120-year-old Act discriminating prisoners amended in Rajasthan

Believe it or not, the 120-year-old Act in which prisoners from backward castes were not allowed to work as cooks in Rajasthan jails’s till January 2021 has finally been amended, said prison officials.

This Act, framed 120 years ago during the British regime, discriminated between prisoners on the basis of caste in delegating tasks such as cooking and cleaning in jail.

Director-General (DG) Prisons, Rajasthan Rajeev Dasot strongly pitched for this change in January this year and made sure he got the Act amended in February this year.

Speaking to IANS, Dasot said, “Despite India attaining Independence and new laws being framed, the practice of discriminating between prisoners on the basis of caste continued under The Rajasthan Prisons Rules, 1951 which were made under The Prisons Act, 1894 (central Act no. 9 of 1894).”

This Act clearly mentioned that cooks in the prison shall be Brahmins or high-caste Hindu prisoners. Cleaning work was entrusted to the so-called ‘lower caste’ inmates.

Surprisingly, this discrimination continued even after the country’s independence when newer laws were formed, Dasot said, adding that the High court and some NGOs pointed out this discrimination to him and he immediately decided to propose for its amendment.

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot also took it very seriously and directed the concerned authorities who helped amend the act within 20 days which is a record in itself, added Dasot.

On February 12, this year, the state government amended The Rajasthan Prison Rules, 1951 and titled it the Rajasthan Prisons (Amendment) Rules, 2021. The order further notified for its immediate enforcement, he added.

The new law clearly specified that no inmate shall be selected for cooking on the basis of caste or religion. Also the convicts termed as menial servants under rule 13 of section 1 were replaced as ‘tradesmen’ in the amended law. These include those employed as cooks, barbers, water carriers, sweepers etc.

Also, the amended law deleted the earlier clause which mentioned that any member of a criminal tribes subject to the discretion of the government shall be termed as habitual criminals.

CM Ashok Gehlot is all praise for this initiative. Also the initiative drew appreciation from deputy leader of opposition Rajendra Rathore in the Assembly, Dasot said.

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