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The curious death of Ramkumar (Relevant for GS Mains Paper II)

Suicide committed in prison by Rajkumar 
The alleged suicide of murder suspect P. Ramkumar in the high-security Puzhal Central Prison in Chennai has given rise to many questions and doubts. 

Background
The claim  is that Ramkumar, the alleged lone assailant who stalked and killed young Swathi, took his own life by biting a live wire pulled out from a switchboard inside the prison .His lawyer alleges he was murdered. 
When Ramkumar was arrested there was a sense of reassurance among the public, even though a few demanded a CBI investigation based on a few purported lacunae in the police version. 

What should have been done?
The police were expected to put an end to all speculation about whether he was the ‘real culprit’ by bringing him to trial. It is a pity this did not happen.
The Tamil Nadu government should order a judicial probe in order to credibly allay any impression, false though it may well be, that the case was sought to be closed extra-judicially.

Prison Administration’s claim
Ramkumar had suicidal tendencies, going by the police claim that he tried to slash his own throat when he was about to be arrested.

Prison authorities say he was indeed under continuous watch by warders, and that he had been given psychological counselling. More ought to have been done to prevent the incident, as the case had become unusually sensitive, with the public debate assuming strong caste and communal overtones. 

Grey Shades of Prison Administration reflective of this case
1. It is surprising that the closely watched suspect had easy access, at a moment when he was conveniently alone, to a switchboard near the prison dispensary. 

2. It also so happened that the CCTV cameras installed in the modern prison did not cover that particular area where he chose to end his life. If he did commit suicide, there has been undoubted lapse in monitoring his movements.

Question over condition in jails
Prison suicides set off questions about the conditions of incarceration in our jails, often seen as overcrowded and understaffed. Suicide by electrocution is rare, as it is not difficult to deny prisoners any form of access to live electrical cables. 

There is truth in the theory that it is difficult to prevent a person determined to commit suicide, even if some correctional psychologists disagree. 

Way forward for effective prison administration
There ought to be an initial evaluation of incoming prisoners to identify those with a high risk of suicide. Thereafter, periodic assessments of their state of mind should be made.

While continuous watch is inescapable, designing ‘suicide-resistant cells’ and auditing jails to identify and remove possible anchoring points for attempts to die by hanging are other necessary measures.



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