By Sheshu Babu*
While prisons in the country in general lack basic amenities and prisoners are made to live in sub-human conditions, women in jails suffer more than their male counterparts in most states. In its own report, the National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB) has acknowledged that overcrowding is one of the major problem affecting inmates which results in lack of hygiene, lack of sleep, etc. and this is more prominent in women who are forced to live for years in jail.
According to the report, women inmates are more densely packed in Chhattisgarh state than any other state in the country as per 2017 data compiled by NCRB with a staggering 166.4% occupancy rate. (“Chhattisgarh Prisons – Most Overcrowded for Women Inmates , 23 States and UTs Don’t Have Women-Only Jails”, Suhas Munshi, updated October 22 2019, News18.com).
It is followed by Uttarakhand with an occupancy rate of 155.3%. In terms of women-only jails, the most overcrowded jails were in West Bengal with an occupancy rate of 142.04 per cent followed by the state of Maharashtra with 119.85%.
Another astounding data emerged from the report is that of the total number of women inmates in the country in 2017, which stood at 18,873, only 16% (3,019) were lodged in women jails. Around 84% ( 15,854) were lodged in other type of jails. Jharkhand (99.64%), Bihar (96.29%) and Maharashtra (94.49%) were among the highest with female inmates in other jails except women jails.
This reflects the pathetic treatment of women in prisons. Not only they have to endure long terms of sentences, they have also to follow horrible living conditions. The women who were incarcerated like Soni Sori wrote extensively on the unbearable and depressing situation in prisons.
The latest report published after one year’s delay, has presented some new data. Report includes cyberstalking and cyberbullying of women. A total of 555 cases relating to the crimes have been registered across India in 2017 with Maharashtra registering most cases -301- among the states. (“Cyber crimes against women to sexual abuse of boys: What new data in NCRB 2017 covers”, by Geetika Mantri and Sanyukta Dharmadhikari, October 25 2019, thenewsminute.com). The cyber crimes against children has also been presented in the report.
There is a need to reflect upon the grim and tragic situation and initiate speedy prison reforms specially in case of women inmates. Many prisons have no adequate medical and non-medical women staff to look after them in emergency situation.
According to NCRB data of 2014, 55 female inmates died within prison premises during 2012 of which 47 were reported as ‘natural deaths’ and five as ‘suicides’ and three as a result of ‘assault by outsiders’ (“Women jails exiguous in the country: female staff minimal”, by Press Trust of India, published September 7 2014, indianexpress.com). Even some women are made to involve in clerical work in jails. They are also forced to clean up toilets and rooms used by men.
Most of the inmates are undertrials and are imprisoned under false charges. They have to bear male oppression and abuse. They are made to bear patriarchal practices with jail staff humiliating them.
The worsening situation should be addressed urgently. Activists involved in civil rights and rights of prisoners should take concrete steps in improving the condition of women prisoners.
*The writer from anywhere and everywhere is interested in human rights