New Delhi:

Calling for “prison rules and practices that treat prisoners in a dehumanised way to be abolished”, the findings of the government’s ‘Women in Prisons’ report seeks “dignity for inmates” while drawing attention to the lack of toilets and the need to link prisons to the Swachh Bharat mission.

The report which is now in public domain on the WCD website says it is not just overcrowding and delay in justice that is impacting prisons and prisoners in India, but archaic “rules” too are denying them basic human dignity like ones which require them to abstain from singing or laughing, or which make it an offence to refuse to eat food or those that allow prisoners to wear sandals only upon the sanction of the superintendent.

These telling findings on the behavioural restrictions are based on experiences gathered from certain jails visited by teams of the National Commission for Women between November 2017 and May 2018.

WCD minister Maneka Gandhi feels the report is “an initiative that should change the way prison administration perceives women inmates.”

It is recommended in the report that the state prison manuals must be updated and strictly implemented to provide basic entitlements to all women prisoners including appropriate living quarters, bedding and toilets. Highlighting that sanitation was lacking, it is recommended that prisons should be linked to local “Swachh Bharat Mission” initiative, if needed, to construct more bathrooms and toilets and to carry out repairs. It is pointed that overcrowding can worsen hygiene conditions and health problems with even minor infections spreading quickly.

Also, a large majority

(81.8%) of female prisoners fall in the menstruating age group of 18-50 years, increasing their need for proper sanitation facilities as well as access to adequate menstrual hygiene products. They are to be provided with sterilised sanitary napkins as per their requirement, but this is largely missing. Women are reportedly charged for sanitary napkins in some prisons or are only provided a set monthly number irrespective of need. This leads women to resort to using unhygienic materials such as cloth, ash, pieces of old mattresses, newspapers etc.

On the follow-up action on the report which was submitted to the MHA, it is learnt from reliable sources that the MHA is planning to identify and make some key recommendations a part of model prison manual.

“While the prescription in the prison manual is to ensure one toilet and one bathing cubicle for every 10 prisoners, this is rarely seen on the ground. There are usually a small number of bathrooms and toilets catering to a disproportionately large prison population. The National Prison Manual further estimates the daily need of water at 135 litres per inmate. In reality, there is a lack of sufficient water, which exacerbates the low levels of sanitation and hygiene. There have been reports of prisoners not being able to take a bath for multiple days,” it is stated.

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