Rs660: The price of visiting Landhi Prison
Waiting outside the Landhi prison, a multitude of wretched men, women and tiny, noisy children, are desperate to share a moment with their loved ones. These wretched people lack one vital resource that could spare them this ordeal: money. With Rs660 in your pocket, you can visit the prison when you like, for as long as you like, as The News discovered when it sent a reporter undercover to report on the corruption pervading the country’s jails…
I had to spend Rs660 within the premises of the Landhi Prison to visit a prisoner there, despite the fact that the prison superintendent clarified later that no payments at all were required for the purpose.
Located near Quaidabad, off the National Highway, the Landhi Prison is known for various reasons. It is also called the children’s jail (Bachcha jail) and is where Indian fishermen captured by Pakistani border control forces are kept.
The official timing of visiting the prison is from 09:00 a.m. to 02:00 p.m. No visitor is allowed on Sunday. On Fridays, the official visiting time ends at noon. Even though I was visiting at 3.00 p.m., it was soon made apparent that this was not an issue as long as I was willing to pay.
I hired a taxi to get there. The taxi driver dropped me off outside the main gate of the facility, which closely resembles the Bab-e-Khyber monument near Peshawar.
Inside the gates, there is a police post on the left. It was manned by two policemen, who asked me questions about my visit. I told them I was there to visit a prisoner. I was asked to deposit my mobile phone and original NIC with them, and to keep a photocopy of my NIC handy, because it would be required inside. This is standard procedure.
The policemen at the post then told me that it would be beneficial for me regarding future visits if I gave them a little token as a friendly gesture. I could pay this token on my return to collect my belongings, they said. This, it may be noted, is not standard procedure, at least in the official books.
As I entered the compound, I saw on my right hand side a store, ostensibly catering to visitors who wish to buy the prisoner they are visiting something, such as soap, toothpaste, juice etc. There are some plants and trees, and the edifice and environment is clean relative to the Central Prison Karachi.
At the kiosk where I had to submit a copy of my NIC, I was made to pay Rs50 — it was not made clear for what. Upon payment, a number was scribbled on my palm. I noticed a waiting room next to the kiosk. The waiting room was empty, and for some reason, all visitors preferred to sit elsewhere. Many of them were outside, finding shade under the trees to counter the heat.
I went into the installation where visitors meet prisoners. Inside, there were dozens of visitors. The set up was simplistic — a double grill between the visitors and prisoners. One had to talk across the grill. The distance in between was at least one foot. There was a lot of noise by virtue of there being so many visitors in the same area. In addition, policemen stood right behind the prisoners, and were able to listen in on conversations.
I told the prisoner that I wanted to talk to him properly. He said it was possible — if I paid Rs500 to the authorities. I went back outside to the kiosk [where I had previously given Rs50] and told them about my desire to meet the prisoner in person.
Policeman: “Did the prisoner tell you?”
The News: “Yes he did… but can you give me some concession?” (I tried to give Rs300. He refused.)
Policeman: “Absolutely not…you have to deposit Rs500… unless some high up calls and tells me you can pay less.”
I agreed, and gave him Rs500.
Policeman: “Get a form from outside”
I went outside and got a form. It cost Rs10. I filled it in and submitted it at the kiosk. The policeman then signed my hand (second marking) after I gave Rs500. He summoned an orderly. “Take them inside.”
I was led forward towards a huge black heavily-fortified gate. This was where the jurisdiction of the inside of the prison began. As I stepped inside, I had a horrible feeling of being cut off from the outside world — like this was a new world disconnected from the outside.
As soon as I entered, my wrist was stamped.
Orderly: “Leave your things here and go to the guest room.”
I complied and went to a room on the right. Usually visitors of B-class prisoners come here, but there is no official payment that is legally charged. There are less visitors and less noise. It is more comfortable, and the room is furnished with sofas, desks and chairs. I sat for about 20 minutes, talking freely and face-to-face with the prisoner I had come to visit.
As I left, approaching the big gate which had cut me off from the outside world, I was asked to show my stamp. I did, and the big black gate opened. I walked back to the main police post next to the entrance.
The News: “Can I please have my NIC and mobile phone?”
Policeman: “What did we say to you when you were coming in?”
The News: “I have no more money, I paid it all inside.”
Policeman: “Well, think of what will happen to you when you visit next…”
I then settled on paying them Rs100.
I took my belongings and left, walking to the main road. Even though I had come in a taxi, my way back had to be via a bus, because I had given almost all the money I had to the prison. In all, I had paid Rs660. Where the money had gone, I had no clue. No official receipt was issued for this expense.
The News then contacted the Landhi Prison Superintendent Abdul Majeed Siddiqui, and asked him how much it costs to visit a prisoner. “No money is required at all,” he said. He was told about the Rs660 paid during a recent visit to the prison. “I have no knowledge of such practices at the prison and I shall address these issues if they are brought to my knowledge,” was his reply.
The News also tried to contact the Sindh IG Prison for his comments but could not succeed due to his busy schedule.
Source: The News