Women prisoners in Thane and Kalyan jail battle depression as they cannot meet kin
A 38-year-old mother of two, an undertrial lodged in Kalyan’s Adharwadi Jail for a kidnapping case, used to meet her children regularly till March this year.
For more than nine months since the lockdown was implemented, she lost touch with her children. Her 70-year-old mother who used to take care of her children lost her job as a housemaid. The woman was depressed and worried about her two children and contacted NGOs, who managed to get in touch with her children only to find they could barely manage two square meals.
Like her, many others lodged in women’s prison in Adharwadi and Thane Central Jail have lost touch with their families or children in this lockdown. As per the protocol, no one is allowed in or out of the jail in order to control the pandemic in the prison.
Based on a request made by Prayas to be ADG Prisons, the prison department started video calling facility for prisoners to talk to their families and their children including their children living in shelter homes. Many mothers in prison have spoken to their children through this facility.
Social workers and criminologists working with the inmates claimed that women, children and the undertrials lodged in Thane and Kalyan prisons are the most affected in the lockdown as their outdoor contact is completely lost. NGOs are not allowed inside. Thus, those children staying in the prison who earlier had many games and activities planned now have nothing to do.
As per the record, Adharwadi Jail in Kalyan has 120 women prisoners while Thane Central Jail has 80. Children up to the age of six are allowed to stay with their mothers. Accordingly, Kalyan prison has 15 children and eight stay with their mother in Thane Jail.
Senior social worker of Prayas, a field action project of TISS, Reena Jaiswar, who works for Kalyan jail inmates said, “We are responsible for the prisoners’ children and take care of their activities. Since the past few years, as per the rules, we have started taking out those children for two hours for classes (Anganwadi) or any activity near the jail premises. In those two hours, if they see a car or an auto rickshaw on the road, they are happy. Since the lockdown, there is no activity for these children. They also miss the Anganwadi food that they loved.”
Now, these children don’t have games, education, fun activities and television to pass their time. With no one allowed inside the prisons anymore, Jaiswar said, “The state should have come up with a few helplines or a system to interact with the inmates and their children, and help them with their problems. These people are completely out of touch with whatever is happening in the outside world. NGOs are providing things from the outside that are necessary for them to survive, like Vitamin C tablets and winter clothes, though attention should also be given to the mental health of the inmates and their children in these times.”
Talking about the 38-year-old woman, Jaiswar informed that the woman was an accessory in the case as she had helped the prime accused to get married to a minor girl. Her husband left her with her two children aged 10 and 11 a few years ago. After she was arrested, her old 70-year-old mother worked as a maid to take care of them.
Jaiswar said, “The grandmother had no job during the lockdown. She borrowed money from a few relatives. The woman had not seen her children and was worried. We came to know in May and went to their house when we saw they did not have anything left to eat. We arranged food grains and other essentials including immunity booster for the children and grandmother, and made them speak with their mother. Till now, we have been providing them with all the essentials. But the children are now insisting on meeting their mother.”
Her trial was about to get over in March but it got delayed in the lockdown.
Thane jail superintendent Harshad Ahirrao said, “For almost four to five months of the lockdown, we could not do anything for the children as we ourselves were short staffed. But, since the past two months, we have taken volunteers from women prison cells who can teach different subjects or activities to them. Some of these women are educated. A few are uneducated but they know how to keep the children engaged. So, accordingly, they have arranged different sessions for the children daily.”
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