It’s been almost two months since the massive fire in Burundi’s Gitega central prison on 7 December 2021, which killed at least 38 prisoners and injured 69 others. To this date, no proper investigation has taken place by the Burundian government of what caused the fire, and the actions of the prison administration.The numbers and names of the dead and injured are unclear.
One prisoner told Human Rights Watch that for nearly two hours, the prisoners were left to deal with the fire alone. Following the fire, the government buried the bodies in secret, and the families of missing prisoners, some of whom have been unable to complete the mourning rituals, have tried to get answers to no avail.
Just a few weeks before the fire took place, on 18 November 2021, the United States government lifted sanctions that were in place against Burundian officials linked to the 2015 massacre that was carried out against Burundians who opposed the then-President’s move to continue on to an unconstitutional third term — violence that led to the death of 1200 and sent 400,000 fleeing the country. The US State Department said in its press release lifting the sanctions that the “decision reflects the changed circumstances in Burundi and President Ndayishimiye’s pursuit of reforms across multiple sectors over the past year.“
An article in africanews notes that as of 26 November 2021, “Burundi’s eleven prisons held 12,878 prisoners for a capacity of 4,924, according to the prison administration.”
The number of people in prisons has seen an increase in India since the year 2002, with about 466,084 detainees in total. Women constitute about 4.1% of those detained and are held in general prisons and a small fraction in segregated women’s only jails. Most prisons are overcrowded and regularly exceed their capacity.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau data, the state of Chhattisgarh accounts for the most densely packed prisons for women inmates with an occupancy rate of 66.4% in excess of capacity followed by Uttarakhand exceeding the capacity by 55.3%. This in the regular jails. With respect to women-only jails, the state of West Bengal exceeds capacity with an occupancy rate of 142.04% followed by Maharashtra with an average occupancy rate of 119.85%. The third spot is captured by Bihar with a 115.13 percent average occupancy rate.
Any attempt to document women political prisoners will always have glaring lapses. There are just too many dispersed in this vast country with a diverse political landscape and axes of oppression. There are many whose existence is not known. How does one exist without a name, or in some cases, an entry in a log-book, publicly available? Since 2018, the government of India has stopped publishing the National Crime Records Bureau data. Here, we have tried to highlight the names of a few nameless and faceless women political prisoners in West Bengal from the original Bengali publication in the outlet: Bandi Sanhati (“Prisoners’ Solidarity”).
Read the profiles here or download the file below.