Sushma Hemant Ramteke, 30, an undertrial political prisoner currently lodged in Byculla District Prison was a victim of a brutal assault by jail staff and officers on 8.11.2013. She and four other co-accused women including Angela Sontakke, were the five women political prisoners lodged in Byculla prison since June 2011. They have been victims of brutal assaults and punishments of solitary confinement for speaking up for their rights and that of other women prisoners, for quoting the Prison Manual and for exposing the overall corruption and repressive tactics of the prison staff against women undertrials.
Sushma Ramtekke was arrested from Pirangut, Pune on 25th April 2011, two days after the arrest of Angela Sontakke from Thane. She is accused No. 2 along with 6 others arrested at that time in Sessions Case No. 655 of 2011 framed by the ATS accusing them of association with Maoist ideology. Though nothing was found on her she was charged with having played a part in setting up a Naxal base in Pune. Since 23 January 2011, she had been working as a computer operator in an Engineering Equipment company. The only offence made out by the police is that she shared a rented accommodation with Angela.
In a landmark judgement dated 3.12.2012, the Bombay High Court granted her and another accused bail on the ground that mere association was insufficient to charge a person with unlawful or terrorist activities. Due to the difficulties and bureaucratic formalities of procuring bail, it has taken a year to get Sushma released. She was on the verge of getting released, when she became victim of the 8th November assault on her by 10 male and 20 women prison staff and officials armed with batons and sticks.
At 10.30-10.45 a.m. on 8.11.2013, Barrack No. 5, Food distribution or ‘bhattha’ time, Sushma Ramtekke witnessed woman police constable (WPC) Kamal Salunke beating up 3 Bengali women (labeled “Bangladeshi”), one of them pregnant. When Sushma asked why they were being beaten up, Salunkhe rained blows on Sushma. Sushma tried to defend herself when one more WPC, Surekha and 2-star Jailor Smita Chorghe, joined Salunke in assaulting Sushma. Some African women prisoners, Sushura, Julia, Monde, Kay Kay, Memorigama, Lara, Maria, Diana came to Sushma’s defence and took her near her barrack. They waited outside their barrack gate waiting to talk to jail officials, however no one came.
At evening `bhattha’ time at 5 p.m., the other jail inmates from Barrack No. 5 decided not to take food. Out of about 300 inmates, only those with children, about 60, took food. Two jail staff, 2-star Jailors Shaila Wagh and Smita Chorghe, and WPCs Amruta Gaikwad, Supriya Channne threatened Sushma with dire consequences.
At Bandhi time 6.30 p.m. when the lights were put on, Sushma and other women prisoners were waiting to talk to jail officials. Senior jailor Uman Singh Patil, Jailor Bharat Patil and 10 other male jail staff along with 20 WPCs reached outside Barrack No. 5 armed with sticks and lathis.
Sushma Ramteke tried to speak to Jailor Bharat Patil. He told her to come to his office alone the next day. Sushma, because of previous cases of women prisoners who went alone being assaulted in the Superintendent’s office, said she would not come alone. He then told her that he would look into this the next day. On this Sushma and the other women prisoners started returning to the barracks. When Sushma and another women prisoner were climbing the stairs, all male staff, together with WPCs Kamal, Surekha, Asha, Wasima, Krupali, Deepali, Chaaya and others, crowded at the stairs. Surekha called Sushma a Naxalite and started abusing her. Sushma was then dragged down the stairs, pulling at her clothes. She was brutally assaulted by all the men and women staff gathered there. Two African prisoners came to her rescue and one of them removed her clothes in protest, which resulted in the male staff beating a hasty retreat.
On hearing the commotion, the women inside Barrack No 5 started beating their thalis in protest. The WPCs, led by 2-star Jailor Shaila Wagh, then led an assault on the women prisoners inside the barrack.
Action taken so far
News of the assault reached CPDR only on Sunday, 10.11.2013. CPDR members Maharukh Adenwala and Susan Abraham visited the jail on 11.11.2013 and obtained an interview. The above note has been prepared based on the interview. Even after 3 days, her face was visibly swollen and red bruise marks were visible on her body. She had not been taken for medical examination or given any treatment for her injuries.
Sushma’s lawyers moved an application on 12.11.2013 for producing her in court and ordering a medical examination immediately as well as for an enquiry. The Byculla jail administration filed a false complaint in court on 11.11.2013 with statements of all the women jail staff (but not the male staff).
Further action needs to be taken with NHRC/SHRC, NCW, I G, Prisons as this is the fourth case of assault by jail staff against women political prisoners in Byculla prison.
Suresh Rajeshwar, Maharukh Adenwala, Susan Abraham
for Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR),Mumbai.
Dated 13th November, 2013