India: “The jails are full of Soni Soris”

The Hindu, April 3, 2012

by Divya Trivedi

SISTERHOOD: Women narrate their stories. Photo: Divya Trivedi
[SISTERHOOD: Women narrate their stories. Photo: Divya Trivedi]

Women prisoners reveal the shocking conditions of their confinement –custodial violence, which has no sanction under law, is a part and parcel of the system

Following a minor altercation with the warden in Ward No. 8 of Tihar Jail, Zohara Baratali received severe blows on her lower abdomen that made her bleed for a full month before she succumbed to her injuries. That was a decade ago.

Last year, unable to bear the trauma of being stripped, beaten and sexually assaulted by three policemen inside Pratap Nagar Police Station in Jaipur, Seema Singh tried to end her life by jumping in front of a train. She did not die, but became a paraplegic for life. That did not deter the authorities from arresting her. Last week, the hearing for her bail application was adjourned, yet again.

The All India Meet on Women Prisoners & Custodial Violence held in Delhi on the weekend threw light on the plight of women prisoners in the country. Custodial violence, which is illegal and has no sanction under law, is a part and parcel of the system, with Soni Sori’s case having brought it into the forefront. The speakers shared their concern over the use of women’s sexuality to torture and criminalize them, with police reports usually mentioning these women as those with ‘low’ character. According to them around 99.9 per cent of women prisoners in the country belong to the backward Dalit, Adivasi and minority communities.

Trade Union activist Anu said, “The class divide runs deep in jails. If you are dressed well and look affluent, you won’t be asked to do a lot of the work. But others have to be on their feet all the time, even an 80 year old woman is not spared.” Speaking of her days in Tihar Jail, Anu said that the moment one enters the jail, even as an under trial, the perception is that the person is a criminal and an atmosphere of fear is created. Violence and abuses are a part of that fear psychosis. Continue reading