KOCHI: The death of Vannathamveetil Soumya, of Padannakkara, who was accused in the sensational Pinarayi serial murder case, in the Kannur women’s prison had sparked controversy last year. She committed suicide by hanging herself from a cashew tree near the prison’s toilet. Since it was a suicide, a department-level inquiry was ordered and three officers were suspended for alleged lapse of duty. However, the deaths of prisoners due to illness and other issues go unnoticed, leaving many questions unanswered. Activists allege lack of proper medical care and official apathy behind these deaths.
As per the figures available with the Prisons Department, 289 persons lost their lives in jails across the state from April 1, 2011, to December 31, 2018. Of this, 174 persons died in the three Central jails - Poojappura, Viyyur and Kannur. Of the deceased, 11 were remand prisoners while one was an Australian national, who died in Poojappura Central Jail.
As many as 95 persons died in Poojappura Central Jail. A sum of Rs 33 lakh has been disbursed by the Prisons Department as compensation for the relatives of the deceased, according to the records.
Human Rights activist Raju Vazhakkala pointed out though deaths were reported in the past seven years, no cases were registered against any of the prison officers. “The deaths in jails were mainly due to illness or incurable diseases. Besides, many cases of unnatural deaths are also reported. However, no case was registered in any of these cases,” he said, citing an RTI reply received by him.
When asked about the deaths in jails, DGP Prisons R Sreelekha cited the majority were inmates above 60 years. “Besides, many died owing to incurable diseases. Recently, two inmates died of cancer. We are providing medical care to the prisoners if they have any health issues. The number of suicides and unnatural deaths is comparatively low in Kerala’s jails,” she said.
When an unnatural death occurs in prison, it is reported to the police, who register an FIR and initiate a probe. If the death is due to suicide, the reason behind is investigated, according to the prison officers.