Only God knows if the female inmates in the Amritsar Central Jail were unveiling or hiding the truth in the tales they narrated to the HT team. But the only truth which holds you back, to listen to the beseeching voices of these women behind bars, are the eyes of the innocent babies who they are holding in their arms. The central jail has 200 women inmates. There are also 15 children, who are behind bars for no fault of theirs.
Women inmates bringing up their children behind bars at the central jail in Amritsar on Monday.Sameer Sehgal/ HT
During a visit to the jail, the HT team saw two teachers delivering lessons to kids in a class. The moment these children see a visitor they stand up to say 'Jai Hind' in unison. Central jail superintendent RK Sharma said, "Their destiny brought them here but we are trying to shape their future by imparting them education."
"Women are given education and various types of vocational training so that when they step out in the free world they can earn their bread in a respectful way. Innocent children, who are behind bars because of their mothers, are being given education in the government school, which is on the premises of central jail," he said.
Not only this, when in the female ward while their mothers are busy with sewing machines, there are teachers to teach kids, he added. For their recreational activities, jail authorities have provided them swings within the female ward.
"The women prisoners are kept busy with various activities and alongside we are providing children with special diet, fruits, milk, etc," he added.
About the health care of the kids, jail senior medical officer Dr Amritpal Singh Nibber said, "I live on the jail premises and take care of matters related to health and diet of the inmates. The pregnant women are given best possible attention."
He added that, "A girl, Mehakpreet, who was born in the jail was suffering from a serious disease. We have been able to save her."
Balwinder Kaur, assistant superintendent, female ward, said, "The jail inmates do have petty quarrels, which we have to solve but then they are manageable as they know they are under watch."
Jyoti from Amritsar, who is imprisoned with her husband and has a child, said, "My husband is in the male ward of the same jail but we get to meet on Thursday for 20-25 minutes under the police supervision. We should be imprisoned together or at least the meeting time should be increased for couples like us."
On this, deputy superintendent BS Bhullar said, "The blood relatives of prisoners are allowed in the jail but they have to meet under the authorities' supervision. In case a young prisoner wants to study we allow them and contact educational institutions for them."
Jail superintendent RK Sharma said, "An ex-prisoner completed his MBA and architecture courses in the jail. After getting bail he is living a decent life and running a full-fledged business. We have deployed bright women in office works in the jail. They run PCOs inside jail, fill free legal aid forms, etc."
Kanwaljeet Kaur (23) is in the jail past four years in connection with the murder of her mother-in-law and is in a legal battle to get divorce from her husband Mahinder Pal Singh. "I have got life-term for 20 years, so it is good to remain busy inside the jail and learn managerial qualities by running PCO and managing records."
Another prisoner, Mandeep Kaur (20), who is pursuing BSc (nursing) from Amritsar nursing college was seen helping other inmates. "I was jailed for a crime that I did not commit. It has changed my life, but I did not give up and requested Sharma sir (jail superintended) that I wanted to study and he helped me."
Mandeep Kaur added that, "I have been through with two and half years of the course with one more year to go. I also keep updating my knowledge by talking to the senior medical officer and the jail doctor. I am sure that once out of the jail I would be able to earn my living and live respectfully if I am educated."