Are women entitled to special provisions in prison? The Model Prison Manual needs to be followed in letter and spirit

05, Oct 2022 | CJP Team

Women in prisons, whether as under-trials or convicts, have received little attention, even among the human rights fraternity in decades. Jail and prison conditions, for women need constant and careful monitoring to ensure better conditions and sensitivity. India with its national and international obligations, has at the central level evolved a Model Prison’s Manual (2016) but states continue, in most part, to be governed by respective state manuals. Reality for women within jails is far cry from what the Model Prison Manual lays out.

Jails were primarily designed to cater to male inmates, or that is the official explanation, at least for the institutional apathy. Special steps need to be taken to ensure adequate conditions for women as well, most critically independent prison visits and monitoring. Female inmates are often faced with prison infrastructure and administrative systems, which are largely oblivious to their gender specific needs. Even though the number of women prisoners are increasing, infrastructure within these prison systems refuses to keep up with this rising population, leading to inhuman treatment of female inmates.

The status of women prisoners, whether they are convicted of a crime or are awaiting trial, has attracted scant attention; neither elected representatives nor the citizenry is much concerned, families of those interned within appear helpless. The 2021 report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)tells us that, of the 5,54,034 prisoners lodged in prisons, 5,31,025 were male prisoners, 22,918 were female prisoners and 91 were transgender prisoners. It can be deduced from the aforementioned statistics that a fair amount of prison population consists of women. But then, why do their concerns go largely unnoticed?

CJP stands against custodial abuse and torture in all its forms. We demand that India immediately ratify the UN Convention against Torture. We also demand urgent prison reforms and special emphasis on improving the living condition of women inmates. Donate now to help CJP help women activists jailed on false charges.

An Ongoing Campaign for CJP and AIUFWP

Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), has intermittently campaigned on this issue. On March 13, 2019, along with the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), CJP organised a public hearing titled ‘Qaid ke Pare’ (Beyond being confined) at the Marathi Patrakar Sangh in Mumbai. It was aimed to bring forward the experiences and issues of women prisoners and the shortcomings of the prison system. Women who testified in person included Roma Malik, forest rights activist and general secretary of AIUFWP, Sokalo Gond, Kismatiya Gond and Rajkumari Bhuiya, women leaders from Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh. These were women leaders fighting for their land rights. CJP brought an additional dimension into the discussion Rashminara Begum, who was wrongly and inhumanly incarcerated in the Kokhrajhar detention campaign in Assam recounted her experiences.Overcrowding for women has pronounced effects. It translates into having fewer toilets, bathrooms and space to rest and sleep. Many recounted of women sleeping on the floor and near the toilets.  The Kokrajhar detention camp in Assam has two bathroom and toilets and four taps of drinking water to be shared by 100 women. The CJP team has made a short documentary on Assam’s detention camps. Detention camps are spaces for detaining people who are declared as foreigners by the Foreigner’s Tribunal in Assam.

“When we were arrested and sent to jail, the barrack which could house 30 women had close to 100 inmates. There was no space to eat, sleep or move around,” recounted Roma Malik, about the time when she and her sathis Sokalo and Rajkumari were taken to Mirzapur jail in 2015, on many false charges. Lack of space is a major issue, as was reiterated by women in many of their testimonies.“I didn’t eat the food for 5 months when I was in jail,” said Sokalo Gond, who was helped with fruits and other food by the Sanghatan during her arrest in 2015. “The food was terrible, it was not only insufficient but rotten too,” she added. In her testimony, Rajkumari said, how there were no women constables when she was arrested. Speaking in her local dialect of Hindi, exuberating with contagious confidence, she said to the police, “Do not think you’ve scared me. And if you think you’ve won by arresting me, then you’re wrong because I’ll continue my fight from the jail.”

