ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Howrah Prison Killings-Story of a Jail Break

THERE were as many as 15 jail "disturbances'' in West Bengal in the four- and-a-half years between December 1970 and May 1975. Sixty-eight prisoners were killed in these incidents, 310 were wounded and 102 managed to escape. No fewer than 106 members of the jail staff are alleged to have suffered injuries. One incident in the Alipore Central Jail on November 20, 1971 alone resulted in the death of eight prisoners and injuries to 202. In the Durn Duin jail a few months earlier, 16 prisoners were killed and 50 injured. In August 1971, in an incident in Asansol Special Jail nine prisoners were killed. The state government instituted executive inquiries into five of these incidents and judicial probes into two. Justice J Sharma Sarkar, who investigated the last of the series in the Howrah District Jail in May 1975, has remarked: "Use of force and firing by the sentries inside the Howrah District Jail was not only excessive but also illegal and unjustified, having regard to the nature, manner, number, occasion and timing of the use of force including firing. The incident shocked not only the relations of the dead and the injured, but also the social and moral conscience of the people here and abroad.'' The one-man Sharma Sarkar Commission was set up by the state government in May 9, 1975 to inquire into the incident that took place in the Howrah District Jail on May 3, 1975. The Commission's main terms of reference were to find out (i) the causes and the nature of the disturbances and the circumstances under which they originated; (ii) the maimer In which the situation, in relation to the disturbances, was dealt with; (iii) whether the force used by the jail staff, including firing, in dealing with the disturbances, was unjustified or excessive and, if so, the identity of the persons responsible for use of such unjustified or excessive force; and (iv) measures for preventing recurrence of similar disturbances. The Commission recorded eight Statements; one of them was filed by the Prisons Directorate, three by the father, sister and mother of three deceased prisoners

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