(This was published in the editorial page of Millennium Post on 16th November, 2017)
Dr Vartika Nanda
She started her new life. She was 65. She was an illiterate but spirited woman. All of a sudden, one fine day, she decided to study further and, continuing her struggle with new words and phrases, in due course, passed the Basic Buniyaadi Saksharta Pariksha from National Institute of Open Schooling, Noida. Now, she devotes her time spreading the light of adult education. She is Jetun, a life convict, and presently confined in Bhilwara Jail of Rajasthan. Jetun received Tinka Tinka Bandini Award 2016 for her contributions in the field of literacy.
Similarly, Sundara, lodged in Mahila jail in Lucknow, has done a commendable job by converting the jail’s barren lands into a huge green space. Within 18 months, she has changed the entire spare space of the prison by producing a variety of organic vegetables, to fulfil the dietary needs of the inmates, and eventually producing enough to now start supplying even to neighboring jails. Without any special facility, this jail has come a long way in this field, all because of her. She has given manicured lawns and blooming gardens to the jail, giving it a cleaner look to the otherwise a gloomy environment. She is presently serving life imprisonment.
These two women are among those twenty-six, who were chosen for the Tinka Tinka Bandini Awards for the year 2016. They have two specific things in common. They are all inmates serving long sentences, and they are keen to bring a change – in themselves and also at the place confined within the four walls.
Prisons arouse curiosity. Across the globe, in all countries, prisons are seen as institutions built to execute punishments and reprisals. However, what generally remains ignored is the inescapable fact that after the initial phase of loss and repentance, they struggle against time and look for moments that can fill their lives with some hope.
According to the latest data released by the National Crime Records Bureau, there are almost 1400 prisons in India, out of which only 18 are women-specific, the first having been established in Maharashtra at Yeravada. In other jails, women’s jail is at most a unit of the main jail.
In India, prisons are a State subject, covered by Item No. 4 under the State List in the Seventh Schedule of theConstitution of India. The management and administration of prisons come under the exclusive domain of thestate governments, and is governed by the Prisons Act 1894 and the prison manuals of the respective state governments. In this light, all the states have the primary role, responsibility and authority to change the current prison laws, rules and regulations whereas the Central Government is entrusted with the responsibility to provide assistance to the states on issues like the repair and renovation of old prisons, vocational training, modernization of prison industries, training OF prison personnel, and for creation of high-security enclosures and improving security in prisons.
Prisons were never designed with the mindset to accommodate the aspect of womanhood. Thus, many issues remain unanswered. Any sort of serious research has also barely scratched the surface of this issue. Since prisons are also seen as a major social stigma, those who come out of the jail also refrain to talk about the change that is much needed. It is imperative to keep in mind the views of the Supreme Court of India, which has laid down three broad principles regarding imprisonment and custody. First, a person in prison does not become a non-person. Second, a person in prison is entitled to all human rights within the limitations of imprisonment and third, there is no justification for aggravating the suffering already inherent in the process of incarceration.
Justice Krishna Iyer, a crusader of human rights once said, “Bail is the rule, and jail, the exception”. Similarly, the Model Prison Manual (MPM) drafted by a Committee appointed in 1957 came into existence in 1960. This draft model prison manual became a model for different States and Union Territories of India for adopting their new prison manual. However, the fact remains, that still most of the prisons are far behind in adopting the recommendations made in the Model Prison Manual.
More than 370 women convicts with their 450 children and 1,149 women undertrials with their 1,310 children were lodged in various prisons in the country by the end of 2015. In the year 2013, over 1800 children spent their childhood in prisons in India. These children are permitted to accompany their mothers to the prisons till six years of age. Since prisons were never designed with the mindset to accommodate the aspect of womanhood and also childhood, needs of women prisoners generally go unnoticed.
Children staying with their mothers live under a shadow of fear and uncertainty. They become undeclared criminals who are forced to spend the most important time of their lives behind bars even without committing any crime. Policy makers rarely realize that there is a vast vacuum and major reforms are required for these innocent souls.
Once these inmates leave the jail, another journey starts. It becomes very difficult for them to get accepted in the society. If the jails give them the freedom, opportunity and the atmosphere to learn new skills and hone their talents, one can still hope for a better life for them. Thus, the reform process of human beings in jails cannot and should not be ignored.