Now, in 2022, with secretary, CJP, Teesta Setalvad forced to suffer 63 days of incarceration in Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Mahila Jail (Women’s Prison) from July 2 to September 3, 2022, a first hand experience of poor conditions, little attention to physical and mental health and even the economic exploitation of convicted women prisoners has been collated by the organisation to form the basis of a sustained campaign for prison reforms.

The past few decades, the prison population has seen a drastic increase, creating a number of challenges such as security, health & hygiene, overcrowding etc. As per the statistics provided by the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of prisoners lodged in various jails has increased from 4,88,511 in 2020 to 5,54,034 in 2021, having increased by 13.4% during the period. 9. Out of the total capacity 4,25,609 in 1,319 prisons in 2021, the Central Jails of the country were having the highest capacity (1,93,536) followed by the District Jails (1,63,606) and the Sub Jails (45,436). Among the other types of jails, Special Jails had a capacity of 7,473 inmates, while Women Jails could accommodate 6,767 inmates and Open Jails had a capacity of5,953 inmates, as on 31st December, 2021. The highest number of inmates were lodged in District Jails (2,54,214) followed by Central Jails (2,39,311) and Sub Jails (46,736) as on 31st December, 2021. The number of inmates in Women Jails was 3,808.[1]

History and Background

It was the Justice Krishna Iyer committee appointed in 1987 that, for the first time examined the situation of women in prisons. This was four decades after independence. The committee recommended the induction of more women in the police force in view of their special role in tackling women and child offenders. This National Expert Committee on Women Prisoners, headed by Justice Iyer, also framed a draft Model Prison Manual. Chapter XXIII of this manual made special provision for children of women prisoners. This manual was circulated to the States and Union Territories for incorporation into the existing jail manuals. It is significant to note that this committee has made important suggestions regarding the rights of women prisoners who are pregnant, as also regarding child birth in prison. It has also made suggestions regarding the age up to which children of women prisoners can reside in prison, their welfare through a crèches and nursery, provision of adequate clothes suiting the climatic conditions, regular medical examination, education and recreation, nutrition for children and pregnant and nursing mothers. [2]

Ten years later, it was the Supreme Court that had directed the central government to prepare such a manual. Only in 2003 did this happen when the government circulated it to all the states and union territories and asked them to adopt it.

Thereafter, came the 2016, judgement of the Supreme Court Re Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons [(2016) 3SCC 700], the recent landmark apex court judgment concerning prison conditions. The main issues raised were overcrowded prisons, unnatural deaths of prisoners, inadequacy of staff and inadequately trained staff. After analysing the responses of state governments during the hearing of these cases, the Supreme Court had even observed that the steps taken by the state were facile and lack adequate sincerity in implementation. The question is, how much has changed since then?Through state responses the court were apprised of the fact that despite funds being allocated under the 13th Finance Commission for the improvement of conditions in prisons no grant was allotted in as many as 19 States and in the States where grants were allotted, the utilisation was less than 100 percent.

The most recent and updated Model Prison Manual, 2016 is the result of the nudge given by the apex court in this case since the former prison Manual dated as long back as 2003. Even undertrial review committees were set up at district levels in states to ensure that undertrials do not have to languish in jails owing to lack of legal aid and their inability to have access to the courts for securing bail. This Manual provides for certain special provisions for women and their children that need to be adopted by the various states and UTs of Indian to ensure that the rights of women prisoners are not violated.

These unique amenities made available to the female inmates while they are incarcerated have to be directly related to human rights. According to the manual, women who commit crimes must, wherever feasible, be imprisoned in facilities designed specifically for them. They must be held in separate, well equipped jail annex areas when such arrangements are not available. Only female employees may work at these institutions and its annex. Ideally, women in jail need to be shielded from all forms of exploitation. According to their unique demands, work and therapy plans should be created for them. But does this actually happen inIndian prisons?

