For Soni Sori, while her custody in the police station itself was riddled with torture and sexual harassment, her time in the jail was also a harrowing experience. She wouldn’t eat in her initial days inside. One of her fellow inmates advised her, “If you want to stay alive, you better eat. Take out the insects from your food and eat it. This is what you get and that is how we have survived, for the past several years.” And she did the same, took aside all the insects and ate her food.
On March 11, Citizens for Peace and Justice (
There were also video testimonies from Soni Sori, tribal rights activist and teacher from Bastar, and of Richa Singh and Pooja Shukla, both student activists from Uttar Pradesh. These were presented in front of the jury comprising of Flavia Agnes, a prominent women’s rights lawyer, Kalpana Sharma, a senior journalist, Muniza Khan, an academic and social scientist from Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and Farhana Shah, a senior criminal defence lawyer.
Women Jails Plagued With Overcrowding, Poor Food And Hygiene
“When we were arrested and sent to jail, the barrack which could house 30 women had close to 100 inmates. There was no space to eat, sleep or move around,” recounted Roma Malik, about the time when she and her
Inmates, who were Dalits, would be made to sleep near the toilets, and they would also be made to clean them
Women constitute 4.3 % of the total persons in jail, which is a total number of 17,834 women until 2015, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data. Over the past 15 years, a number of women in jails have seen an increasing trend with them constituting 3.3 % of all prisoners in 2000. In spite of this, of the total of 1401 jails in the country, only 18 jails are exclusively for women. This means that a majority of women inmates are housed in the smaller women’s enclosures of general prisons. The Model Prison Manual, brought in by the Ministry of Home Affairs which guarantee rights for prisoners state that there must at least be one women’s jail in every state.
Overcrowding for women has pronounced effects. It translates into having lesser toilets, bathrooms and space to rest and sleep. Many recounted of women sleeping on the floor and near the
“I didn’t eat the food for 5 months when I was in jail,” said Sukalo Gond, who was helped with fruits and other food by the Sanghatan during her arrest in 2015. “The food was terrible, it was not only insufficient but rotten too,” she added. Soni Sori also stated the food being of extremely poor quality and insufficient. She and her inmates protested with a hunger strike to know and receive the stated quantity of food they were entitled to, and for ensuring other rights.
No Attention To Physical Or Mental Health
Nazifa Yasmin was born to Rashminara Begum while she was in the detention camp. She was incarcerated for being a ‘D-voter’ or doubtful voter while she was 3 months pregnant. “I couldn’t get proper food and sleep, the conditions were very unhealthy. I had even started to feel depressed,” she said.
Not many children are as fortunate to live as Nazifa. Sukalo narrated the story of her fellow inmate who had to give birth to her son in the bathroom of the jail, in spite of repeatedly asking the jail staff to be taken to the hospital. She was finally taken after the birth of her son but he died on the way.
Harassing and beating of women in jails for protesting or asking for their rights was something that came up in everybody’s accounts.
These are not rare stories, there are many women who give birth in the jail and there are many children under 6 years of age who are living in the jail with the women, not having seen the outside world. A total of 450 children of convicted women and 1310 children of women under trial are lodged in the prisons, until 2015. Pregnant women are entitled to special diets and their special needs pre and post-natal should be catered to, according to the standards mentioned in Model Prison Manual, 2016. But in reality, it isn’t followed.
Sukalo remembers not being physically harassed by the jail authorities since she had the backing of the Union, but other inmates were beaten and harassed if they complained, she said. Harassing and beating of women in jails for protesting or asking for their rights was something that came up in everybody’s accounts. Sukalo also suffered from ill health during her jail time and was not given proper medical attention, as prescribed by the Manual. Others too spoke of there never being any women doctors to attend to them.
Poor attention to physical health, constant harassment or threat of harassment and inhuman living conditions take a toll on the mental health of the inmates. 1.2 % of the inmates, which amount to 5203 persons, were identified to be suffering from mental illnesses, by the end of 2015. Of the 51 women inmates who died in 2015, 3 had committed suicide. Zamser Ali, from the
Also read: Soni Sori Wins The 2018 Front Line Defenders Award
“One does not expect the jail to be protected from the patriarchal mindset that is prevalent in the society,” said Pooja Shukla, and rightfully so. Women have way lesser space to live,
CJP plans to collate the issues raised from the experiences of these women and continue working on them. They also plan to conduct more of such public hearings in other parts of the country to shed light on the problems of women prisoners and gaps in the prison system.
Also read: Patriarchy And The Indian Jails: The Plight Of Female Prisoners In India
In her testimony, Rajkumari said, how there were no women constables when she was arrested. Speaking in her local dialect of Hindi, exuberating with contagious confidence, she said to the police, “Do not think you’ve scared me. And if you think you’ve won by arresting me, then you’re wrong because I’ll continue my fight from the jail.”