No food and water for two days while being produced in courts, no doctor to treat sick inmates, no possibility of meeting or speaking to family members. These are some of the observations made by former National Commission for Women (NCW) member Shamina Shafiq on the condition of women prisoners lodged in Central Jail in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, in December 2012. The report, accessed exclusively by The Hindu , kept hidden from the public until recently, was released in response to RTI queries from women’s rights groups working in the State. Adivasi schoolteacher and political leader Soni Sori says that since nothing much has changed in Chhattisgarh’s prisons over the past few years, the findings of the NCW report remain relevant.
The NCW team found a total of 140 women prisoners lodged in Central Jail, Raipur, against a capacity of 80. They also found no female doctor in the jail, no armed guards to accompany the undertrials to court leading to inordinate delays in settling cases, and poor access to legal aid for the mostly illiterate prisoners. The NCW report also notes with concern that in the absence of a magistrate, despite video conferencing facilities in Raipur prison, tribal women feared to depose before jail authorities, and that “such an atmosphere was not conducive for holding trials.” The women prisoners are not even provided soap or sanitary napkins, the report says. Hidme’s testimony
The statement of 22-year-old Kawasi Hidme, released from Jagdalpur prison in Chhattisgarh earlier this year, after a seven-year illegal detention, offers a glimpse into the lives of adivasi prisoners here. Narrating her experiences in Delhi on Tuesday, Hidme recalled being only 15 years old when she was picked up by the police on charges of being a “Naxal”. Beaten and raped by the police in custody, she developed severe abdomen pain and vaginal bleeding. But during her time in Jagdalpur prison, when she sought medical care for this, prison authorities denied it initially. She was later moved to a hospital and an operation was performed on her, although details of the nature of the surgery remain unknown, as per Hidme’s testimony.
After being shunted between Jagdalpur and Raipur prisons, in March this year, the Sessions Court in Dantewada released her when no charges were found against her. The latest 2014 National Crime Records Bureau statistics puts Chhattisgarh among the States with the highest number of complaints – 3,105 — against the police for human rights abuses. However, only in 924 cases have judicial or magisterial inquiries been instituted. Eminent lawyer Vrinda Grover faults the systemic bias of the State police against the tribal poor in the Maoist insurgency-hit areas, which explains the large population of undertrials here. While conducting research in the southern regions of Chhattisgarh, she found that between 2009 and 2014, the prison population swelled rapidly, with overcrowding figures now standing at 261 per cent above capacity. In Jagdalpur prison last year, women inmates managed to get a community kitchen after negotiating hard with the jail supervisor.
But these minor improvements don’t go a long way in improving their overall lives, as the harassment they suffer at the hands of both prison supervisors and the police leave them shattered for a lifetime, she says. “Look at Hidme. At the young age of 22, her health is so poor; she cannot do any work that a normal person of her age does. The multiple rapes she suffered at the hands of policemen during custody has devastated her, both physically and mentally,” she says.