No Democracy fest for 13,000 prisoners
While MPs facing criminal charges can be allowed to contest the polls, why can’t under-trials, remand prisoners and convicts of minor crimes be allowed to do their democratic duty of exercising their franchise, is the argument of rights activists in TN.
According to a rough estimate, there are around 14,000 lodged in 136 prisons, including 9 central jails and three special prisons for women. The prisoners include convicts, remand prisoners and under-trials. Of these, over 90 per cent that is 13,000 approximately would not be able to cast their votes in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections as the Representation of People Act, 1951, does not permit them to exercise their franchise. Only those detained under legislations like Goondas Act, National Security Act and COFEPOSA can vote in an election through postal ballot.
Unfortunately, in many cases, the co-accused, who would not have done any big crime and forced to spend time in prison, also loses the right to vote because of the provision in the RP Act, said a Central Prison Warden.
Prisoners would also have their critical understanding about the society. As citizens, these prisoners too hold the right to elect the candidate and the government of their choice, said R Murali, Principal, Madura College saying there should be a better mechanism to help prisoners also join the April 24 polls. About 100 sitting MPs reportedly have criminal background and they were being allowed to contest the elections. Sometimes, they also become part of the government. If they could be allowed to join the polls, prisoners should also be extended the rights to elect candidates, said A Kathir, Executive Director, Evidence. Most of the political parties were ignoring the issue because they were not assured of a ‘vote bank’ in the prisons.