April 25, 2024
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India’s Home Ministry Advises Removal of Caste and Religion Discrimination in Prison Manuals

The Union Home Ministry has issued an advisory to all states and union territories, directing the review of prison manuals or acts to eliminate any provisions that discriminate against prisoners based on their caste and religion. This move comes in the wake of a Supreme Court notice to the Centre and 11 states, following a public interest litigation (PIL) that challenged the constitutionality of such discriminatory practices within jail manuals. The PIL, filed by journalist Sukanya Shantha, was inspired by a report from 2020 that highlighted instances of caste-based discrimination in prison management.

The Ministry highlighted concerns over certain state prison manuals that segregate prisoners by caste and religion, assigning them duties accordingly. Such practices are in direct violation of the Indian Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, or place of birth. The advisory, sent on February 26, mandates immediate action to amend or remove any discriminatory provisions found within the manuals or acts, emphasizing the need for equality and non-discrimination in the treatment and assignment of duties to prisoners.

In addition to addressing the issue of discrimination, the Ministry of Home Affairs has reiterated the importance of adopting the model prison manual of 2016, which explicitly prohibits caste and religion-based discrimination. This includes management of kitchen duties or any form of special treatment to prisoners based on their caste or religion. The advisory also introduced the ‘Model Prison Act, 2023,’ which aims to further refine prison management practices, ensuring fairness and security for all inmates, including women and transgender prisoners. The states are also urged to regularly update the e-prisons platform with comprehensive data on prisoners to maintain transparency and accountability.

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