The Ministry of Home Affairs, India, has officially stated that so far, only 11 states and Union Territories have adopted the Manual.[3] Other states regulate their prisons according to their own state jail manuals, based on the Prison Act 1984, which might not be as considerate about women prisoner rights as they should be. Barring just a few states like Odisha, Goa and Delhi, most states are yet to shift to the model prison manual proposed by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD). Since prisons are a state subject, it is entirely for the states to ensure rules and laws in prisons are in sync with the laws and constitutional requirements of the land. But prisons continue to be one of the most neglected areas and are seldom considered for reformative measures.

NCRB statistics tell us that the occupancy rate in Women Jails was 56.3% as on 31st December, 2021. The capacity in 32 Women Jails was 6,767 with the actual number of prisoners in these Women Jails was 3,808 (Occupancy Rate: 56.3%) which includes five (5) Transgender inmates also as on 31st December, 2021. The capacity of Women Inmates in other types of Jail (i.e. except Women Jails) was 22,659 with the actual number of women inmates in these jails was 19,115 (Occupancy Rate: 84.4%) as on 31st December, 2021.

Female occupancy rate as per the NCRB Report-

State Rate
Uttarakhand 178.8%
Bihar 152.3%
Chhattisgarh 147.6%

However, the highest number of female inmates were confined in the jails are as follows-

State Population
Uttar Pradesh 4,995
Bihar 3,067
Madhya Pradesh 1,892

Women jails exclusively for women prisoners exist only in 15 States/UTs (Table 1.1). Rajasthan (7), having highest number of Women Jails followed by Tamil Nadu (5), Kerala (3), Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi (2 each). Karnataka, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Odisha, Punjab, Telangana and West Bengal have only one all-woman jail each.(TABLES?)

Occupancy Rate in Central Jails at national level for female prisoners was 91.5% at the end of year 2021, for District Jails it was (107.2%), and in Sub-Jails, the occupancy rate for female was female just 27.1%. Bihar (115.8%) has reported highest overcrowding in Women jails, followed by Maharashtra (109.2%), Telangana (108.8%).

CJP aims to highlight the rights and facilities that should be granted to the women inmates according to the Model Prison Manual 2016, and if the said are present in the state prisons:


The right to health includes providing healthcare that is available, accessible, acceptable and of good quality. The National Prison Manual provides for a hospital in every prison with separate wards for men and women. However, this is far from ground realities. It further prescribes comprehensive health screening for women prisoners, including tests to determine presence of sexually transmitted or blood-borne diseases, mental health concerns, existence of drug dependency, etc. All prisoners are to be vaccinated at the time of admission. Special care is to be taken for elderly prisoners and needs of prisoners addicted to drugs. The prison administration should be cognizant of the fact that owing to the lack of awareness and spending on health concerns of women in the world at large, many of them enter prison with pre-existing physical and psychological conditions, which require intervention. There are provisions in the National Prison Manual for inspecting the mental health of inmates and providing appropriate counselling and psychotherapy or recommending transfer to appropriate institutions. Female prisoners needing treatment for mental diseases should not be admitted in prison but kept in separate enclosures of mental health hospitals.

Women face lot of difficulties in prisons − from bad infrastructure to overcrowding. Jails are teeming with prisoners. To take an example, over two hundred prisoners have been accommodated where there is capacity of only hundred. Basic facilities − such as electricity, or fans in rooms, or clean bathrooms and toilets − have not been provided.

Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Sanjay Gandhi on June 25, 2018 released a report titled ‘Women in Prisons’. The report throws light on the condition of women in prisons and their entitlements; issues faced by them and possible methods for resolution of the same.

