A PRISONER in Dhaka central jail has to spend around 30,000 takas (US$384) a month for food and other services which the state is supposed to provide for free.
The amount is more than some families living in the capital spend a month.
A major portion of the inmates’ money goes to the convicts who are given the charge by the jail authority to look after other prisoners.
Those in charge take over 16,000 takas ($41) a month from each prisoner for the minimum required space to sleep without trouble, supply the food served by the jail authorities and ensure enough water for bathing and toilet use.
The rest 14,000 takas ($179) is spent on additional food like eggs, fish and meat alongside those served by the jail authorities, as it is almost impossible to keep the jail food down.
The 30,000 ($384) takas take care of just the basic necessities. Everything else is extra.
For instance, a prisoner has to spend 300 takas ($3) to 1,500 takas ($12) to see his or her family, in which one is allowed to talk to family members in a room through a window.
The jail staff at the gate charge 200 takas ($2) for sending every 1,000 takas ($12) to an inmate. So, actually a prisoner gets 800 takas ($10) for every 1,000 takas his or her family sends.
Each prisoner has to manage the amount to enjoy the minimum rights he or she is entitled to enjoy inside the jail as per the Bangladesh Jail Code.
Horrific sufferings await those who are unable to manage the amount.
The Daily Star learnt these from three prisoners who wanted to be anonymous. One of them walked out of the jail on March 27 and two others in February last year.
“The jail is hell for those who are unable to manage the money,” said an auto-rickshaw driver who served one month in the jail.
He said prisoners would be forced to lie down on their left or right side in a row, which is known in jail as hilsa fal.
The designated cell-keeper then pushes the back of the last prisoner in the row with his leg to ensure there is no room between prisoners, he said.
An ex-jail official wishing anonymity, however, said each prisoner is entitled to get six square feet of space.
“I saw two youths crying all night on my first day in jail, but the jail people were unmoved,” said the auto-rickshaw driver.
He said he managed 30,000 takas ($384) by pawning two gold bangles and earrings of his wife and survived prison.
The driver was among 30 other drivers who were sentenced to a month’s jail each by a mobile court on Feb 28 in Sadarghat area.
Within hours after landing in Dhaka jail, the process of trading starts at Amdani khana, a cell inside the jail where newcomers are usually kept for a night and then moved to other cells.
After completing initial processes like frisking newcomers and enrolment of the prisoners, the man in charge of the Amdani khana asks inmates to meet him one by one. He threatens them with sufferings if they do not get enrolled for “service package” costing 3,600 takas ($46). However, one needs to send 4,000 takas ($51) inside that jail so that the recipient gets 3,600 ($46) takas. The 400 takas ($5) is the commission for the jail gate staff.
A portion of the first week’s toll goes to the Amdani khana in-charge.
“When my turn to meet the Amdani khana in-charge came on the first night, he narrated the horrific sufferings of prisoners as far more inmates stay in jail than its capacity,” said a Mirpur trader who was arrested in February last year on suspicion of planning subversive activities to destabilise the country.
The jail has around 7,600 inmates against the capacity of 2,650, he was told.
“How will you get water for toilet use and for bathing?” the Amdani khana in-charge went on.
“I got scared. I was about to collapse as it had already been 22 hours since I was arrested. So, I agreed to the package offer,” said the man in his 40s.
“When my family members visited me in the morning, the convict who brought me did not allow me to talk to my relatives until one of my relatives gave him 4,000 takas ($51) I had agreed to pay the previous night,” he added.
He was among 32 people picked up from their homes at Senpara Parbata on Feb 25 last year. His neighbour was among the 32 people arrested and he too gave this newspaper almost an identical picture.
“My decision to agree to pay paid off,” the trader said, adding that he was allowed enough room to stretch and sleep well. He was also given two blankets, one of which served as a pillow.
He said the cell in-charge and his aides who were all convicts ensured him and others, who bought the “package”, space to sleep. He did not have to queue up for food served by the jail authorities and for bathing.
Although it was extremely expensive, when he wanted to buy some extra food, they supplied him.
About 3,000 takas ($38) a week is needed for additional food items.
“Whenever we wanted, we the inmates who bought the package were allowed to sit inside the cell during day time. But, those, who did not buy the package, were not allowed. They were only allowed to use the toilets outside which were too filthy to be used and most of the time had no water,” he said recollecting his days in jail.
The jail code, however, says the toilets must be cleaned daily and there should always be adequate supply of water there.
According to the former inmate, around 30 per cent prisoners, who are extremely poor and have no close relatives, do not get the “package”.
He said when family members try to visit inmates, they have to bribe the jail gate staff between 300 takas ($3) and 1,500 takas ($19).
The wife of the auto-rickshaw driver visited him seven times during his one-month stay in the jail and she had to pay 3,900 takas ($50) in total as bribe at the jail gate.
A former top official of Dhaka Central Jail said a group of jail officials were supposed to provide inmates sufficient space to sleep, enough food and medicine. Adequate accommodation for all inmates in Dhaka Central Jail could be arranged.
But some unscrupulous officials were inflicting sufferings on prisoners to extort them, the official said.
Wishing anonymity, the official also said there was no rule to charge any relative for meeting an inmate. There is a form that needs to be filled out and the jail authority charges two takas for it and even that is illegal, the ex-jail official said.
Jailer of Dhaka Central Jail Nesar Alam said the allegations were totally baseless. He claimed that all those sent to jail were criminals and their allegations are false.
The Daily Star failed to reach the IG prisons over the phone for his comments.
The Daily Star / Bangladesh
Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2016