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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 May 12; 334(7601): 972.
PMCID: PMC1867918

Indian prison doctors are promised more help to fight abuse of prisoners

The Indian Medical Association has vowed to secure better resources for prison doctors and to provide protection for those doctors who speak out against abuse. It has also publicly stated that it opposes interrogational torture—an illegal but widely used practice in the country.

Delegates at a conference in Delhi last week on medical ethics in places of detention described how many prisoners and detainees are subject to torture or to cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, especially before formal remand to prison or another place of detention.

The conference, organised by the Indian Medical Association in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Medical Association, heard that the frequent movement of prisoners in, around, and out of prisons makes detailed assessment of their medical and psychological condition very difficult or impossible. But without such examinations, evidence of abuse is largely missed and opportunities to combat systematic abuse by reporting and monitoring incidents are lost, along with the opportunity to provide any intervention.

The lack of routine medical assessments on admission to prison also means that cases of tuberculosis among prisoners are often missed, leading to progression of the disease and further transmission. Indian prisons are seeing an increasing incidence of multidrug resistant tuberculosis, which is often fatal, but have so far avoided cases of extensively drug resistant tuberculosis, with its very high level of risk to the prison community and the general public.

Although medical staff in Indian prisons are relied on to look after the health of prisoners, they often find themselves under pressure from the authorities to hide evidence of abuse of inmates. Prison doctors from several Indian states said they know of colleagues who have been killed because of their actions, which has deterred many from reporting evidence of abuse.

Simple and practical solutions to link prisoners into local health services are essential, Hernan Reyes of the Red Cross told the meeting.

A spokesman for the Indian High Commission said: “Any kind of interrogational torture is not permitted by law in India. Instances brought to the attention of relevant authorities in the government or judiciary are investigated and action is taken against the perpetrators if this is established.”

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