Navdeep Kaur, a 23 years old women activist was arrested on the 12th of
January during the ongoing farm protest at the Singhu border, reports of her
being assaulted and sexually abused in the custody prevailed throughout the
country, which reminded us of the complexities which women prisoners face while
being in custody. Physical, mental, and sexual tortures suffered by women are
even more disturbing when they come from behind the bars.
Incidences of violence
including sexual violence by inmates and authorities are reported all across the
country every year. However, official reports remain underestimated due to fear
in prisoners of retaliation as they are forced to stay in the same place as
their perpetrators. Even in the cases of con-sexual sex, the cases are mainly of
coercive sexual intercourse, the weak prisoner has to surrender in front of the
powerful authoritative individual or she is left to bear the consequences in the
form of torture, the restrained supply of necessities to count a few, so the
consent becomes irrelevant behind the bars.
To raise a voice against such
torture and getting justice is considered a rare case only. In the judgment of
the State of Maharashtra vs C.K.Jain
(1990 AIR 658)[i], in which a women
prisoner was raped in police custody, regarding evidence, the Supreme Court
- In such cases unless the testimony of the prosecution is unreliable,
collaboration normally should not be insisted upon.
- Secondly, the presumption is to be made that ordinarily, no woman would
make a false allegation of rape.
- Thirdly, delay in the making of the complaint is not fatal and quite
understandable reasons exist for the delay on the part of the victim woman
in making a complaint against the police. As far as the sentence is
concerned there is no room for leniency, the punishment must be exemplary.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development issued a report Women in prison
2018 reflecting the most basic issues faced by women in prisons and violence
faced by women prisoners while being in custody was one among them. Multiple
committees recommended measures to be taken to tackle this imminent issue.
Hon'ble Supreme Court in Christian Community Welfare Council of India vs
Government of Maharashtra
(AIR 2004 SC 7) [iii] held that:
women should not be
arrested after sunset and before sunrise and only in the presence of lady
constables. The Court directed the State Government to set up a committee to
formulate a comprehensive scheme for police accountability to human rights abuse
and make special provisions for female detainees.
This Right plays an important
role in protecting female prisoners from any sexual harassment and unforeseeable
tortures. The Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2018 in its report put
forth multiple measures to dilute the issue to a good extent, if implemented,
such as no male should be allowed to enter the female ward of the prison unless
with a legitimate duty, after which he should record the reason for his visit in
his record book.
There is to be the round-the-clock duty of female head wardens
and female wardens. Women prisoners should not be made to leave their enclosure
under any circumstances other than release, transfer, and attendance at court or
on the order of the Superintendent for any other legitimate purpose; the process
of searching female prisoners at the time of admission is to be carried out with
due regard to decency in a private space by a female staff member.
have several reports where female prisoners have reported being humiliated or
violated during this process; if a case of sexual abuse or other forms of
violence faced by a prisoner is brought to light, she must be guided to seek
legal recourse and lodge a complaint. A prisoner can make a complaint to the
prison officials and in writing in the complaint box. Irrespective of whether
she decides to file a formal complaint, she must be given immediate access to
specialized psychological support or counselling.
Prisoners may also file
complaints under the Sexual Harassment Women at Workplace (Prevention,
Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. Full respect to the privacy of all
complainants should be given prime importance, specifically taking into account
the risk of retaliation.
Despite these protections, the Hon'ble Supreme Court
acknowledged widespread incidence of torture and abuse in prison by both
prisoners and authorities most recently in 2015, directing States to install
CCTVs in all prisons and encouraging visits by non-official visitors for
inspection. Prison administrators should be extremely strict in dealing with the
cases of violence against women prisoners. Urgent steps should be taken to
ensure access to legal aid and counselling for all women inmates.
Few other effective measures can create quite a change for better if properly
implemented. The appointment of a confidential grievance redressal team in the
form of the jail staff itself; organization of different workshops inside the
jail premises regarding the procedures to file complaints, rights, and
encouragement to raise voices for each other.
The appointment of a committee
consisting of the inmates themselves to check on violence and intimate grievance redressal team, on the occurrence of some mishappening, will bring the concept
of security of the women prisoners by the women prisoners. Strict provisions
regarding body searches must be followed.
All staff involved in the custody,
interrogation, and treatment of prisoners must be sensitized on gender issues,
human rights, and sexual misconduct. Adequate female staff must be appointed to
tackle incidents of violence, are among the various recommendations highlighted
in multiple reports to pre-emptively strike the violence towards the female
We have a plethora of cases and recommendations every year in front of us to be
implemented. At the end of the year, we find ourselves failing all those women
prisoners who are human first, the fact which is often covered by the blanket of
their criminality to justify the violence they face, by the community and the
authorities too. There is no justification for aggravating the suffering already
inherent in the process of incarceration. It's high time not just to realize
what Gandhi Ji said Hate the sin and not the sinner
but to add humanize the
in furtherance of it.