Prison diaries

Growing up in Indian prisons: Children of undertrials and a case of widespread neglect

While a debate is raging on trying juveniles as adults in serious crimes, there are hundreds of children who spend years in prison for no fault of their own.

As the lone tap fills the cracked cement tank, green algae float to the surface of the water. Munna (name changed to protect identity) splashes around in the tank, while women gather to fill small jugs with water that will later be used for both washing and drinking. Munna is three years old, and his life revolves around the sludgy water games and women in the enclosure of the Belgaum Central Prison in Karnataka.

Munna was born in this prison, and has lived here all his life. His mother is facing trial for alleged murder. Media debates have raged around harsher punishments for teenagers who commit serious crimes, but little attention is paid to this other category of children in prisons.

The three-year-old barely speaks. He recognises his mother as ammi and other women inmates as khala. The only men in his life are the police constables who occasionally visit the female barracks. He is a stranger to almost everything about the world outside. “It was only recently that he saw a dog for the first time during my court visit,” his mother recalled. "He was startled."

Who's following the guidelines?

As many as 1,817 children live with their undertrial or convicted mothers in prisons across India, state National Crime Records Bureau's 2014 Prison Statistics.

In 2006, the Supreme Court issued guidelines in the RD Upadhyay vs State of AP case to ensure that certain basic standards are observed with regard to children of women prisoners. These guidelines are aligned with international standards such as the United Nation's Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners (UN Bangkok Rules) and the UN Minimum Standards for Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules). But the implementation of this ruling leaves much to be desired.

During the 2006 hearing, the Supreme Court, even as it is observed that a prison is no place to raise a child, recognised that children may have to stay in jail for no fault of their own. Given their reasoning that children should not be separated from their mothers in their formative years, especially when there are no close family members willing or available to take care of them, the court said that children should be allowed to stay with women prisoners till the age of six, but not after that.

The court directed state governments to protect the fundamental rights of children in prison, work towards their welfare and provide for their social, educational and cultural development. Children are entitled to food, shelter, medical care, clothing, education and recreational facilities as a matter of right, it said.

Confined spaces, confined childhoods

On the ground, however, these guidelines seem to mean little. As part of its ongoing research on undertrial prisoners, researchers from Amnesty International India, including this writer, visited a number of jails in Karnataka. Across the board, it found that prison systems are structured and run with male inmates at the centre and most arrangements, however deficient, are made to suit them, while women inmates’ needs are overlooked.

In Karnataka prisons, women are frequently confined to small enclosures inside the main prison and access to other facilities is restricted. Libraries, open spaces and even the prison’s administrative buildings are beyond their access.

In Bidar, we saw two children confined in a damp dirty enclosure inside the district prison with 11 women. Leave aside recreational facilities, the enclosure was built in such a way that it received almost no sunlight.

Additionally, though the SC guidelines state that as far as possible, pregnant women prisoners should be temporary released, or given parole or a suspended sentence so that they can avoid delivering a child in jail, Amnesty came across examples where this was not done.

Last year, Shailaja (name changed) delivered her son in Belgaum Central Jail. She told the researchers that she did not know she was entitled to temporary release, and jail authorities had not taken any steps to allow her to give birth outside prison. She and her child have been in prison since and no action has been taken against any jail official.

Small steps in a lengthy struggle

Karnataka’s Director General of Police (Prisons), Satyanarayana Rao, admitted that little had been done to provide a clean and healthy environment for women prisoners with children. "There has been no change in the prison manual since 1978,” he said. “But now, we are in the process of re-examining the manual and hopefully, by end of this month, a revised one will be ready and sent to the state government for approval.”

As per the Supreme Court guidelines, once a child turns six, he or she is supposed to be handed over to a suitable surrogate, or transferred into protective custody in a home and brought to prison to meet the mother at least once a week. But the lack of co-ordination between protective homes and the chronically understaffed prisons department makes this difficult. Officials in six prisons that Amnesty visited over the past few months admitted that children are seldom brought to meet their mothers in prison.

Rao, who has been conducting surprise visits to prisons across the state, recently ordered an overhaul of the visitor’s rooms, including the doing away of the wired mesh separating prisoners from visitors. “It is practically impossible for prisoners to talk through the mesh,” he said. “The set-up is so chaotic that mothers never get to speak to their children. So, an arrangement is being made to enable direct contact. We are modifying the present system into a more human-friendly one.”

Amnesty also came across instances where the education and recreational arrangements prescribed in the guidelines were not met. Often, literate prisoners double up as teachers for children and women inmates.

In Gulbarga prison, a convict is in charge of conducting classes for children. Jail officials said she is also responsible, however, for maintaining “peace and harmony” in the barrack, documenting prisoners’ cases, and drafting court applications. With all these duties, she said, teaching takes a back seat. “It is only that much can I do with my time,” said the 42-year-old, who is scheduled to be released in a few months. “Once I am gone, there is no one who can fill my space.”

