Abandoned behind the bars

Capstone Children Women

20,000 women prisoners suffer physical and mental trauma inside as well as outside the jail.

Malti* sat there with the biggest smile on her face in her one-bedroom home in Sarjapur, Bangalore. With her 11-year-old daughter and husband who was also a prisoner. It has been 13 years since she got out of jail but her eyes still get wet when she thinks of the time she went through. “I was held for a man’s crimes I knew. Wasn’t involved in the crime a bit but was forced to agree as he threatened to kill me.”

“My own mother and father abandoned me as soon as I was convicted. Only once my father came to meet me then also, he was harassed and wasn’t allowed to meet me in those six years. I was scared. They all left me. I was not allowed to come home even after jail,” said Malti.

Abandonment is one of the biggest problems that women prisoners experience since they are convicted, during their sentence and in their life after that.

Dr. Swapna Karthick, Psychologist who is with art of living and gives counselling in jail said that as a counsellor she sees the problem of abandonment as biggest in women prisons. “When they see that their wife or mother or any other woman of their household is in prison their ‘pride’ is shattered. The ‘ghar ki izzat‘ is put on a woman’s shoulder in an Indian household. Which is a very problematic concept. So, they don’t come to meet them,” she added.

She further said that this happens only in women’s block that women are cut off from the family completely, they are not given money of buy a soap. Men marry someone else while their wife is in prison. The children are snatched from them. Fathers abandon their daughters. “So, even after they are released, they’ve nowhere to go,” she added.

The trauma and loneliness that abandonment brings makes the women vulnerable physically and mentally. This makes them prone to anxiety and depression.

Sister Clara and Fidelis, Prison Ministry India, an NGO from Bangalore said, “When we bring them here, they are full of trauma which brings anxiety and depression. Problem of abandonment is major. Some of them are forced into prostitution after prison as they’ve nowhere to go. They get scared even of darkness. Nobody to defend, the hierarchy in jail makes the juniors do all the work and traumatized as they are harassed.”

Prof. Priyanka Sanowal, Alliance School of Law in her report said that the path is not easy for women because, for restorative justice programs, there is a lack of awareness among people and prison inmates.

Women prisoners are not aware of the restorative programs which are run by government with the help of NGO’s which work for them, who can help them take care of their children or help them settle down after their sentence is over.

 Awareness is needed so that when healing takes place, it truly heals victims and prisoners and becomes a solace for women prisoners. Coordination between Government and Judiciary is also required for taking stringent measures against people who drag women into crimes. The vast majority of these prisoners are Adivasis, Dalits and from the marginalized communities who are unable to defend themselves legally and financially because of their social and economic situation, the report by Prof. Sanowal further added.


Malti said, “13 years ago, we were 45 in one enclosure. It was difficult for us to sleep or to breathe.” She was sentenced for seven years of imprisonment in Parappana Agrahara Central Prison, Bangalore, Karnataka.

According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, Karnataka jails’ prisoner occupancy rate is 98.3 percent as on 31.12.2020 – (Occupancy Rate means number of inmates staying in jails against the authorized capacity for 100 inmates.). Also, the state has one women jail with 65 percent occupancy rate.

Dr. Francis Kodiyan, of Prison Ministry India (PMI) an NGO, Bangalore said, “There is overcrowding almost in all the jails. Even though the condition of central jail has improved through years very much and is pretty decent now. But in sub-jails there is mostly only one cell assigned for all the women prisoners.”

Karnataka has eight central jails; 21 district jails; 25 sub-jails and one-woman jail according to the NCRB data.

Other states of India are under same condition even worst. As country has only 29 women prisons. Maximum number of states doesn’t even have a sperate prison for women. Around 84.6 percent (16,962) of 20,046 of total female inmates are lodged in other type of jails.

Father Anthony, PMI, Andhra Pradesh said, “The occupancy condition of Central Prison Kadapa, in Andhra Pradesh is also very decent. But one of the sub-jails that I visited had ten cells with occupancy of ten but were filled with 40 inmates.”

The overcrowding of prisons, brings lack of sanitation facility. As the number of prisoners are much more than the female staff. India has a total of 8380 as strength of women jail officers/staff for 20 thousand inmates as on December 31, 2020.

This causes poor management, rise in conflicts between inmates and make women prone to crimes like harassment and custodial rape.

India reported 875 cases of custodial rapes in 2020, according to NCRB Crimes in India 2020 report. Madhya Pradesh reported 175, highest number of cases in India. The state does not have any separate prison for women.

No. of women prisons and prisoners in India.

Harassment in custody

There is also a lot of harassment experienced by convicts and under-trails  before and after the prison.

Prerna*, she got released from Bangalore jail 3 years ago, said, “I got harassed in the police station. They showed me hell there. They beat me till I agreed. It was hell, hell! I wasn’t even able to tell judge about it as I was threatened. They tortured me again when I was in custody. Once I was in jail there were doctors who gave me tablets and ointments to apply. Me and my family were also harassed when I got out of jail. Also, I was once beaten up by the male superintendent. There was also harassment after I got out of jail as in any case in our area, I was their prime suspect, so even though I had nothing to do with it.”

Rohan Ved, coordinator of National prisons programme, Art of Living organization which works for the mental wellbeing of 5000 prisoners and prison officials in Bengaluru said, “We deal with the fear, guilt and sorrow of the inmates. We try to break their cycle of violence and help them bring back into the society.” For prison staff they provide training and support to deal with stress, help them create better and safer workplace. Healing the inmates emotionally, providing them livelihood, and de-stressing prion staff are main aims of their programme.  According to Mr. Ved women prisoners more women were diagnosed with anxiety and depression as compared to men.

Vocational and developmental skills are also much more for men as compared to women. Women are often just involved in tailoring or embroidery but sports and many other activities are available for men.

 Malti said, “I only got to learn tailoring, embroidery work and cleaning rice. While men used to do much more than that. I used to get Rs. 200-300 per month for the work I used to do.” 

Clothes in prison are also a problem. Prerna said, “I was only allowed to wear a saree while I was there, I was comfortable in it. But there were women who wanted to wear pants or salwar but they weren’t allowed so.”

Children in jails

Dr. Kodiyan said, “From superintendent, to the court, to CWC, then we get the kids after the age of six. Many prisoners don’t know the process of getting their child into a safer environment.”

“When we get them, some suffer from malnutrition but physically they are okay only,” he added.

Pawan, 10 and Prem, 8, are brothers. Their mother and father are still in prison and are staying with PMI. “Pawan had only 50 percent of hearing when he came here, this means me must have had this from a long time when he was in prison with his mother but his condition must’ve been ignored.”, Dr. Kodiyan.

They lack love and care, and they cry for acceptance, he added.

In India there were 1,427 women prisoners with 1,628 children as on 31st December, 2020.

Among these women prisoners, 1,184 women prisoners were undertrial prisoners who were accompanied by 1,345 children and 214 convicted prisoners who were accompanied by 246 children. Karnataka has a total of 53 children living in jails.

Sister Basil who takes care of both the children said that there are classes till nursery in the prison. They are provided with books also. But is a very basic learning of a,b,c. Prem came out of the prison at the age of seven so it was difficult for him to cope up with his education. He was not even aware of the basics. Most of the children are not so we have start from the scratch with them.

They suffer from withdrawal symptoms when they come here. They won’t speak for a very long time. Won’t mingle with anyone. They are also very violent and aggressive when they come here, she added.

The conditions of women and children remain to be in distress and the problems remain endless.


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