Indian Women Behind Bars

By: Jhanvi Jain

India, a country where a woman is treated as a goddess and a slave even before the clock’s short hand completes its 360 degrees. Forty-eight per cent of India’s population consists of women but the female prisoners consist only 4.27% of the total prison population. [1]India’s 133rd rank in the Women peace, security index out of the participating 167 countries gives us a glimpse of the status of women in India. Most of the women living in rural areas have been subject to Injustices ranking from Battery to Dowry death. Women in India have been portrayed as a weaker strata of the society who are time and again suppressed by the Patriarchal society.

Here, I am going to portray the conditions of the Indian women in prison. [2]Women and girls make up 6.9% of the global prison Population. United States of America is the largest contributor to this percentage, it has a total of 2,11,870 female prisoners whereas India has only 17,834 female prisoners. There are only 18 states having exclusive prisons for Female inmates. Only 17% of the total female inmates live in exclusive women prisons, whereas the others are housed in female enclosures of general prisons. Out of the 17,834 women 11,916 approximately are under trial and the rest are convicts.

The majority (50.5%) of the female inmates in India lie within the age of 30 – 50 years followed by the ones between the age of 18-30 whose percentage amount 31.3. Whereas, the percentage of male prisoners between the age 30-50 years is 44and for between 18-30 years in 43.1.On taking this data into consideration we can undoubtedly state that the young men are more likely to commit crimes than young women.

The state with the most number of female prisoners is Uttar Pradesh with a number amounting to [3]3,553 approximately and the one with the least number of convicts is Lakshadweep Island amounting to zero. The most common form of crime for which the female section of the Indian society is convicted is murder. The number of women convicted for murder amounts to 3,000 approximately.

The Indian prison system has been managed by a large number of committees since independence. Let us look at some of them: –

[4]The first committee appointed was the Pakwasa committee in 1949 which stated the system of utilizing the prisoners as labourers for roadwork with intensive supervision. It also suggested to make Indian prisons reformatory. The second committee was set up in 1960 called the Model Prison Manual, it promoted to appoint a working group for prisons. Then came the third committee the Mulla committee, it was set up in 1980 it made some of the most prominent recommendation including setting up of an All India Service called the Indian Prison and correctional services and the under-trials in jails to be reduced to the bare minimum and the existing ones should be kept away from the convicts.

Then came on The Krishna Iyer committee (1987) also known as National Expert Committee on Women Prisoners, it was the First ever committee establishedspecially to study the situation of the women prisoners. The only recommendation made by the committee was to incorporate more women officers in the police force.

The living conditions of female prisoners in India is seen as pitiful, they go through a lot of problems daily some of which are stated below: –

  1. [5]Health- The National Prison manual states all the precautions to be taken for maintaining health of prisoners. It prescribes separate wards for men and women and a separate health screening for women prisoners. All prisoners are to be vaccinated before entering into the prison and special care is to be provided to the elderly prisoners and the prisoners addicted to drugs. The Chief Medical Officer is supposed to inspect the prison hospitals everyday and a lady officer is to be appointed for female prisoners. Women suffering from mental illness are supposed to be admitted in separate enclosures of Mental health hospitals instead of prisons.
    The rules stated above are not followed properly in Indian prison. Women suffering from mental illness are generally not given the care needed for their well -being, which sometimes even results in suicide. The number of lady doctors needed for women prisons is not satisfied and the health of the prisoners is still suffering.
  2. [6]Violence by correctional officers- No male is allowed to enter the female wards unless it is a licit duty. Women prisoners are only allowed to leave their wards for release, transfer, attendance at court and if the superintendent has allowed for special purposes in cases of transit from one jail to another or from jail to court they are allowed to be accompanied by a female relative. The process of search for drugs or any contrabands is to be carried out with ultimate decency in private places with a female officer.
    Even under such tight rules, there are still a large number of incidents of violence and sexual abuse faced by the female prisoners. According to the National Prison Manual if a prisoner has faced violence or sexual abuse they have to report it by seeking a legal recourse and lodging a formal complaint. Irrespective of the formal report they are to be given psychological support and counselling. It has been seen that many sexual violence cases in prison do not come to light due to their co habitation. As reporting against one of the guards can make it difficult for them to survive peacefully.
  3. Contact with their family members in the outside world- In 1979 The supreme court allowed the family members of the inmates to visit them on fortnightly basis. It allowed the inmates to call their family members and write them letters.
    But because of the social stigma against women going to prisons the visitors for them are often very limited.
    The National commission for women collectively with National Human Rights Commission revealed that the conditions of the waiting room and visiting rooms were pitiful. The large number of males were the dominant group in the waiting rooms which made the females more vulnerable.
  4. Children of the inmates- The supreme court in its guidelines in 2006 stated that children below the age of six years are allowed to live with their mothers in prison. The children in jail should be entitled to food, medical care, clothing, shelter, education and recreational activities. Many female inmates except high risk prisoners might even be allowed to be released temporarily for delivery. The National Prison manual provides for a crèche and nursey in every prison where children are present. The children have to be provided with a strict diet mandated by the government. According to a recent data in 2015 there are 1,597 inmates with a total of 1,866 of their children.
    [7]The basic amenities like psychological, biological growth of the child, crèche recreational activities are not allotted to the children. In some prisons only an extra glass of milk is given to the children as a special diet. After a child crosses the age limit of six years they are to be placed either in the care of their own family or in protective custody at an appropriate children’s home. The process of removal of the child from the mother’s care must be done with sensitivity towards the needs of the child, and only after ensuring that adequate alternative arrangements for the child have been done. Prison administration should ensure that their facilities are tailored towards children living under their care, and these children should not be made to feel like offenders.

The Prison system around the globe is ruled by ‘THE BANGKOK RULES’ established by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It establishes a set of ideal conditions for the female prisoners. Following them would be a wise step for India.


[1] SHE THE PEOPLE NEWS, https://www.shethepeople.tv/news/india-133rd-women-peace-security-index-2019/ (last visited Oct. 30,2020)

[2] PRISON STUDIES, https://www.prisonstudies.org/ (last visited Oct.30,2020)

[3] Ministry Of Women and Child DevelopmentWomen in Prison, 1 6 (2018), https://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/Prison%20Report%20Compiled.pdf

[4]Jail Reforms in India: A Study of Indian jail reform committees, International, Journal of Multidisciplinary Education and Research, Vol.-I, Issue 3, 2016

[5]Ministry Of Women and Child Development Women in Prison, 1 15-16 (2018), https://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/Prison%20Report%20Compiled.pdf

[6]Ministry Of Women and Child Development Women in Prison, 1 20-24 (2018),https://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/Prison%20Report%20Compiled.pdf

[7]Ministry Of Women and Child Development Women in Prison, 1 25 (2018), https://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/Prison%20Report%20Compiled.pdf

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