In the said report, it has been highlighted that despite rules laid down in respective State manuals, the physical and mental health of prisoners often suffers. In many cases, female wards in hospitals and lady Medical Officers especially gynaecologists are not available. Concerns of mental health are often not given adequate importance, and women suffering from mental illnesses are often housed in prisons due to lack of other appropriate facilities. Women’s health needs, covering mental, physical, sexual and reproductive health, require particular attention.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has acknowledged that prisoners have to be re-socialised and re-educated, which needs substantive changes in their perceptions, attitude and behaviour. All this presupposes their good health, not only the absence of disease but also the presence of a feeling of wellbeing and happiness.Gujarat’s Sabarmati women’s jail has one small dispensary with a health worker in attendance. There is no facility for urgent medical issues nor addressal of mental health issues. On holidays and at night, the absence of personnel often delays medical attention to the detriment of women inmates, a delay that has, at times proved fatal.

As per the 2016 manual, the health screening of women inmates must be done with due regard to their privacy and dignity, their right to medical confidentiality, including their right not to share information and not undergo screening for their reproductive health history. Steps should also be taken to transfer women prisoners with mental health issues to appropriate facilities rather than keeping them in prison. The aspect of continuity of care must be factored in and support should be extended to women after release so they may continue to get adequate treatment.

But the reality is very different from the policies that have been put in place on paper. For example, in Maharashtra, the authorised number of jail staff was 5,064 in 2015, but only 3,976 people were employed in the jails- of which 713 were women. The lack of female staff in women prisons naturally leads to male staff taking charge of female inmates. This is highly undesirable situation since women inmates ought to have a sex-segregated space and services provided by female staff.[4]Overcrowding and absence of monitoring in Maharashtra jails is also an issue that severely affects women.

In May 2017, the Hon’ble Supreme Court noted that there is a huge shortage of staff in almost every jail of the country. It directed all State Governments/UTs to take necessary steps on an urgent basis to fill up these vacancies by 31st December 2017. Visits by NHRCto over 100 jails have revealed a woeful lack of staff, particularly in smaller district prisons.[5]There is a growing need for exclusive women prisons, skilled female prison officers, fulltime lady doctors, and paediatricians, etc.[6]

Food & Nutrition

An average man requires approximately 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day. A person who does heavy work requires not less than 2,800 calories per day. An average woman having a body weight of 45 kg would require about 2,400 calories, partly because her weight is lesser and partly because she is expected to do less heavy work than a male labouring prisoner.

Nutrition is closely connected to good health. Prison Manuals of each State prescribe a scale of diet with standard calorie and nutritional intake for inmates. There is to be one kitchen per 100 prisoners. Every inmate is supposed to receive three meals a day, which are to be served fresh and hot in clean and covered areas with adequate time to consume the food. Prisoners observing religious fasts must also receive appropriate food. The calorie intake and variety of food is to be increased for women prisoners who are pregnant or lactating and require more protein and minerals than usual. Such women are meant to receive additional milk, sugar, vegetables, fish/meat, curd, fresh fruit etc. as per the Prison Manual. Every complaint about food must be reported to the Superintendent. Again, the reality is starkly differently. Our first-hand experience of Gujarat’s Sabarmati Mahila Jail (Women’s Jail), Ahmedabad reveals that two meals are served, one at 9 A.M, the other at 5 P.M. Quality control apart this means only two meals a day, a meal that is more often than not, eaten cold.

Even the official ‘Women in Prisons’ report notes that the ground reality is different. Visits to prisons have revealed that differential calorie definition for women and men is often used as a justification to provide women prisoners with much less food than men prisoners. The quality of food is reported to be largely adequate in most prisons, but there are reports of unhygienic conditions of kitchens and dining areas. In reviewing the implementation of the Mulla Committee Recommendations, the Ministry of Home Affairs observed that dining spaces are often considered the most neglected areas in prisons.

Education and Vocational Training

The National Prison Manual provides for diverse educational facilities for inmates, depending on their aptitude and educational qualification. The education of illiterate young offenders (18-21 years) is considered compulsory. Prisoners who wish to pursue their formal education should be allowed to access books and study material as per rules in each State. Every prison should provide educational facilities to women inmates.

