Asia

India hunger strike: Hundreds of prisoners protest

Alipore jail. West Bengal
Image caption Officials say that more prisoners are stuck in jails awaiting trial because of a shortage of judges

Hundreds of inmates have gone on hunger strike in jails in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal to demand speedier trials, prison authorities say.

The prisoners started refusing food in two jails in the state capital, Calcutta, but in the last two days the protest has spread to other jails.

More than 1,000 inmates are now thought to be taking part in the protest.

It is estimated there are about 3,000 prisoners in West Bengal awaiting trail - many have spent years on remand.

More than 170 inmates on remand have been in jail for more than five years, while another 25 have spent more than a decade behind bars, an internal report of the jail administration says.

Their demand is simple - they want either to be released or their trials to start.

The police inspector general in charge of jails, Ranvir Kumar, told the BBC that the protests were being held in Alipore, Presidency and Dum Dum central jails in addition to a women's jail.

He said that a hunger strike had also begun in Purulia jail on Thursday.

Mr Kumar estimates that around 500 prisoners have joined the strike so far, but sources say that the true figure is now more than double that amount.

Officials say that although the protest was initially started by prisoners awaiting trial, hardened criminals who are serving sentences have joined the fast "to show solidarity" with the strikers.

Senior Maoist leaders have also joined the hunger strike.

"Many strikers have been shifted to hospitals as their health condition has deteriorated," said West Bengal jails minister Sankar Chakraborty.

"The jail hospitals are overflowing with striking inmates. That's why we are shifting people to government hospitals outside."

Mr Chakraborty said that it was the responsibility of the law department and the concerned minister, Moloy Ghatak, to arrange for speedier trials.

Mr Ghatak told the BBC that he had met the strikers and their "grievances were genuine".

"Their trials got delayed for years because of an acute shortage of judges in lower courts. But that is a problem created by the previous government," he said.

Mr Ghatak claimed that courts were now "filled up with judges" and government lawyers have been instructed to speed up trials.

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