facilities were cut. The advocate visits were cut against the law laid down. No prisoner can be denied of his legal access. But Senthil Kumar is not a person to follow law.
Senthil Kumar evades this mandatory provision of legal access to a prisoner by hiding behind a circular issued allegedly by DGP of prisons. This author hearing about the agony of Kuppai Kannan, asked his local advocate Akilan to seek an interview of Kuppai Kannan. After about 20 minutes, Senthil Kumar instructed that only Advocates who have filed Vakalat for a prisoner in any of the courts can interview Kuppai Kannan. This author suggested the name of a theft accused Thirugnanam, to Akilan, and Thirugnanam was produced in a jiffy.
The next day, Tamil Nadu Prisoners Rights Forum’s Director and Advocate Pugalenthi, on information came to meet Kuppai Kannan and he was produced promptly.
Being the only forum for Prisoners’ Rights, Pugalenthi, the forum’s director, commands a huge respect among prisoners and hated by the prison administration has been fighting for prisoners’ rights from 2008. He has fought many cases over the assault of several prisoners.
Kannan narrated his woes to Pugalenthi. Kannan said that, whenever Senthil Kumar comes for prison rounds, he opens the lock-up of Kuppai Kannan and personally assaulted Kuppai Kannan. Senthil Kumar comes for rounds every day. When Pugalenthi enquired whether there is any external injury, Kannan was made to kneel down and Senthil Kumar was assaulted with lathy on his soles.
About a month back, one remand prisoner named Siva, without knowing about prison procedures asked for a phone facility to contact his family. He was locked up in solitary for one month in addition to the occasional beatings of Senthil Kumar.
Piyush Manush, an activist, spoke to us about the murderous assaults of Senthil Kumar to us when he was in Salem Central Prison following an agitation. “All my crime is saying ‘no caste’ when asked. Senthil Kumar slapped me in the back of my head, and my face and thereafter it blow after blows. The blows continued. I was locked up in solitary in High Security Block, and my blows continued every day whenever Senthil Kumar came for rounds. Even during block inspection days, when Senthil Kumar used to come with prison doctors a dozen of warders, psychologists, and welfare officer, I was beaten up in the presence of everyone” said Piyush. My beatings stopped only after my wife who met me in prison, revealed the assaults to the outside world said Piyush. It is on the complaint of Piyush, that Senthil Kumar has been denied his promotion.
Prisoners Rights Forum Director, Pugalenthi spoke. “Senthil Kumar commands a notorious reputation. Wherever he goes, he inhumanly beats up prisoners. He has been doing this in all the prisons he had worked in so far right from his days of a Jailor.
Senthil is unfit to work in any capacity in a prison. He reeks of sadistic tendencies. When he was in Salem, when a life convict of 23 years raised his voice about the food quality, he was attacked by 20 prison warders on the instruction of Senthil Kumar. Senthil Kumar doesn’t deserve to continue in Prison service not even for a day. Though there are multiple complaints against him, how he continues in service still remains a mystery” said Pugalenthi.
During the author’s stint in Cuddalore prison, apart from Kuppai Kannan, (1) Vinoth Kumar, S/o Kumar, (2) Vikki Babu, S/o Kumar, (3) Sheik S/o Ibrahim (4) Sathish S/o Nagappan, (5) Jackie @ Prasanth, S/o Anthony, (6) Thenga Vinoth S/o Sundaram, remain in solitary in High Security Block II, for more than 3 months. One Ibrahim, S/o Haroon is a life convict and he is expecting his premature release after 12 years. For reasons he picked up a quarrel with a fellow convict, Ibrahim was beaten up mercilessly, personally by Senthil Kumar and also by the guards accompanying him.
Nagaraj, S/o Kuppusamy, a native of Palakarai Trichy, was arrested in February 2022, on an attempt to murder case along with 2 others. The trio assaulted a prison warder in August 2022 and they got Senthil Kumar treatment. All three of them were released on bail. Nagaraj was arrested again on 8 November 2022, for peddling 25 Kgs of Ganja. On his admission into prison, Senthil Kumar promptly sent him into solitary in High Security Block I. The author was able to speak to the said Nagaraj who doesn’t seem to realise his rights.
Around 15 prisoners both convicts and remand are considered ‘by the prison administration’ to be mentally unsound. All these prisoners are locked up in 8th block called ‘Mental Block’ by prisoners. These mentally unsound prisoners are opened up for 20 minutes in a day and allowed to play with ball under the supervision of Prison Psychologist.
A leading psychiatrist on hearing about these inmates said, “such locking up of prisoners will intensify their ailments. Patients with schizophrenic conditions may turn violent and attack co-inmates. Medication is very essential for their well-being”.
All these allegations were told to Thiru Senthamarai Kannan, DIG of Prisons Vellore Range under whom Cuddalore prison comes. “As I am not privy to the complete details I cannot comment. I can comment only after making enquiries. DGP Prisons Amresh Pujari was not available for comments.
As a ray of hope for those inmates in solitary confinement, Advocate Pugalenthi, said he will move the High Court of Madras for a comprehensive probe against the activities of Senthil Kumar, Superintendent of Prisons, Cuddalore.
The activities of Senthil Kumar is similar to the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. How such a person is allowed to continue his pervert pastime at the cost of human rights of prisoners for so many years remains a mystery. It is time the courts step in and put an end to this barbarism.