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India: inmate’s death sparks riot in Byculla women’s prison

Post mortem report says death due to injuries; inmates claim guards assaulted her; 6 staffers suspended

The death of an inmate, allegedly after being assaulted by prison guards, at the women’s prison in Byculla on Friday evening led to a riot by inmates that continued through the night and subsided only on Saturday morning. Enraged inmates set newspapers and furniture on fire and shouted slogans from the rooftop before they could be pacified. The Prisons Department has suspended six staffers at the prison and initiated an inquiry into the incident.

According to officers in the Prisons Department, convict Manjula Shette, 40, was transferred to Byculla Jail from Yerwada Central Prison in Pune around two months ago. Shette was arrested in Bhandup in 2004 by the city police for the murder of her sister-in-law, convicted and sent to Yerwada Central Prison.

Officers said on Friday morning, Shette entered into an altercation with a prison guard, who allegedly assaulted her. “Shette lost consciousness on Friday evening and was taken to JJ Hospital, where she was declared dead before admission. Meanwhile, other inmates began protesting, alleging Shette was killed in the assault by prison guards, and the situation worsened as the night progressed,” a Prisons Department officer said.

Late on Saturday, doctors at JJ Hospital finished the post mortem examination of Shette’s body. “Death has occurred due to injuries and pulmonary edema. There are multiple contusions all over the body, including on the scalp,” Dr. T.P. Lahane, dean, JJ Hospital, said.

Guards’ attitude to blame?

According to a preliminary inquiry, the guards’ attitude to the protest made things worse. By morning on Saturday, a riot had broken out and inmates began setting clothes, newspapers and wood items on fire. The prison guards sent out an urgent wireless alert seeking reinforcements while trying to contain the situation. Some inmates climbed up to the prison complex’s terrace, shouting slogans against the Prisons Department. Officers said they were spotted by people outside the jail, bringing traffic on the outer roads to a standstill.

After several hours of appeals for peace over public address systems and attempts by senior officers, rioters finally lost steam and began negotiating with officials, during which their version of the sequence of events was recorded.

Additional Director-General (Prisons) B.K. Upadhyay said, “There are allegations of misbehaviour against six Prisons Department staffers. We are placing them under suspension for dereliction of duty. The situation at Byculla prison is now peaceful.”

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