Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 8 Issue 82 | August 14, 2009 |

  Cover Story
  In Retrospect
  Book Review
  Star Diary
  Post Script

   SWM Home


The Wait at the Prison Gate

Audity Falguni
Dhaka Central Jail.

Last Monday, fourteen-year-old Monjoor Morshed, a student of class 10 at Rifles Public School, was calmly waiting with a petition in his hand to see his father before the gate of Dhaka Central Jail. The sun was blazing and Monjoor was sweating a little. His father Sheikh Nurul Ameen, Deputy Assistant Director of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), was at the BDR Quarters in Rangpur during the February Pilkhana Carnage and is still under arrest in the Pilkhana case.

"My father is now in the hospital as he was taken on remand several times. Every month we are now getting just his basic salary. I would be really happy if I could just have a glimpse of my father," the boy said. Like Manjoor, Parvin Karim, wife of a BDR member, waited to see her husband, who is behind the bars.

Hosne Ara, elder sister of garments-worker Manir, had come to Dhaka from Bargona last Thursday to take his brother, who was to be released on bail that day. "My brother Manir has been in prison for the last two and half years on charge of creating chaos and anarchy in a garments factory. He used to work at a factory at Mirpur. Since last Thursday his name is on the notice board as one of those who have been granted bail but he has not been set free till now. For the last four or five days, I have been standing at the prison gate from dawn to dusk to see my brother's face," the woman said in a choking voice.

Kalni, a young man said, "My brother had a shop of flax (flexi load) in Kamrangir Char where we live. One day some hoodlums of the area put heroine under his seat in the shop when he had stepped out for a few minutes. Police came and arrested him. The case has been trumped up against him by his enemies. He has been living in the Dhaka Central Jail for the last one and half month. My younger brother and younger sister and I have come to see our brother," said Kalni.

Fifty-five- year-old Anwaruzzaman's son had been arrested for a different reason altogether. "My son used to work in a show-room of BATA and was living as a co-tenant with a man from our home district Satkhira. Actually, this very man first promised my son a job in Dhaka and accordingly employed him in the show room where he himself was also a worker. But, this man later stole 80,000 Takas from my son. Meantime, my son started an affair with the man's wife and they eloped. The man later charged my son with abduction. Thank God that the girl had no child from her ex-husband and is now is living with us. After my son gets free, we will arrange their marriage," the father says.

Waiting to catch a glimpse of loved ones behind bars.

Hundreds of men and women wait before the Central Jail's iron gate for hours to see their loved ones for a few moments. Some of them might be hardened criminals while some of them are innocent, suffering inhumanely under a defective criminal justice system, a system that tends to arrest a poor thief for petty theft and frees bank loan defaulters on bail. Besides, what is more important is that even a 'criminal' has his or her own family--spouses, parents, children and siblings, whom we often look upon as someone linked to an offender and is sometimes ill-treated. The long row of the families before the prison gate reminds us that every human being should be treated with kindness and forgiveness.

"The problems are manifold in nature,” admitted a prison official preferring anonymity. Lawyers often harass the poor and illiterate people from villages on the pretext of providing legal assistance and rob them of their last penny to arrange a simple bail for their loved ones. Again there are a number of loopholes in our prison system. In my own career in the prison, I have even seen murderers get freed by giving bribe to the police and the court while lots of poor men and women have been kept behind the bars for small crimes. Their major crime is simple-- they lack money," he said.

According to Habildar Badshah, who guards the prison gate, "Dhaka Central Jail right now has 720 prison guards. But, not all of them are at work; some of them are on leave or deputation. There is one Chief Prison Guard, one Subedar and 12 prison guards just to man the prison gate. The rest of the force is mainly deployed within the prison."

Men and women wait before the Central Jail's iron gate for hours to see their loved ones.

"Following the Prison Code, we used to allow the family members of the inmates to see their dear ones at an interval of fifteen days,” he said. “Later the rule has been made more convenient and humane for the families of the inmates and now they can see and talk with their families every week.”

Eminent French Philosopher Michael Foucault, in his book 'Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison' outlines the evolution of prison in medieval France-cum-Europe, providing a comparative analysis of the prison systems in the USA, UK and France and has sharply criticised the criminal justice system and the modern criminal judiciary with his assertion that human beings cannot be judged by other humans, and if they are judged, serious errors and wrongs are bound to take place. He has also said that the prison inmates should be guaranteed the minimum humane environment within the prison. In poor and developing countries like Bangladesh the situation of the inmates in prison and their families outside the jail are grimmer than those in the wealthy west. The government, media, civil society, NGOs and other development agencies should come forward to reform the prison and to give a better life for the prisoners and their families.




Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2009