A Life of Uncertainties: Dark Realities of Women Behind Bars

Posted on July 1, 2012 in Society

By Sonakshi Madan:

“While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now I’ll fight; while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight, I’ll fight to the very end!”
– William Booth

The poignant condition of women behind bars is a macula on humanity. Vociferated as filth of society, these women are subjected to intense suffering. The concept of human rights reveals a plethora of discrepancies when it comes to them.
The question that emanates is: “Why should you worry about these criminals?”. The vindication for this question was well given in Charles Sobhraj vs. Superintendent (1978), “Like you and me, prisoners are also human beings. Hence, all such rights except those that are taken away in the legitimate process of incarceration still remain with the prisoner. These include rights that are related to the protection of basic human dignity as well as those for the development of the prisoner into a better human being”. If a woman contravenes a decree or commits a crime, it does not mean that she will be knocked off as a human being and be refrained from the basic rights of life.

Melancholy due to estrangement from family, and the ubiquitous depression and ennui are not the only problems. Female prisoners face the added peril of sexual predation and a boorish regime during pregnancy. A United Nations report in 1997 tracked down that more than two dozen states permitted pregnant women to be hogtied while being transported to hospitals for treatment.

Ratnakumari, the jail matron at Kottayam Sub-Jail exposed the bitter truth that some of the women under trial are like sitting ducks for a mammoth begging racket, being controlled by a gang leader and his agents. “One agent visits an inmate, claiming to be her brother and, two months later, he is back to visit another one of his so-called sisters,” she says.

For the felicity of women prisoners and to thwart abuse, U.S. has enacted The Prison Rape Elimination Act, 2003. But in India, we can’t even foresee such acts. Even the jail manual is inept to sway the crimes against women prisoners.

Prisoners are unaware of IMB (Independent Monitoring Board), which is a coterie of independent people ordained to act as a ‘watchdog’ in prisons. A complaint can be voiced to/lodged with the IMB at any time. Prisoners even have the right to speak directly to a member of the IMB.

Someone has to be held accountable for this dismal condition, the question now is whether the blame lies with the legislature or the jail authorities.