Guwahati, Thursday, October 7, 2010
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Female inmates live in appalling conditions
Prabal Kr Das
 GUWAHATI, Oct 6 – Women incarcerated in jails in Assam endure a perilous reality with a range of problems, which have no ready solutions in sight. Inmates in several jails endure physical hardship and severe mental stress, some of which could be seen as violation of human rights, a pioneering report has revealed.

Prepared by North East Network (NEN), the report doesn't just explore the condition of female prisoners, but crucially identifies systemic failures in prisons and their management that put the prisoners in harrowing situations.

Findings indicate that female prisoners have problems in access to justice, right to family, in leading dignified life inside the prison premises. Among the most vulnerable are children of women in prison, girls in prison, and older female inmates.

All the three groups face hardship as infrastructure and amenities are either absent or inadequate. Lack of mobility inside prisons, dearth of recreational facilities, and failure to introduce recommended initiatives combined to make their lives miserable.

The report, ‘A Life Behind Bars’ significantly refers to Right to Health, a privilege that is not fully enjoyed by female prisoners. “In Assam, women in jails are affected by inadequate health services and appalling living conditions, which further aggravates the situation of confinement".

It was found that the hospitals based inside the central jails of Guwahati, Jorhat, Nagaon, and Tezpur, are inside the male ward. A separate hospital for female prisoners does not exist, causing serious inconvenience to them.

Livelihood opportunities for female inmates, the report points out, are negligible when compared to those in jails such as Tihar in Delhi. On the prospect of women prisoners being engaged in administrative work as is the case with male prisoners, an Assistant Jailor of Guwahati Central Jail said, "The environment is not safe for women to work as their security cannot be ensured in the prison set up".

Access to Justice, the report states, continues to be a major hurdle for all female prisoners in the jails. Most of those who were interviewed during the study were "unaware of legal proceedings attached to their cases". A number of under trial inmates disclosed that they did not know of their case proceedings and had never spoken to lawyer.

A systemic lack of gender sensitivity was noticed by those who prepared the report. An acute inadequacy in responding to the gender related needs and socio cultural problems of female prisoners was seen in the jails. Moreover, instances were recoded in which the female prisoners were never visited by any family members during their period of incarceration.

The report, quoting a legal rights activist, notes that even if legal rights organizations assist female prisoners in obtaining bail, the challenge lies in providing them with a place of temporary shelter, as in many cases families or friends are unwilling to accept them after release.

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