Those 26 jails must be gradually shut down. It is the responsibility of the people
While I was working in the Tihar jail something unexpected happened. A female prisoner got pregnant. Her husband was also in the prison at that time. He accused the Jail Superintendent of being responsible for his wife’s pregnancy. The court ordered an enquiry in this regard. She failed to recognize the jail superintendent in the identification period. The case was dropped. The superintendent was exculpated. But the enquiry progressed. We found out that this lady was having sex with a friend of hers. That too, every time they were taken to the court.
The same thing happened a second time. The enquiry found out that a janitor who regularly went to the female prison had sex with the inmate and got her pregnant. In both the cases mentioned here, enquiries were conducted and measures were taken. Female prisoners could create unique headaches. More troublesome are those female prisoners who are arrested on charges of drug-peddling. We have a special team among us who take care of these prisoners.
Like popular movies and popular imagination say, female prisoners are not subjected to any kind of sexual molestation. Female prisons are taken care of by female officers. They manage these jails. These prisons also fall under charges of torture of prisoners, or mental harassment. The prisoners file complaints at the court. The court orders enquiries. Usually these enquiries find that the accusations were baseless. Enquiries are usually done earnestly. The officers in charge of such enquiries are completely convinced that the inmates are also people with human rights.
I am reminded of Chandri Sharma at this juncture. She was arrested on the charge of murder. I became acquainted with her in 1981 when I entered service at the Tihar jail. She was arrested for having murdered the spouse of Dr. Jain, a renowned optical surgeon. She was part of Dr. Jain’s conspiracy. There were two other people arrested in this regard. They were both sentenced to death. Chandri had eight years to serve in the prison. After she was released from the prison, she used to write me beautiful letters. She used to write them on perfumed letter pads. Her letters were intense and passionate like the perfume on the page. “Sunil sir, I so love the way you behave,” she wrote once. I had kept some letters for a long time. Then, last year, I threw all of them away.
Not all states in India have their own female prisons. Even then, according to the law, the female prisoners have to be kept in a way that they are not in contact with the male prisoners. A few progressive states in our country now give separate prisons for female prisoners. But in some states the male and female prisoners are put together in the same jail. These prisons do not house both genders in the same cell though. They arrange a part of the jail to house the female prisoners.
India now has a total of 26 female jails. Five of them are in Tamil Nadu. Kerala is in the second position with three female jails in Trivandrum, Kannur and Viyyur. Bihar, Gujarath, Delhi and Rajasthan has two female prisons each. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Misoram, Orissa, Punjab, Telengana, Tripura, UP, and West Bengal has one female prison each. Two percentage of India’s total prisons are female jails. In the last 15 years there has been a 61 percent increase in the number of female delinquents. Male statistics have risen by 33 percent. One has to remember that it was a 17 year old girl who turned herself a human bomb in the Sri Perumputhur Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi on 21 May 1991. She was not even grown enough to read the word LIFE as one whole, when she became an LTTE human bomb. Another name that we usually associate with the Rajeev Gandhi assassination is that of Nalini Sreeharan - one of the four who were sentenced to death by the Supreme Court. The partner of LTTE activist V Sreeharan, she escaped gallows only because she gave birth to a baby while she was in the prison. Sonia Gandhi intervened on humanitarian grounds in the case of Nalini and brought down her death sentence to a life-term imprisonment. She was considered a Class-A criminal of the jail till 1999.
If the criminal is an income tax payee, or is a graduate, she is usually housed in a class-A jail in Tamil Nadu. Tihar has no such categorizations though. Everyone is housed in Class-C jails. Once, in a lightning inspection, we found a mobile phone in Nalini’s custody. Afterwards, she was brought down to lower class jails. She was shifted from Puzhal jail to Vellore. She filed a petition with the Madras Highcourt that she had already completed 20 years of her term and that it is much longer than the 14 years of life-term imprisonment. The state government turned down the petition. Murugan, Perarivaalan, and Santhan - the other three with Nalini - were sentenced to death but their punishment was also later cut down to life-term.
Another team that awaits death sentence is the Nasik sisters: Seema Mohan Gavith and Renuka Kiran Shinde. Their mother Anjana was also sentenced to death with these children. But she died while serving her term in prison. The charges against them were that they kidnapped children between six months and seven years and used them as urchins. Once the kids became a bother the children’s heads were smashed and the bodies would be dumped in deserted streets. There were 13 such cases against them. They had kidnapped around 40 children. The prosecution won nine cases. Five murders in these nine cases were the reason for the death sentence. This serial killing that startled India sent much tremors down the society. A documentary namely Posham Pa was made focussing on Seema, Anjana and Renuka. These women were arrested in November 1966. Anjana died in jail the next year. The trial continued through 2001 and 2006. In 2006 the Supreme Court issued the death sentence. The plea presented to the President in 2014 was rejected inordinately. If the sentence is carried out, Seema-Renuka sisters will be the first women to be hanged to death in India. Kidnapping children, serial killings, domestic violence deaths, women trafficking, criminal disguise, breach of trust, embezzlements -- the list of crimes with female delinquents is quite long.
There are some regulations to be followed to arrest women. They cannot be arrested before sunrise or after sunset, if there is no prior permission from a First Class judicial magistrate. Only female officers can arrest women. They cannot be arrested if the officials are wearing police uniforms. The officers should be careful not to be too conspicuous. If the arrested woman has children below 18 years old they should be dispensed as the mother wishes. The children should be entrusted with the person she suggests. If there is no one with whom the children can be entrusted, it falls under the duty of the police to entrust the children under the care of child-care centers.