However, a 2018 report on Women in prisons by the Ministry of Women and Child development states that visits by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to various prisons, found that most prisons did not offer universal education to women. Access to higher educational levels was negligible, and even in prisons where libraries exist, women prisoners can’t often access them. Lack of staff, planning, and teachers all create a hindrance in educating the inmates.Again, there is absolutely no literacy training available at Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Mahila Jail in 2022. The only option open to earn a livelihood is a sanitary pad making facility where women who toil from 10 A.M to 5 P.M, and are paid Rs 70-90 per day, way below the minimum age. The pre-Covid 19 era had a journalism and yoga class within the facility, but today some beauty parlour training and embroidery classes are the only options available. While official despatches state that, in Gujarat, “a leading NGO has appointed fully trained lady teachers and music teachers for female sections of Ahmedabad Central Prison and Vadodara Central Prison to educate illiterate women,” this is certainly not true in Ahmedabad. Official claims and reality are poles apart and hence independent monitoring becomes the need of the hour.

Even in vocational education, the options available to women prisoners are less marketable than the options given to male prisoners. The skills they learn while in prison are often not enough to be utilized upon release and cannot sustain them financially.[7]

Jails do not have many options for the vocational training of women. For example, in Jaipur, inmates have been provided with nothing other than sewing machines. NGOs also face difficulties in generating funds for vocational training and rehabilitation of women prisoners.Official claims and versions say that these are some programs that have been adopted in various prisons for women:

  • In West Bengal, for instance, the Computer-Aided Adult Literacy Program has been launched to educate inmates on how to use, learn from, and engage with computers. [8]
  • Andhra Pradesh: Computer labs are established in all Central Prisons and Special Prison for Women for imparting basic Computer education to the prisoners.
  • Tamil Nadu: Mahatma Gandhi Community College as well as elementary schools established in all the Special Prisons for Women.
  • Delhi: The female prisoners are taught courses like stitching, weaving, fashion jewellery, jute products, balwari, embroidery, envelope making, pottery, diya and candle making, namkeen making, artificial flowers, herbal pack, dhoopagarbatti making, pickles and papad making, beauty culture and painting to empower them to be able to start their life afresh after release. The other activities which are carried out in the female prison are Computer Literacy, English Speaking Course, Drawing, Painting and Dance classes.

Given our personal Gujarat experience, however, it is crucial that these official claims are tested by independent authorities.

Library and Reading Spaces for Women in Jails

These are scant and rare, seen as a very low priority in the jails of most Indian states. Again, our experience at Ahmedabad’s Mahila Central Jail shows that while it has a rather nice building called the ‘Study Centre’ with an 18-seater library, this library was rarely kept open. This space is possibly the rare quiet and silent space for reading and writing. Three hours for maybe four days a week was all that we could ensure it stays open, that too with constant protests and struggle, as experienced by Teesta Setalvad. While the number of books in Gujarati were substantial, there were very few in the Hindi language and even fewer in English. This is a huge lacuna that needs to be addressed.

Legal Aid

Article 39A of the Indian Constitution provides for free legal aid to the poor and weaker sections of society and ensures justice for all. Article 14 and 22(1) of the Constitution also makes it obligatory for the State to ensure equality before law and a legal system that promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity of law. As per Justice A. N. Mulla Committee, prisoners are entitled to the following rights:

  • Right to effective access to information and all legal provisions regulating conditions of detention;
  • Right to consult or to be defended by a legal practitioner of prisoner’s choice;
  • Right to access to agencies such as State Legal Service Boards or similar organisations providing legal services;
  • Right to be informed on admission about legal right to appeal, revision, review either in respect of conviction or sentence;
  • Right to receive all court documents necessary for preferring an appeal or revision or review of sentence or conviction;
  • Right to effective presentation of individual complaints and grievances during confinement in prison to the appropriate authorities;
  • Right to communicate with prison administration, appropriate government and judicial authorities, as the case may be, for redressal of violation of any or all of prisoner’s rights and for redressal of grievances.

