The Byculla jail and (inset) Angela Harish Sontakke, who is on trial for suspected Maoist links
By Alka Dhupkar, Mumbai Mirror Undertrial kept in isolated cell for protesting, activists slam CCTV move.A move to install CCTV cameras inside the women’s barracks of Byculla jail was scrapped after an inmate objected and resorted to a five-day hunger strike.While activists slammed the proposed move as a violation of human rights, the jail superintendent justified his action by claiming he had full right to decide where CCTV cameras should be installed. He also denied any inmate had undertaken a hunger strike.

Angela Harish Sontakke, 45, a political prisoner charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, was placed in an isolated cell after she protested against the installation of the cameras. Following this, she undertook the hunger strike.

According to Dr Anand Teltumde, general secretary of the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), “On April 1, some staff members from the male barracks came with cables and other equipment to the women’s barrack No 3 where Angela is lodged. On inquiring, she learnt that CCTV cameras were being installed in the barrack.”

Teltumde said, “After Angela and some other inmates protested that this would be a clear violation of their privacy, the jail superintendent visited her barrack twice, in the evening and the next morning, but refused to withdraw the plan.”

Teltumde further revealed that when Angela protested, the jail superintendent blamed her for instigating other inmates and put her in an isolated cell on the evening of April 2. It was then that Angela undertook the hunger strike and informed the chief medical officer about it. On April 5, she also submitted a letter to a prison officer, alerting him to the fact that she was on a hunger strike. She demanded that she should be sent back to her barrack, and the plan to install CCTV cameras in the barrack should be scrapped.

The CCTV plan was finally shelved on April 7 and Angela called off her strike immediately.

Confirming the incident, superintendent Chandramani Indurkar told Mumbai Mirror, “Being the jail superintendent I have full rights to decide on the locations where we can set up CCTVs. We will not impose any security arrangement that is undignified to any prisoner. Yes, we were checking on locations in the barrack, but, after we received complaints, we did not finalise the plan.”

Indurkar denied that Angela had undertaken a hunger strike. He said, “She is a Maoist and is spreading rumours as a sheer publicity stunt. Yes, we had kept her in an isolated cell because she is a Maoist and we had received directions from a senior officer to that effect. It had nothing to do with the CCTV issue.”

The CPDR have protested the treatment to Angela. Teltumde said, “It is most alarming that when a prisoner protests the violation of fundamental rights, she is isolated and threatened with action for obstructing officials from performing their duties.” Angela was not against installing of CCTV cameras at the entrance of the barracks, in corridors, the courtyard and offices, he pointed out.

Some activists also slammed the move to have cameras in the women’s barracks. They said the circular issued by the inspector general of prisons, Meera Borwankar, regarding CCTV cameras is clear about the areas where they can be installed. Human rights activists advocate Asim Sarode said, “According to the prison manual, the superintendent has powers to take administration and security related decisions, but installing CCTVs inside the women’s barracks would amount to human rights violation and breach of privacy. Keeping a third eye on women prisoners through such a move is certainly arbitrary.”

Meanwhile, Angela’s lawyer Susan Abraham told Mirror, “I will meet Angela and discuss legal options, should she wish to take up the issue of being isolated.”