SOCHUM and the Plights of Female Prisoners in India

By ONIKOSI ANUOLUWATOYOSI,  THE TIMES OF INDIA

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The Indian delegation at SOCHUM 2016 debates.

From the sexual assault cases in Tihar, New Delhi, which is the largest prison complex in South Asia, to the reports of former inmates that they were stripped, beaten, and sexually assaulted in Tamil Nadu’s prison, sexual assault seems to remain the status quo in India with the state taking little or no action. Even the campaign against custodial justice and abolition of torture of the Society for Integrated Rural Development hasn’t drawn the attention of states actors as well.

The conditions of the women in prisons have been described as gruel, humiliating, and inhumane by the former inmates.  An official study has revealed that women in Indian prisons are beaten, sexually molested, and harassed all over the country. Statistics by the National Expert Committee on Women Prisoners to the government have show that more than 17% of the total number of unconvicted women in India are mentally unstable and have been put in jail without access to mental health care.

Mrs. Margaret Alva, Minister of State for Human Resources in Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Government and a prominent spokeswoman for women’s rights in India, stated that the stigma of a jail has many times ruined a woman’s life because her family would refuse to take her back even after her release. Often, women preferred to stay in prison even after they are released because of this social ostracism.

A critical examination of the extent of the situation of womens’ plight in Indian prisons have revealed that only one-fourth of the total population of women in jail are put in separate prisons while the others are housed in segregated wings of prisons for men. The prison authorities also deplorably agree to allow mothers to keep their children with them in prison. While in prison, the women do not have access to health care, good food, or even beds — only a cane mat is provided. The rights of female prisoners have been greatly ignored and this sadly does not just happen in India, but also in many developed and developing countries.

As rightly stated by Justice V. K. Krishna Iyer, human rights cannot survive these conditions. It is therefore suggested that national policy focus on the care and rehabilitation of women prisoners, although it may take several years to effect changes that should be put in place. The jail manual should also be reviewed and implemented in accordance with the human rights standards and directions of the Madras High Courts.

The Indian delegation at the Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee have stated that their plans for improving the rights of women in prisons is by creating an independent hotline and having women relate their complaints to the government through the hotline. They are currently working with Indonesia, Turkey, Georgia, and several Scandinavian and Asian Countries to implement a Voluntary UN Training program for women that would enable them to reintegrate into society.

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