Narayan Khadka, a prisoner in Morang Prison, died on November 11. He had been serving his sentence in connection with a rape case for the past six years. Khadka had not been to the hospital in these six years and was healthy till the day before. At midnight, it has been said, he fell sick and was pronounced dead by a doctor at the Koshi Hospital the same night.
In early September, there was a dispute inside the jail between groups that wanted to allow and not allow notorious gangster Abhishek Giri to come to Biratnagar. Khadka was in the group that denied bringing Giri there from another jail. Rumours were that Khadka was beaten inside the prison before his death. However, neither the incident was investigated nor did the police conduct a postmortem. Khadka’s kin came, took away the body and the matter died down.
Gopal Sharma (53), a resident of Biratnagar metropolitan city-10, was serving his sentence for a rape case in the Morang Prison and died on November 20. Relatives complained Sharma’s death was due to the prison administration’s negligence. However, the complaint was still not registered nor investigated. Neither did they conduct a postmortem. Sharma’s relatives also took the body and performed his funeral rites.
Subash Limbu (30) of Dharan sub-metropolitan city-8 also died inside Morang Prison on August 14. Limbu’s relative also went through the same as that of Giri and Sharma.
Likewise, Ramesh Magar of Kerabari rural municipality-4, Morang, died on July 30; Bidyananda Mandal of Biratnagar metropolitan city-16 died on August 3; Dhan Bahadur Gurung (52) of Ratuwamai municipality-5 in Morang died on August 17. The trend continued had been continuing with the deaths of Nirajan Yadav of Biratnagar metropolitan city-4 on August 26, Suvarna Singh Tamang of SundarHaraicha municipality-5 on August 29, Som Pariyar (20) of Ramdhuni municipality-2 in Sunsari on November 26, Bhim Lal Subba (60) of Pathari Shanishchare municipality-10 on September 9 and Muhammad Yusuf of Shambhunath rural municipality-12 on September 13.
Similarly, Ashok Rai died on September 30, Deepesh Mahara on October 9, Shivahang Rai on October 15, Kewal Karki on October 30, Suman Danuwar on November 4, Rishi Ram Bhattarai on November 16 and Mohammad Aslam Mian on November 22.
According to Morang Prison, 18 inmates have died in the last 16 months in the prison alone silently, offering the prison to be considered for a case study of prison and custodial deaths. There are neither efforts to investigate the cases nor initiatives to stop repeating them in the future.
Lack of interest
According to the Morang Prison administration, five to seven inmates are sent to the Koshi Hospital for treatment every day. Some of the patients coming from the jail come in emergency and some in OPD, says Dr Laxmi Narayan Yadav, a physician at the Koshi Hospital.
It has been surprising there has not been any public outrage or questioning about the death of people within the secure four walls. The lack of transparency and postmortem in these incidents has left no room for questioning in the future either.
Morang Prison says no postmortem is conducted notwithstanding if the deaths are natural or suspicious. Nayab Subba (a non-gazetted officer) Ram Prasad Pokharel of the jail says the prison administration started keeping records of deaths only after his arrival. Pokharel adds the relatives of the deceased do not prefer to get a postmortem as it is a troublesome process.
According to him, there is no legal requirement that dictates a postmortem of those who have died in prisons. The families can apply for a postmortem if they have any suspicion, but many have not shown any interest in the matter.
The overcrowded prison
The 33-year-old Morang Prison has a capacity of 250 for men and 50 for women. But, according to jailor Mahendra Singh Khadka, there are more than 950 prisoners with about 90 prisoners in a room. Khadka says, “It is not easy to live in an overcrowded prison.”
A man who had just been released from Morang Prison says, “You have to sleep on the floor, in a row of prisoners, in awkward positions. Because there is no room inside, some sleep in the corridor too. If you want to turn to the other side, you have to turn everyone in the line. And this is supervised by the leader.”
He adds, “It is inconvenient even in the daytime as prisoners are not allowed to walk freely inside the jail. Many prisoners have developed leg problems as they are not able to walk properly in Morang Prison and feel confined.”
According to jailor Khadka, the prison has 17 rooms. There are 885 prisoners in 17 male cells with 15 toilets and 14 mess. So in such situations, it is not easy to eat, sit or defecate.
The inmates are not able to get their basic needs met because the management inside the prison is so bad.
There are two types of administration in the prison: external and internal. The jailer and the police are external management while positions such as watchmen, leaders, and deputy leaders are created from among the jailbirds to coordinate the internal administration inside the jail. But, people involved in this inner administration are considered big bullies inside the jail.
Bullying inside the prison has many times resulted in various crimes and one side killing the other. But, the inside administration works in cahoots with the outside administration to hide the crimes. Recent suspicious deaths in Morang Prison and the lack of postmortem have further the suspicions towards the convoluted behaviours.
K Karki, a former prisoner of Morang Prison, was recently released. According to him, the prison is a death bed and it is a great relief that he is out of there alive. Inside the prison, you never know who will hit you when, he says. Moreover, the conflict between the two groups of leaders can break out at any time.
Though out, prisoners like Karki say they cannot talk much about the suspicious death of prisoners inside the prison.
Human rights activists in Biratnagar also say the issue should be taken seriously. Human rights activist Somraj Thapa says, “The death of so many prisoners in a short period is the result of the government’s negligence. On top of that, not bothering to find the cause of their death is greater negligence. The security of prisoners is the government’s responsibility and; hence, such deaths should be investigated to find the cause. Even inside the prison, their human rights should be preserved and their basic needs like timely treatment should be provided.”
No focus on reforms
The perpetrators are kept in jail for a certain time to give them a chance to repent. “Leaders who were imprisoned yesterday are today in power. But, Morang Prison’s focus is still not in reform,” Thapa says.
The voice for prison reform is raised in Nepal occasionally. Even though in 1948, the issue of prison reform was raised; the government had formed a Prison Reform Commission. It had stressed the need to provide regular food and clothes to the prisoners.
There were several prison reform movements during the Panchayat period. But, then too, it was not uncommon for someone to die inside the prison.
In recent times, the National Human Rights Commission has also urged the government to improve the conditions of prisons from time to time. In 2017, the commission had drawn the attention of the government in a memorandum saying there were more prisoners than the capacity in the prisons and correctional facilities. Yet, the basic needs of the prison have not been met.
The government provides a daily allowance of Rs 60 and 700 grams of rice for each of the prisoners. Apart from that, it provides Rs 300 as Dashain allowance, Rs 1,525 for clothes in winter and Rs 1,400 in summer. It provides a mattress and a quilt every two years. “The allowance is not enough as everything is expensive inside. If one cannot get money from home, that person is sure to have a hard time,” says Karki.