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Prisoners riot in northern India

Mehtab Singh

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By Jyotsna Singh

BBC News, Delhi

Hundreds of prisoners have rioted for several hours in the main jail in India's northern city of Jalandhar, in Punjab state.

Officials said the prisoners were protesting against the alleged high-handedness of the staff.

Around 1,500 prisoners went on the rampage, smashing windows, doors and furniture. They also set fire to the hospital and kitchen.

Police said the protesters also threw stones at prison officials.

'Situation brewing'

One prisoner was injured and the police had to use tear gas and baton-charges to bring the situation under control.

The rioting broke out on Monday morning soon after the prisoners began a hunger strike demanding immediate action against the jail authorities, accusing some of them of mistreating prisoners.

"The situation was brewing up for a few days. The prisoners had a number of complaints including lack of proper food and medicine," a senior policeman, Arpit Shukla told the BBC.

Mr Shukla said the superintendent of the jail had been suspended.

One Sikh prisoner, he said, had accused a jail officer of pulling out some of his hair.

Police said the situation had been brought under control and the prisoners had gone back to their cells.

Mr Shukla said there were reports that some prisoners had attempted to take advantage of the melee to try to get away.

"Jallandhar prison is one of the most secure prisons so nobody was able to escape," Mr Shukla said.

A detailed investigation into the incident has already been ordered.

It comes after nearly 300 communist rebels and their supporters escaped from a prison in the central state of Chhattisgarh in an armed jailbreak less than a month ago.

India's jails are overcrowded. The excruciatingly slow pace of justice is often blamed for this, as thousands of people are kept behind bars awaiting trials.

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