The 2016 Model Prison Manual says so: it is a huge responsibility to safeguard female prisoners from harms such as exploitation and molestation. Therefore, all states should have female prisons with adequate facilities. It has not been made possible yet. Uttarakhand and Telengana has jails where the number of female inmates have gone above the limits of maximum intake. Though we are dismissive about the scenario, one should better be aware of the rising percentage of female delinquents and crimes with the involvement of women. As per the latest statistics, more than three lakh female prisoners are now held in Indian prisons. Though internationally female prisoners are less in number compared to male prisoners, the ratio of rise in imprisonment shows that more women are entering the scene and that their percentage is significantly higher than men. Most female prisoners, 50.5 percentage, are between thirty and fifty years of age. 31.3 percent of prisoners are between 18 and 30 years of age.
Uttar Pradesh, with 2667cells, has the maximum number of women’s prison cells in India. Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal respectively take the next best positions. As per a survey conducted by Thailand Institute of Justice, though the total number of male prisoners is higher than the number of female prisoners, in each continent, the ratio is on a rise tilting towards the increasing number of female prisoners.
As per the statistics from Tihar jail, maximum number of female prisoners in India are arrested on charges of murder, drug peddling, and women trafficking. Murder is the most common charge. There will be women who are pregnant while they are jailed. They have to be treated with utmost care. Everything has to be done in consultation with the jail supervisor. Lady doctors must routinely give check-ups and see to it that the woman is properly looked after. As she nears her delivery date, the woman would be admitted to a nearby government hospital. Giving birth to a baby in the jail is just the fancy of creative writers. We arrange for a safe delivery at the hospital, that is about it.
As per the jail regulations, when the childbirth happens, the mother should not be under jail custody. In the birth certificate of the child, the name of the jail shall not be entered at all. It should not say that the birth occurred while the mother was in custody. The documents will only say that the birth occurred at the hospital. Neither should the mother feel depressed later that she delivered the baby while she was held in custody nor should the child some time in future feel depressed about the fact that he or she was born while his or her mother was held in custody. The child can be with the mother till it is six years of age. There are crushes for kids, in the Tihar Jail. Nursing mothers will be served a special diet. The child also will be given the same consideration. Apart from the staff appointed by the jail, during the delivery, a relative of the woman can stay with her till she leaves the hospital. National Model Prison Manual instructs that Urine pregnancy test kis may be made available for free in the jails and that if the inmate wants an abortion, safe medical atmosphere for the same maybe arranged for the same. Nursing mothers and pregnant women have relaxations in their jail duties. If the mother and kid do not have aadhaar cards the jail authorities must arrange for providing them with the same. All relaxations and welfare plans that the government has declared must be made available to these prisoners as well.
We teach them to baking, pickling, computer maintenance, and bed-stitching in the female prisons. They say an idle brain is a devil's workshop. So we don’t allow them to remain idle. In Tihar we installed an FM radio inside the jail. We let the women choose songs they liked. Also we channeled their energies to tailoring, embroidery and other such menial works. Usually women who are arrested on account of simple charges are considered for bails. In most cases, bail will be issued. Only when they are involved in heinous crimes do they get locked up permanently. This is not so in the case of men. Bailable or non-bailable cases will be charged on them most of the time simultaneously.
Whatever has been said above concerns the class that has no political strings to pull nor very strong financial bases. The other class, which comprises people in high positions, charged with corruption cases, or those who are arrested for tax-evasion, do not consider these clauses applicable to them. Jails will take pains to arrange for them better comforts than what they had enjoyed in the outside world. It is all about survival. Those who are politically or financially backed up do not worry much about being jailed. While Sasikala was in jail, D. Roopa IAS was the Jail DIG. She complained that the jail superintendent allowed Sasikala to go home every night and will readmit her in the morning. Roopa also petitioned that Sasikala was being given a very luxurious treatment in the jails.
Female prisoners do become violent. Usually this happens when the jail wardens beat them or humiliate them. Usually, it is the ITP act prisoners who behave like this. Many sex workers get imprisoned without sufficient evidence under the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act. They are experts in creating dramatic scenes in the jails. They will neither be ready to act according to jail rules nor will they respect the jail discipline. The wardens will be forced to use violence. And that will end up in problems.
During my service I have come across only disciplined female prisoners. They were studious about observing jail regulations. I have visited many jails outside the nation to research how much of their systems can be put into practice here. A few female prisons outside India impressed me with the prisoners’ menu. We need to improve the food in our jails. But in comparison with ours, their jails offer prisoners really disappointing living conditions. Jail for them is a complete lockout from the outside world. They cannot have enough water, sunlight, or enough view of the sky. Our jails are very different. They are spacious. Prisoners can play, or exercise, or practice Yoga. We have a separate schedule for Physical training. I paid a visit to Singapore jails once. It is a totally shut out space. They cannot see the open sky. Our prisoners sleep on the floor. In Singapore, they sleep in spaces like our railway platforms. Like birds are jostled into cages, the prisoners will be pushed into the platforms. Luckier ones will get a place to sleep. He could sleep. It is the same in England too. There, prisoners are served great food. Except for that it is much the same as the Singapore jails: all closed down and shut out.
Every human confined to a jail would be of necessity a little broken in mind, irrespective of the gender. But women usually appear a little more emotionally tense than men. For that reason, the jails provide them full-time services of psychiatrists, counselors, and psychiatrically trained social workers. Even so, we need to eventually close down all female prisons. That does not mean we need to club both genders in jails. It is the responsibility of the society to see that the crime rate comes down. It has become a commonplace now to say: where there is a Law there is a Prison. We need to change that. We need people to say: There is Law there, and therefore no Prisons. Each citizen should lead himself towards that brand of common sense.