While Delhi’s Tihar jail is a showcase for prison reform, with inmates allowed even to access electronic links to observe when and how their cases are argued (be it Sessions court, High Courts or the Supreme Court), this is not the case in most other prisons, certainly not in Gujarat or Maharashtra. This is particularly disempowering as it renders knowledge of their own case, a faraway reality for women.

Safety and reformation of women prisoners should be of utmost importance. All kinds of convicts are kept together. Women, in tribal areas, face even greater discrimination. They are usually implicated on false charges. At times, police take women family members into custody when male culprits are missing. Families,of women prisoners, have to travel a long distance as they are kept in far-away cells;in some jails men and women are kept together like in the state of Chhattisgarh, but there are no separate prisons for women. There is only one open-air prison for women in the country in Pune.[9]

It is thus essential that women offenders be guarded against exploitation while in prison. In a number of judgments on various aspects of prison administrations, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has laid down three broad principles:

  • A person in prison does not become a non-person.
  • A person in prison is entitled to all human rights within the limitations of imprisonment.
  • There is no justification in aggravating the suffering already inherent in the process of incarceration.

NHRC’s Jail monitoring visits to various prisons in the year 2010 had revealed that many prisons do not have a legal aid cell and very few prisoners have accessed legal aid. States should ensure that District and State Legal Service Authorities are linked to prisons to provide free legal aid and all prisoners should be made aware about their rights.[10]This was 12 years ago and the NHRC itself needs to carry out a more updated monitoring story. Many advocates and social activists have been working towards ensuring that free legal aid is established in prisons so that women can become aware about the bail provisions and other provisions that are in place for them.

“Legal aid is hardly available for women. They are poor and they cannot afford bail for themselves; and when they are in jail, nobody in the family is much bothered. They usually don’t get support from their families. It is extremely sad to see that not much are being done for the women inmates,” shared advocate and social activist Flavia Agnes.[11]

And the primary reason, according to legal experts, is that the female inmates remain ignorant of access to free legal services. “Women prisoners are entitled to free legal aid. They will get aid if they ask… but many women don’t ask because they suffer from lack of awareness about their rights inside jail. And when the lawyers visit, they skip the sessions,” said advocate Meera Bhatia, who has provided free legal aid in the Delhi High Court.[12]

The study published by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2018 also tells us that the majority of women came from lower economic households. Statistics indicate that of 150 women, 128 are poor with a family income of less than Rs 5,000 per month. Only nine belonged to a better-off section with family income higher than Rs 15,000. Thus, it is important to pay attention to the economic barrier that women face to defend themselves with lack of information. These economic and social barriers create a situation, where paying for legal aid or even bail becomes rather impossible. Reaching out to family members also becomes hard as societal norms dictate that when a man goes into jail, the women of the family pool money in order to let him out. The same is not done for women who are more easily shunned as disrespectable after being convicted and replaced. Further, out of 150 respondents, the families of 111 were informed at the time of arrest but the families of 27 were not. These factors put and retain women in jail.

In the year 2021, Project ‘KIRAN’, a help desk for woman prisoners has been launched in Odisha to provide free legal aid, rehabilitation and mental health counselling. The project was initiated by the Directorate of prisons and Correctional services in support of Odisha-based NGO MAADHYAM to help women prisoners.[13]

Requirements of pregnant and nursing women; Facilities for children of incarcerated women

During pregnancy and lactation, a woman needs more protein and minerals than otherwise. The extra protein can be obtained by substituting a part of the cereal portion of the diet with more milk, fish, meat and eggs, and in the case of vegetarians by concentrating more on milk and milk products. This would also ensure the necessary additional supply of minerals. Pregnant and nursing women need about 3100 calories every day.

