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Breaking the Cycle of Neglect in Indian Jails

The news of 196 babies born inside an Indian jail has sparked a conversation nationwide. As per the media reports, there are a total of 196 babies living inside various jails of West Bengal, India, which were born through women prisoners while in custody.
The initial report was put forward at the Calcutta high court on 8th February by advocate Tapas Kumar Bhanja. Tapas was appointed amicus curiae (a friend of the court) to access the situation of prisoners in India back in 2017. 

In his report about the same, Tapas highlighted that the women inmates in West Bengal prisons are getting pregnant while in jail. This has also resulted in the birth of 196 babies. He also requested the count to bar the entry of male staff inside the enclosure of women prisoners, hinting sexual exploitation of women prisoners inside the jail.
After the initial reporting, the court appointed senior advocate Gauarv Agrawal, also an amicus curiae in jail reforms, to enquire about the matter. 

Overcrowded jails, forgotten women: Is this the true cost of "retribution"?
Overcrowded jails, forgotten women: Is this the true cost of "retribution"?

Gaurav Agarwal highlighted that most of the women were already expecting then they were first brought in, some were released during parole/ on bail and came back pregnant, other children came with their mothers at the time of their admission in the jails. The data was cited from reports of received from ADG & IG. 

Senior Advocate Agarwal suggested before the court that a senior most judicial lady officer accompanied by the senior most female superintendent of the police should access the safety measures inside women jails and also ensure adequate health conditions for female inmates in prison.
After the report of Gaurav Agarwal, the initial suspicion of sexual exploitation thankfully appears unfounded in this specific case, it underscores the wider reality of abuse and inadequate conditions faced by women in Indian jails.

Indian Jails are not Designed for Women:

There are a total of 1330 jails in India, out of which 34 are women jails. While data suggests that the number of women in prison rose by 115%, the number of jails rose by mere 3% from 2014 to 2019. 

Indian jails are overcrowded in general. NCRB’s data showed that jails operated at 166.5% of their total capacity in 2022.

While overcrowded conditions plague the entire system, women's sections often bear the brunt. India houses over 40,000 women prisoners, with only 16 states boasting dedicated women's jails.

And the remaining women who don’t find place in these jails are often accommodated in segregated sections of male facilities, which paint the situation of incarcerated women in india. The Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) report, "How India treats women in prisons," brought forward the instance of a woman in West Bengal allegedly gang-raped by male inmates within the segregated section.

The report also highlights the stories of physical and sexual violence, inadequate sanitation and hygiene, limited access to healthcare, and lack of legal aid, which pierce through the silence.

To add to this, the lack of gender specific healthcare facilities, lack of sanitization facilities and unavailability of proper food and water creates a breeding ground for diseases and infection. 

A 2022 article in ‘The Hindu’ cited a case of overcrowding in Byculla Women's Jail in Mumbai, where 1,200 women resided in a facility meant for 300, leading to hygiene concerns and potential disease outbreaks.

These factors create a breeding ground for various diseases, including respiratory infections, skin infections, and waterborne illnesses. A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Scientific Research and Management documented high rates of tuberculosis and other lung infections among women inmates in Tamil Nadu jails.

A 2020 report by CJP highlighted the limited availability of mental health services in Indian prisons, leaving women vulnerable to psychological distress.

Harsh Conditions in Indian Jails are Justified under the Umbrella of "Retribution":

The idea of retribution is disturbing when mixed with the philosophy of Karma. While punishment plays a role in the justice system, it does not entail the right to overlook abuse under this guise. This, in itself, undermines the rehabilitation efforts.

Reports by several organizations including the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights document numerous instances of torture and abuse in Indian jails, including solitary confinement, beatings, harassment, physical torture, and denial of healthcare. 

Blaming prisoners for abuse based on past actions ignores the inherent power imbalance in jails. A 2022 NCRB report reveals that a staggering 75% of women inmates are still under trial; haven't been convicted, yet face potential abuse. Attributing blame without due process is a dangerous trend that perpetuates injustice.

Concluding Words: 

 Jails are designed for criminals, but criminals are human too. They should not be treated as a bag of sacks, which can be placed in any cell and with any type of condition. 

Addressing the health crisis in Indian women's jails also demands a collective effort. The aim should not only the absence of diseases but also the presence of well-being among these citizens. 

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