An estimated 2.8 lakh persons in India are in prisons, awaiting their trials, even before they have been convicted. A majority of them are languishing in jails simply because they are too poor to afford bail.
To raise awareness around undertrial detention in the country, artist Ruchi Bakshi Sharma in collaboration with Amnesty International India (AII) recently created an interactive art installation called 'Muzzle Man'.
It was part of a three-day 'Bangalore Fantastic' exhibition organised by NGO Jaaga in association with the Karnataka Tourism Department at the Rangoli Metro Centre on MG Road in Bengaluru.
Explaining the concept of her creation, Ruchi on her Instagram page wrote, "This installation 'Muzzle Man Video Gut' will enable viewers to witness and viscerally understand the conditions of undertrials who languish in our prisons awaiting their release. This is an attempt to create moments of reflection and introspection about our unfair bail system."
Ruchi Bakshi; Image courtesy: Amnesty India/Twitter
Speaking to TNM at the sidelines of the event, Ruchi said that she took around two months to complete Muzzle Man and that it has been both a challenging and strong experience for her. "Through the art work, we want people to raise questions and think in a direction where they can initiate some change in our society," she said.
Amnesty has been running the Bail Not Jail petition urging the Union Law Minister to amend in the bail law along with also ensuring that alternatives to undertrial detention are considered.
According to the NGO, of the nearly 3 lakh undertrials in India, many have been awaiting trials in prison for years at a stretch, sometimes for a period longer than their maximum formal sentence. Undertrials also make for two out of every three prisoners in the country's jails, putting India third in the list of countries in Asia with the highest undertrial population.
Image source: Amnesty India/Twitter
"During our research on undertrials, we figured that the issue stems from a very basic problem, that is poverty, where people are not financially strong to get a bail. Under the present scenario, an undertrial can be released if they deposit the bail amount. But we fail to recognise that such prolonged detention strips individuals of their dignity and causes psychological damage to them," said Sachita Kondath, a researcher with AII.
"The petition," she added, "is not just to raise our voice but also to spread awareness among citizens about the grave injustice that undertrials are subjected to, and about the non-monetary bail conditions that are recognized by our Law Commission."
AII and Bangalore Fantastic came up with the idea of Muzzle Man together while working on Goal 10 of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals, i.e. reduce inequality within and among countries.