In addition to this, the Supreme Court guidelines given in R.D. Upadhyay v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 2006SC 1946 are needed to be adhered with. The Upadhyay judgment contained specific guidelines, based on various committee recommendations, about how children should be cared for in prisons. As per the National Consultation on Prison Reform 2010, a crèche has been provided for children who are up to six years of age and the guidelines of the Upadhyay v. State of Rajasthan judgment regarding women and children are being fully and entirely complied with in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. Children are provided with clothes, diet, medical care and education by the prison department. A child who is above six years of age is admitted to a boarding school outside.

Children, of women prisoners, and juveniles, in conflict with law, are often mistreated in prisons. In Punjab, children, of prisoners, get less than two spoons of milk powder a day. There are no nurseries or playgrounds for children in prison. Children, of prisoners, are allowed to visit their parents in prison but there are no facilities for them.

In Gujarat for instance, pregnant women and lactating mothers are provided one fruit and a sache of milk per day, the quality of neither is monitored nor tested. Children sometimes receive extra snacks, but this is neither enough nor regular. While not representative, this experience of Gujarat’s Ahmedabad women’s jail is a pointer to the need for rigorous monitoring and scrutiny.

Searching with Dignity and Privacy

Clear guidelines and policies must be made to define the conditions and modalities of body searches. While searching women prisoners, the least intrusive mode should be adopted as considered appropriate in the situation. The type of search to be conducted should be communicated clearly to the inmate and reason for the same should be explained. Strip searches should be conducted in two distinct steps with upper body and lower body examined one after the other to avoid complete nudity at a given time. Body cavity searches must be avoided as far as possible. Our experience, again in Gujarat reveals that these basic rules and norms are observed in their breach. Not only are offensive and intrusive body searches often carried out, but the recommended ‘alternatives to physical and invasive search procedures, such as body screeners and metal detectors’ are rarely available or in working condition.

The ’Model’ states that the use of CCTV cameras must be consistent with the dignity and privacy of women prisoners and that a written record should be kept of type and frequency of searches for all inmates, which should be available for examination by official visitors. There are no such records being maintained presently in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. While the ‘Model’ stipulates that “all staff involved in the custody, interrogation and treatment of prisoner must be sensitised on gender-issues, human rights and sexual misconduct. NGOs and State Commissions for Women can be engaged to conduct workshops for the same,” this is clearly not taking place with any consistency on the ground.

The ground reality- there is a scarcity of female jail staff and supervisory officers in Indian prisons. As of 2015, women jail staff/officers constituted only 8.28 per cent of the total jail staff. As a result of this, male staff and officials often become responsible for the affairs of women prisoners which is undesirable and makes women more vulnerable to harassment and assault. Additionally, prison staff and officials are inadequately sensitised and trained to cater to the needs that are specific to women. Besides this, there is also a shortage of specific medical officers like psychologists and gynecologists in prisons.

Women inmates are humiliated and violated during body search and screening at the time of admission. They are treated as degenerates and their comfort and privacy is disregarded. They are often subjected to sexual violence by fellow inmates as well as authorities. Cases related to recording women prisoners without their consent have also been reported. The National Human Rights Commission of India recorded 39 rape cases in judicial and police custody in just five years from 2006 to 2010.[14]  As mentioned above these statistics are from a dozen years ago, and be it the NHRC or state higher court authorities, there has been little monitoring of jail conditions for women since then.

Our experience of being hauled into judicial custody was reasonably traumatic: no norms were explained nor were the provisions of the Gujarat Jail Manual readily available for reference. In the weekly barrack and body searches conducted, at least two took place with male officers entering the women’s only barrack –which is cleaned by the women themselves –clad in dirty boots –and conducting searches along with women officers. Vocal objection to this was raised by us after which, for some time these stopped. But the mail Jailer, roaming around outside the all women barracks in the womens’ only prison was a common (if ungainly) sight.

