"From 19 April to 23 April my husband (Khalid Saifi) has called me every day and said he had a mild fever, throat infection, cough, weakness, and headache. He was running a temperature of 101 degree F a day ago as well. He is not being tested. I'm petrified... you see, he is a diabetes patient," Nargis Saifi said about her husband's deteriorating health in Mandoli jail.
"Ishrat (Jahan) has been placed under quarantine. The last call she made to us was on 19 April. Only in December was she abused and attacked by inmates and the staff regularly discriminates against her, prompting us to move court to protect her. How is it right we wait for another 15 days," Sarwer Jahan, Ishrat's sister, said.
Northeast Delhi violence accused Khalid Saifi and Ishrat Jahan were arrested from the Khureji Khas protest site in northeast Delhi on 26 February last year. Khalid has got bail in two of the three FIRs registered against him from the northeast Delhi riots of February 2020. Similarly, Ishrat has got bail in one of the two FIRs registered against her. Both have been lodged in Mandoli hail for FIR 59, better known as the conspiracy FIR, where the anti-terror law UAPA has been invoked.
Director General (Prisons) Sandeep Goel responded to all the allegations of testing, overcrowding, medical efforts and meetings with family and the lawyer. His responses are a part of the story.
'Jail is Overcrowded, Bomb is Ticking'
"My husband (Khalid Saifi) is lodged at jail number 12 right now. The jail is definitely overcrowded compared to its capacity and everyone in the jail knows that. In one ward there should not be more than 30 people, but we are more than 50 people in each ward," she says, worried if social distancing norms are being followed in jail.
When we asked DG Prisons Sandeep Goel if the allegations of overcrowding were true and to provide details of the number of people in jail against the capacity, he said, "The total capacity of Mondoli jails (6 jails) is 3,776 inmates, and there are 4,765 inmates lodged there at present."
This means that according to the DG Prisons’ own admission, there are around 1000 more inmates in Mandoli jail than the capacity of the jail.
"There are no sanitizer facilities, there is no social distancing, people are piling one on top of each other in the jail," she says. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has said you need at least a 6 feet distance from one another to avoid transmission of COVID, while WHO has said that at least 1-meter social distancing is a must.
When asked how they are managing in Mandoli jail, Goel told this reporter, "It is manageable so far, we take all precautions as best possible."
There are 64 COVID positive cases in Mandoli jail right now (as of 24 April afternoon).
Nargis believes 'the time bomb is ticking and it can blast anytime.'
'There are No Tests, Medicines'
Nargis says Khalid started developing symptoms on 18 April and went to the OPD for treatment.
"Khalid went to the jail OPD for help but the OPD staff did not let him inside. They said 'whatever problem you have, we will send the medicine to you directly'. He asked them to at least check his health and see if he was suffering from Covid or something. He told me that they did not have any such test and that they would treat him with medicines for flu, fever. So, firstly they do not have any facilities to test people and secondly, they do not have any medication? He said the man at the OPD also told him that if we tested in today's time more than 50 percent of the inmates would turn out to be COVID positive," his wife said.
When asked to respond to the allegations of inadequate medical facilities in jail, Goel said, “Covid testing is being done strictly as per ICMR guidelines. All with influenza-like illness symptoms are examined by the doctor. Test for COVID is conducted whenever needed as per medical protocol.” Regarding allegations of an inmate being refused treatment from the OPD, he said, “Medical facility is available round the clock in jails. OPD is held daily. Emergency response is available round the clock. Any inmate having medical issues is properly examined in OPD. Every inmate’s medical record is kept.”
Regarding the larger medical effort in Mandoli jail, Goel explained, "There has been regular screening of inmates above 60 years and those with comorbidities. Proper medical care of anyone reporting illness." He said the jail has 'sufficient doctors and medicine and that they have oxygen facility also'. "ICU facility and ventilator are not available in prisons. For serious ailments we refer the patients to nearby Govt Hospital," he concluded.
Despite these measures that the DG Prisons says are being followed, Khalid's wife says he has not been tested, given medication or properly examined despite being vulnerable due to his diabetes. As a consequence, an urgent plea was moved by his lawyers on 22 April and heard on 23 April. The judge took note of this urgent application and called for a medical report by 26 April.
To help himself she says he took help from another accused in the jail who is a doctor. "When we spoke on 23 April, Khalid told me he asked another co-accused, a doctor, for help. That doctor had called for some medicines for himself so gave Khalid some for free," she said pleading people outside to take action soon.
‘No Calls to Lawyers or Family'
While Khalid is awaiting to be tested, Ishrat Jahan, former Congress councilor, has been placed in quarantine after another accused tested positive over a week ago.
"Ishrat's bail matter under FIR 59 is being heard right now. It is an important time for us to be in touch with her. Why can they not test her and give her access to the legal rights she has as a prisoner?", Sarwer told this reporter. She added that the last time she spoke to her sister was on 19 April.
"She said she can not call us anymore. This means no calls or video calls to lawyers or the family till her quarantine ends. She anyway does not feel safe inside. There is constant discrimination against her from the staff, often citing her religion and the fact that she is a UAPA accused. Not being able to talk to her for fifteen days scares us immensely," Ishrat's husband Farhan Hashmi said.
Regarding meetings with family and the lawyer, Goel said that visits (mulaqaat) with the family has been stopped in view of COVID, but meetings (online) with family are permitted. When asked about those in quarantine having their legal rights suspended, he said, “It is not a question of right. Quarantine means quarantine. It is a temporary phase for medical reasons, for everyone's safety.”
“That is alright but this then means that can not talk to her for 20 days because she is in quarantine. We do not know what is happening inside the jail. In December she has been abused, attacked and her clothes torn in the past by other inmates and we had to move an urgent application. We want to be in touch with her,” Sarwer said.