Bleak view of life in prison
Reviewed by Kanwalpreet

Women, Crime and Prison Life
by Madhurima.
Deep and Deep.
Pages 244. Rs 990.

PRISON, the hitherto forgotten places in our society, a forsaken place where people who committed crimes were relegated to the background. Even today, prisoners and undertrials live in such pathetic conditions that human rights are a far cry from their lives. Fortunately, the gamut of human rights has widened and they have become so important that a lot of research is focused on them and why they are denied to a big section of people anywhere in the world.

Among the many researchers who are conducting studies on the deplorable conditions of prisons and their inmates, Madhurima, a Reader in Sociology in the University School of Open Learning, Panjab University, Chandigarh, has made this study. She has also won a UGC research award for her work on the tribal women of Chhatisgarh. Her area of interest is exploring and offering solutions to the hardships faced by women within and outside the home. With the present work, she has broken fresh ground by dealing with women incarcerated in persons. The objectives of her study outline her intensive research. She sets out with the arduous task of not only examining the socio-economic background of the women prisoners, but also to identify the types and causes of crimes committed by them.

Working on these lives, she describes the conditions of the different jails while suggesting how to improve the living conditions of prisoners. She has researched on jails in Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Patiala, Amritsar, Burail (Chandigarh), Ambala and Hisar. Her study is empirical and she uses figures to get her point across. She even deals with the causes of indiscipline in the jails and the punishment meted out to the inmates. She says sometimes indiscipline is the result of regressive punishment. Personal vendetta is another factor that leads to the miserable plight of the prisoners.

Highlighting the problems of the children whose mothers are prisoners, the author ponders on the dilemma of the women regarding their children and family lives. Hence, there is gender difference here. Unlike men who are imprisoned, the conditions of women prisoners differ. When men go to jails, their wives are supposed to look after their children, aged parents and the extended family, but in case of women, their husbands refuse to take care of their children. Thus, the children accompany their mothers and end up living in a hostile environment in the jail. Most of the prisons lack a cr`E8che and other related services that would provide a congenial healthy environment to innocent children. For women, who are lodged in jails, it is a break of their marital lives. She touches an emotional vein among the prisoners when she questions them about leading a normal life after their term is over. The answer reflects the insecurity and the angst of the women.

Besides this, the author discusses the characteristics of the inmates and then gives a detailed description of the types of crimes committed. She reaches the conclusion that, most of the women are likely to kill in self-defense in response to their male partner’s physical aggression and threats.

Another interesting finding is that most of the women lodged in jails had been involved in drugs smuggling and till they were caught did not even know that smuggling of drugs was illegal. In all the jails, the food is unpalatable— dal is watery and chapattis are burnt. The latter, shockingly, are dried and then used as fuel by the inmates to cook food in chullhas built by inmates within the jail precincts. So, there is no paucity of raw material, but there is a lack of will of transfer these resources to the beneficiaries.

Madhurima has made her study useful and authentic by presenting tables in succession which are detailed and comprehensive. "Gender though a fundamental is largely an ignored issue in the field of criminal justice system" provoked Madhurima to chose this subject. She believes that "women offenders are different from men, having different pathways to crime, different life circumstance and different habilitative or rehabilitative needs".

Study of such women becomes a necessity and the author has done her bit by working on such subjects. This is a sensitive study that would surely be a starting point for more research. Libraries, especially those concentrating on women’s studies, would benefit from this work.