Counselling of Women Prisoners and Mental Health Care

Comprehensive, intensive and incessant counselling of women offenders and members of their  families shall be carried out by these groups of social activists/NGOs to pre-empt/overcome the aversion of the society to women prisoners, which otherwise might deter and derail proper rehabilitation of women in custody. Counselling of women prisoners in prisons shall be taken up in such a manner that it will:

  1. i) Give her the right feeling that a prison is not a dumping ground where she has been thrown; rather it is a residential center for occupational therapy wherefrom her return journey to the free world shall begin.
  2. ii) Adjust/rectify her pro-crime attitude into an inclination and resolve to wards lawful and decent living.

iii) Help her in convincing herself that all the ingredients required for a normal life in the mainstream are still intact in her, awaiting manifestation.

Further as per the manual, female prisoners needing treatment for mental diseases shall not be admitted to prison. They shall be kept in separate enclosures for female patients at the mental health hospital, or in other mental health facilities, under the supervision of a lady Medical Officer. While the Amritsar Jail does have some degree of mental health counselling, Gujarat and Maharashtra jails have no such.

But the reality is different. As per the National Consultation on Prison Reform, 2010, there are no proper medical facilites for women and there are no gynecologists. 60-70% of women need counselling but there are no counselors. Additionally, the mentally ill are often put into prisons as they do not have many options available.It is believed that they are being taken care of. They are mostly abandoned by their families and do not have recourse to legal services. They also face the stigma of being in prison. There is no medical aid available for such prisoners. Often jail authorities write “mental” on the certificate, which, in turn, has further repercussions.Adverse circumstances, mental torture, segregation and abuse can exacerbate mental illness. This is more so in the case of first-time offenders. These first-time offenders are often kept with hardened criminals who subject them to trauma and abuse. These people are in urgent need of counselling services. However, there are no full-time counsellors. Even NGOs find it difficult to access prisons. These prisoners should be shifted to hospitals or other facilities where they can receive proper care and treatment.

In the prison manual, it has been mentioned that every woman prison shall have a 10-bed hospital for women. Treatment programmes should be properly planned and developed in every woman’s prison. At least one, preferably more woman gynecologists and psychiatrists shall be provided. Modern equipment for X-ray, ECG, ultrasound and sonography should be available. Female offenders suffering from mental disorders, anxiety, drug addiction and sex perversion should get proper medical treatment and psychotherapy.

Chetna Birje, an Advocate with HRLN, Bombay emphasised on how important it is to help women prisoners and their right to health. There are no psychologists or psychiatrists available to deal with mental health cases, even though the prison manual says that this should not be the case. Sometimes psychologists come from other organisations. But that should not be the case. Psychologist should be part of the staff. There are also a lot of issues with regard to the reproductive rights of women that need to be consistently worked on.

The bottom-line also is that women undertrials or convicts are simply not aware of their rights when in judicial custody. A simple way out would be for state jail authorities to provide simple booklets in the local state language, Hindi and/or English to anyone so incarcerated. That would ease the present, stark gap between rights, realisation and even basic knowledge of rights for women prisoners.

Key to matching the reality of the jails for women in India with the laudable goals espoused in the 2016 Manual is independent and intrepid monitoring of the conditions within, which means visits and conversations with those within. This requires an active and sensitive citizenry committed and concerned of what goes on behind prison gates and walls.

(The extensive research for this resource was carried out by the CJP’s legal resource team including Tanya Arora and some interns; invaluable was the ground-level experience by the leadership of the AIUFWP, CJP’s work in Assam and the recent incarceration of secretary, CJP, Teesta Setalvad)

Related :

Women prisoners recount Jail Horror Stories
View to address issues faced by women prisoners
Plight of Women in Indian Prisons
Law on Arrest and Detention: Know your rights!
How India treats women in prisons
Plight of Women in Indian Prisons: A compilation of facts and figures by CJP
Women prisoners recount Jail Horror Stories:Rape and torture common in jails


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Nafrat Ka Naqsha 2023