Poor criminals, with no serious background and who are inside for petty crimes, often become victims in everyone’s hands. Most of the time, they try to commit suicide. According to my opinion, in a certain number of cases bullied criminals who die in brawls are framed as ‘committed suicide in guilt’ just to curtain the inefficient ineffective Indian Jail System.
Indian jails, in reality, are nothing short of a nightmare. In India, two types of prisoners are detained. First, those under trial prisoners whose cases are being investigated/tried and judgement are yet not pronounced. Moreover, they do not even get bail. Nearly two third of Indian prisoners are under trail in Indian jails who are languishing in jail for years. Some women spend 10 years, some with their infants till they become five years of age. Not only the mother, but also even a child goes through hell seeing mother’s jail term. When such children sent off the jail they tend to become criminals or low esteemed suppressed personalities. They see their mother been brutally harassed by authorities inside the jail. They come out with hate and revenge. There is a facility of education for these kids.
The second category is of convicts who are undergoing their pronounced sentences. Both have different daily routines. They are nearly one third of total inmates lodged in Indian jails. Convicts are in minority while under trials are in majority in Indian jails. Their daily routine is little bit more relaxed. Under trails have fixed hour of free life, but convicts have their own relaxation based on their work routine.
Coming back to Mumbai prison, every month, each of the more than 1,000 women at the Aadharwadi prison in Kalyan is given a bar of soap. They have to use this to wash all their clothes, utensils and themselves. Skin ailments are routine. Throughout the day, there are two toilets for all of them to share. Several women have had a series of urinary tract infections. At night, they crowd into a space meant for 150.
1,000 women jailed in a space meant for 150, each making do with one bar of soap to bath and to wash clothes for a whole month. Their children grow up knowing little about the outside world unable to recognise even cats and dogs. This is the world of women prisoners in the two jails that house them in and around Mumbai, one at Byculla and the other at Kalyan. It’s tragic, but true that women prisoners are ostracised much more by their kin than men.
There is a stigma attached to women in prison. They are not supposed to be ‘criminals’, so their families want nothing to do with them. While family members come to the aid of many male prisoners, with women they are reluctant. These female criminals have no one to care for them, neither jail authorities nor family members. No one comes forward to help them with, for instance, another bar of soap. No one offers medical aid or moral support. No one explains where their cases stand, what their legal options are.
Many of these women are facing trial for murdering their husbands or domestic disputes. Families find it difficult to reconcile with this and snap all ties with them. Sometimes NGOs step in and counsel the relatives. Some of them come around. And sometimes, as it happened with a mentally ill woman at the Kalyan prison in 2010, families don’t even know they are in jail and give them up for dead. It was only after extensive counselling that she was able to tell them her family’s address. Then, officials get in touch with them and they are reunited.
The absence of family is felt most when health problems strike. Those suffering from high blood pressure or diabetes require a regular supply of pills. This is possible if their family members buy it and give it to them. Those with no relatives are taken to the nearby JJ hospital only after their condition worsens from lack of medicine. A psychiatrist and a gynaecologist visit the prison once a week and there is a full-time doctor. These women are mentally disturbed and physically exhausted, they become aggressive haters towards each other.
In such an atmosphere, fights are common, and prison guards often have to intervene. Staff and teachers who sometimes visit also need to have tremendous patience. The job of looking into the problems of prisoners is the probation officers (PO) who are appointed by the department of women and child development. But there is a shortage of POs and they are often handed other responsibilities. So inmates are hardly a priority.
Traumatising prison conditions and practices often have damaging and long-term impact on the mental health of inmates especially women. Institutions of correction and custody are as fraught with gender and other biases as the world outside. The World Health Organisation suggests that one in nine of the total prison population of 9 million in the world suffers from some form of mental disorder or illness. The total capacity of women inmates was highest in Tamil Nadu (1,070) followed by Uttar Pradesh (420), West Bengal & Delhi (400 each), Rajasthan (350), Andhra Pradesh (308), Maharashtra (262), Punjab (150), Bihar (83), Kerala (72), Odisha (55) and Tripura (30), according to a NCRB data. There is a need to provide dignity and hygiene to women who serve long sentences inside as well as under trials. Let’s hope some change comes in this dark world.
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