By National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD)
Nov 17, 2020
The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) has petitioned the National Human Rights Commission seeking its intervention to provide reasonable accommodations to Fr. Stan Swamy, who is lodged in the Taloja Jail, Maharashtra.
83-year old Stan Swamy is a person living with Parkinson’s, which is a condition recognised as disabling as per the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. As per various laws and conventions to which India is a signatory, it is obligatory that Stan Swamy be provided with requisite age & disability appropriate accommodations, assistive aids including straws and sippers as also human care assistance as required.
The full text of the letter addressed to the NHRC Chairman yesterday is being released herewith.
General Secretary, NPRD
November 16, 2020
Honourable Justice H L Dattu
National Human Rights Commission
Subject: Plea for your Intervention to Provide Reasonable Accommodation to Shri Stan Swamy
Respected Justice Dattu,
It is with great pain and anguish that we beseech you to ensure compliance of rights of prisoners with disabilities as also providing them with reasonable accommodations as mandated by international conventions to which India is a signatory as also domestic laws.
We had on earlier occasions sought the NHRC’s intervention in the matter of Prof. Saibaba a person with 90 per cent disability lodged in the Nagpur Central Jail and had among several other things also drawn attention of the Commission to the inaccessible jail premises and lack of supportive mechanisms for prisoners with disabilities.
Through this petition we are seeking your intervention to provide reasonable accommodations to another prisoner with disability, Father Stan Swamy, lodged in the Taloja Central Jail, Maharashtra.
Eighty three year old Stan had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s, as you may be aware, is a progressive nervous system disorder that also impacts movement. Those living with Parkinson’s often have tremors (involuntary, uncontrollable muscle contractions manifesting as shaking in body parts, most often the hands).
Given this condition (tremor in both hands etc) he has been using a sipper as also a straw for intake of water and fluids. He was carrying these essentials (straw and sipper) with him when he was arrested by the NIA. The NIA refused to hand them back and the jail authorities refuse to provide him these inexpensive but essential assistive items. He has trouble eating because of the tremors. He is unable to take bath, bring water or wash clothes on his own. Fr. Stan also has serious hearing problem and needs hearing aid for both ears. He was operated twice for hernia in the recent past and hence may not be in a position to go through a strenuous schedule as demanded in the jail. He used to take daily steam inhalations too.
We would like to underline that the current conditions in which Fr. Stan is being held are violative of his right to life, dignity, equality, protection from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, non-discrimination and right to health.
Over the years, the Supreme Court has in several cases clearly held that prisoners also have certain fundamental rights including those stated above, which in this case are being violated.
Furthermore, India is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Resolution 70/175 on Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules), all of which reaffirm the right to life with dignity of prisoners. Fr. Stan, as we have pointed out earlier, has Parkinson’s, a condition recognised as a disability and listed in the Schedule — “Specified Disability” — in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.
Article 15 of the UNCRPD states that “…… States parties shall take all effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, from being subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Further, Article 25 affirms the the State shall “Prevent discriminatory denial of health care or health services or food and fluids on the basis of disability.”
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 under Section 6 provides for “Protection from cruelty and inhuman treatment”. In addition to the special legislation and convention on disability the right to protection from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and the right to be treated with humanity and respect for inherent dignity for those lawfully deprived of their liberty is specified under Articles 7 & 10 of ICCPR.
Even under the Nelson Mandela Rules on treatment of prisoners there is specific mention of measures and reasonable accommodation for prisoners with special needs for full and effective access to prison life (Rules 2(2) & 5(2)). The Rules also recognises the right to inherent dignity and protection from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under Rule 1.
On the specific issue of health-related needs of prisoners, the Nelson Mandela Rules provide for the need to give adequate nutrition to maintain the health and strength of a prisoner (Rule 22). It clearly states that it is the State’s responsibility to provide for the healthcare of prisoners with access to necessary healthcare services without discrimination under Rule 24. Under Sub-Rule 24(2) it specifies that continuation of treatment and provision of care to prisoners.
Denial of an extremely essential item for a person with Parkinson’s who has impaired functioning of his hands amounts to “cruelty and inhuman treatment”; is a violation of his dignity; and constitutes torture.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court in PUCL vs UoI (WP No. 196/2001) has also upheld the right to food as integral to the right to life under Art 21 of the Constitution. There are any number of Supreme Court judgments that underline that the right to life must include right to dignity, which is being denied to this 83 year old man.
Though Fr. Stan has approached a special court in Mumbai on November 6 for provision of a straw and a sipper, the court was inconsiderate, if not insensitive, in its failure to respond to the urgency and has given time till November 26 to the NIA to file a reply.
Given the fact that non-provision of a straw and sipper which is an essential assistive item for Fr. Stan for intake of fluids including water, would constitute denial of food to him, leading to further deterioration in his health, it is absolutely necessary that these basic items be provided to him on an urgent basis.
We therefore seek your immediate intervention to ensure that Fr. Stan is provided with requisite age & disability appropriate accommodations, assistive aids including straws and sippers as also human care assistance as required. We would request the NHRC to send a team to inspect the Taloja and take stop of the accessibility of the prison premises as also the services being provided to Fr. Stan Swamy. In case these provisions cannot be made within the jail premises and an accessible environment cannot be provided, we request that the Commission issue directions to see that he may be immediately shifted to a hospital where adequate facilities would be available.