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Women liberation behind bars

A new initiative by the District Legal Services Authority has given 45 women inmates at Burail Jail and their children a new ray of hope for a better future

punjab Updated: Aug 14, 2018 23:58 IST
Aneesha Bedi
Aneesha Bedi
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
NDPS,Model Jail,Burail
Paramjit is among the many women prisoners of Burail Jail who benefited from the fortnight-long campaign by the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) to ensure that women inmates and their children are taken care of.(Representative Image)

It was during a visit to the Model Jail in Burail in June that doctors diagnosed 35-year-old Paramjit Kaur, facing trial in an NDPS Act case, with severe depression. A doctor from the psychiatry department of GMCH-32 said it appeared as though she had lost all hope in the system. Medical treatment was started soon after and nearly two months on, Paramjit is showing signs of hope and positivity.

Paramjit is among the many women prisoners of Burail Jail who benefited from the fortnight-long campaign by the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) to ensure that women inmates and their children are taken care of. The DLSA collaborated with the education department, the government hospital in Sector 32 as well as the social welfare department to hold four awareness camps and a medical camp as part of this campaign following guidelines from the National State Legal Services Authority (NALSA).

The challenges

Today the panel of advocates, often referred to as jail advocates, which visits the jail regularly, is happy with the changes in Paramjit. She wasn’t the only one suffering from depression. There were many other women inmates, either under trial or convicted, who were battling anxiety issues.

It was only natural considering that some weren’t even aware of the nature of cases pending against them or the stage of trial they were at. Being illiterate, they couldn’t even pen letters seeking help or highlighting the inconvenience caused to them, let alone draft petitions. Lack of finances only made matters worse.

At present, there are 45 women inmates at Burail Jail, four of them with toddlers who need education and other facilities.

Training for freedom

The DLSA gave these women special training and sessions on legal rights, functioning of legal services authority, women rights, and POCSO Act.

Finding a huge gap in the range, level, and quality of vocational training given to women and men inmates, the lawyers also offered them new courses, including one in computers.

DLSA secretary-cum -chief judicial magistrate Amarinder Sharma said, “The aim was to sensitise the inmates and ensure that women remain busy and motivated even after leaving prison. Women are more prone to depression and anxiety when they are under trial or lodged with other criminals in jail. It was important to address them and ensure proper counseling.”

A team of legal volunteers also interacted with the children of some of these inmates. Rubinderjit Singh Brar, director school education (DSE), confirmed that these children, aged between 3 and 4, will be admitted to the nearest school. He said efforts will be made by the school itself to pick and drop the children. These children have already been provided books, colours and painting material so that they can channelise their energy and time in a constructive manner.

Finding help within

The campaign also gauged the individual talents of the inmates. It found that Rekha, 40, who is facing trial in a cheque bounce case under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, was good at understanding legal jargon besides explaining various schemes to prison inmates. Observing these skills, the social welfare department officials with the DLSA team appointed her a para-legal volunteer.

A subsequent report said this recognition boosted her confidence, and gave her new hope. The advocates who visited the jail for a follow-up in July observed that she had been extending legal services to other women inmates, thereby acting as a bridge between the lawyers visiting the jail and women prisoners.

Reform and rehabilitation

The campaign also tried to keep these women gainfully employed. A DLSA member said educational and vocational skills among women prisoners build self-confidence and promote better integration with society. It also makes them less nervous about their future. Keeping this in mind, the social welfare and education department officials have been making regular visits to the jail.

Out of 45, ten inmates expressed keen interest in tailoring, while eight others wanted to be trained as beauticians. Sharma said they are also introducing computer courses besides teaching inmates to make soft toys.

The state of women inmates

The number of women prisoners in India has gone up by 61% over the past 15 years, far outstripping the growth rate of 33% in the number of male prisoners, but prison infrastructure has failed to keep pace.

It is learnt that women prisoners are often confined to smaller wards, and their needs are not accorded priority. Their small numbers – they constitute 4.43% of the national population – ensure they remain low on policy priority, and the coverage of facilities such as sanitary napkins, pre- and post-natal care for pregnant mothers is patchy. In many jails, for instance, a pieces of cloth is used in place of pads.

In 2006, the Supreme Court through the landmark judgment of R D. Upadhyay v. State of AP and others had ordered the Centre and states to take care of pregnant inmates and dependent children lodged with mothers in jails across the country.

A study ‘Socio-Legal Status of Women Prisoners and their Dependent Children: A Study of Central Jails’ carried out by National Law University’s Asha Bhandari, said there is a need to sensitise the prison staff about issues that may arise from a prisoner’s history of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse.

First Published: Aug 14, 2018 23:58 IST