The Supreme Court guidelines had also said that courts should prioritise cases of women prisoners with children. But as happens with other undertrials, the lack of police escorts, poverty and inadequate legal representation means that these cases drag on.

Women prisoners with children have very little say in how they are treated. And growing up in sub-standard prison conditions has is far from conducive to a healthy childhood. Clearly, there’s a pressing need for the state government and the judiciary – and even civil society – to do much more.

The writer is a researcher with Amnesty International India.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Why do our clothes fade, tear and lose their sheen?

From purchase to the back of the wardrobe – the life-cycle of a piece of clothing.

It’s an oft repeated story - shiny new dresses and smart blazers are bought with much enthusiasm, only to end up at the back of the wardrobe, frayed, faded or misshapen. From the moment of purchase, clothes are subject to wear and tear caused by nature, manmade chemicals and....human mishandling.

Just the act of wearing clothes is enough for gradual erosion. Some bodily functions aren’t too kind on certain fabrics. Sweat - made of trace amounts of minerals, lactic acid and urea - may seem harmless. But when combined with bacteria, it can weaken and discolour clothes over time. And if you think this is something you can remedy with an antiperspirant, you’ll just make matters worse. The chemical cocktail in deodorants and antiperspirants leads to those stubborn yellowish stains that don’t yield to multiple wash cycles or scrubbing sessions. Linen, rayon, cotton and synthetic blends are especially vulnerable.

Add to that, sun exposure. Though a reliable dryer and disinfectant, the UV radiation from the sun causes clothes to fade. You needn’t even dry your clothes out in the sun; walking outside on a sunny day is enough for your clothes to gradually fade.

And then there’s what we do to our clothes when we’re not wearing them - ignoring labels, forgetting to segregate while washing and maintaining improper storage habits. You think you know how to hang a sweater? Not if you hang it just like all your shirts - gravity stretches out the neck and shoulders of heavier clothing. Shielding your clothes by leaving them in the dry-cleaning bag? You just trapped them in humidity and foul odour. Fabrics need to breathe, so they shouldn’t be languishing in plastic bags. Tossing workout clothes into the laundry bag first thing after returning home? It’s why the odour stays. Excessive moisture boosts fungal growth, so these clothes need to be hung out to dry first. Every day, a whole host of such actions unleash immense wear and tear on our clothes.

Clothes encounter maximum resistance in the wash; it’s the biggest factor behind premature degeneration of clothes. Wash sessions that don’t adhere to the rules of fabric care have a harsh impact on clothes. For starters, extra effort often backfires. Using more detergent than is indicated may seem reasonable for a tub full of soiled clothes, but it actually adds to their erosion. Aggressive scrubbing, too, is counterproductive as it worsens stains. And most clothes can be worn a few times before being put in the wash, unless of course they are sweat-soaked gym clothes. Daily washing of regulars exposes them to too much friction, hastening their wear and tear.

Different fabrics react differently to these abrasive agents. Natural fabrics include cotton, wool, silk and linen and each has distinct care requirements. Synthetic fabrics, on the other hand, are sensitive to heat and oil.

A little bit of conscious effort will help your clothes survive for longer. You can start by lessening the forces acting on the clothes while washing. Sort your clothes by fabric instead of colour while loading them in the washing machine. This helps save lighter fabrics from the friction of rubbing against heavier ones. It’s best to wash denim materials separately as they are quite coarse. For the same reason, clothes should be unzipped and buttoned before being tossed in the washing machine. Turning jeans, printed clothes and shirts inside out while loading will also ensure any abrasion is limited to the inner layers only. Avoid overloading the washing machine to reduce friction between the clothes.

Your choice of washing tools also makes a huge difference. Invest in a gentler detergent, devoid of excessive dyes, perfumes and other unnecessary chemicals. If you prefer a washing machine for its convenience, you needn’t worry anymore. The latest washing machines are far gentler, and even equipped to handle delicate clothing with minimal wear and tear.


Bosch’s range of top loading washing machines, for example, care for your everyday wear to ensure they look as good as new over time. The machines make use of the PowerWave Wash System to retain the quality of the fabrics. The WaveDrum movement adds a top-down motion to the regular round action for a thorough cleaning, while the dynamic water flow reduces the friction and pulling forces on the clothes.

Play

The intelligent system also creates water displacement for better movement of clothes, resulting in lesser tangles and clothes that retain their shape for longer. These wash cycles are also noiseless and more energy efficient as the motor is directly attached to the tub to reduce overall friction. Bosch’s top loading washing machines take the guesswork away from setting of controls by automatically choosing the right wash program based on the load. All that’s needed is a one-touch start for a wash cycle that’s free of human errors. Read more about the range here. You can also follow Bosch on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.