The recent incident of the death of an inmate at the Byculla jail in Mumbai portrays the sorry state of women’s prisons across the country, which needs attention on an urgent basis.
In the incident, the jailer, along with the guards, of Byculla prison, brutally beat up convict Manjula Shetye, 38, for complaining about two eggs and five pieces of pav (bread) missing from the ration, as reported in the media. But can just raising voice against some missing food items be the reason to assault and beat the inmate to death? As Mumbai Police’s Crime Branch have arrested the jailer and five guards in the case of the alleged custodial killing of an inmate, let’s hope the truth will be out.
In the same case, around 200 inmates were booked for rioting, destruction of property and causing injury to prison staff. In the rioting, Indrani Mukerjea, who is accused of murdering her daughter, Sheena Bora, was also booked for rioting and so the news immediately got media attention, otherwise, the problems of women prison at Byculla would have gone unnoticed.
Later, a 30-member panel of women MPs met Mumbai’s Byculla prison inmates on two days in connection with rioting and the death of the inmate in the prison. The panel included DMK’s Kanimozhi, TMC’s Satabdi Roy and NCP’s Supriya Sule. The MPs committee for the empowerment of women is likely to prepare a report on women in detention and access to justice based on their interaction with the inmates and make recommendations accordingly.
According to a legal expert, Indrani Mukerjea is aware of the law and so she raised her voice, otherwise, the prisoners who are lodged in the jail from many years face many difficulties but their voices are never heard outside the four walls of the prison. The prison system works in a very secretive way and even lawyers and other organisations including the various NGOs working towards the cause need special permission to meet the inmates. So only the government and court can interfere with the working of the prisons and they too interfere when cases like these are highlighted in the media. Also, the Human Rights Commission can interfere when incidents like the murder of inmate come to light, but most of the time, such incidents go unnoticed. In the case of Byculla prison, the women’s prison is on the same campus where the men’s prison is. So the movement of women is restricted even more. He also pointed out that there is less staff across many jails and most of the prisons are overcrowded as under-trials and prisoners are all kept together. So there is more work pressure on the prison officials, who find it difficult to deal with various issues faced by the prisoners.
Looking at other issues, no proper counselling is provided to women inmates, which is very important. Counsellors play a very important role in the correctional system. They play a vital role when the inmates are lodged in prisons and how they can face the real world once they are released. Other problems include mental and physical health,
inconveniences faced by pregnant inmates and the ones who have small children.
Meanwhile, where Sasikala is lodged inside the Bengaluru’s Parappana Agrahara central prison, she is given a VVIP treatment. A report by DIG (Prisons) D Roopa claims that Sasikala, in violation of the prison norms, is being provided special facilities, including an exclusive kitchen for her meals and extended visiting hours, in the prison where she is serving time following her conviction in a disproportionate assets case. There were also allegations that Sasikala has paid a bribe of Rs 2 crore to get the special treatment in the four walls of the prison. Meanwhile, the official who resumed her duties as DIG a few weeks ago said she firmly stood by her report. “I was on a government sanctioned leave, and when I came back on duty, I found this… Let there be an inquiry on what is happening there.”
“When I see something and don’t report, it’s a lapse on my part. I just reported the matter,” she added. Roopa, in her report, has also written about the special treatment being given to Abdul Karim Telgi, who was convicted in a counterfeit stamp paper scam, inside the prison.
Special treatment to celebrities or others is not a new thing. Reports of politicians, celebrities and industrialist being treated as privileged prisoners is an old prison culture.
Even if they are inside prison on grave charges like violence, crime, murder, corruption, etc, they get all the comforts and favours taking advantage of their celebrity status or money power.
The expert points out that government needs to take strict action against such special treatment given to the celebrities and rich people. Unless and until the government and the law takes strict action, incidents of VVIP treatment in prisons to celebrities and politicians will never stop.