Behind bars: in­car­cer­ated moth­ers and their in­no­cent chil­dren

46 boys and girls are liv­ing in pris­ons in Odisha with their moms, who are serv­ing sen­tences, and have no ac­cess to court-man­dated wel­fare

The Hindu - - THE HINDU - Satya­sun­dar Barik

That a mother and child are in­sep­a­ra­ble is a tru­ism. Odisha’s pris­ons val­i­date it, but for a dif­fer­ent rea­son. Here is why.

Forty-six chil­dren, aged be­tween one month and six years, now live in pris­ons with their moth­ers, who are serv­ing sen­tences for crimes from mur­der to kid­nap­ping to drug deal­ing. Of the 25 girls and 21 boys, many are old enough to go to school. But they don’t.

In re­sponse to an RTI ap­pli­ca­tion by human rights lawyer Biswapriya Ka­nungo, Odisha’s Direc­torate of Pris­ons and Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices said nine moth­ers are con­victs, while 36 are un­der­tri­als. Of the 45 moth­ers, 30 be­long to the Sched­uled Castes and the Sched­uled Tribes.

Although the Supreme Court guide­lines say cases of women pris­on­ers with chil­dren should be dis­posed of ex­pe­di­tiously, the re­al­ity is dif­fer­ent.

Ac­cord­ing to the RTI re­ply, one of the im­pris­oned moth­ers, lodged in the Pal­la­hara sub-jail in An­gul district, has been granted bail, but can­not be freed as she is un­able to fur­nish sureties. But the RTI re­ply doesn’t men­tion the date of grant of bail, nor the surety amount. Some oth­ers have been im­pris­oned for petty of­fences for which they should have got bail long ago. But there are eight moth­ers who are in­car­cer­ated for four years.

“Chil­dren lodged in jails with their moth­ers are nei­ther con­victs nor un­der­tri­als. They are en­ti­tled to food, shel­ter, med­i­cal care, cloth­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties,” points out Mr. Ka­nungo.

Norms breached

Ac­cord­ing to the SC guide­lines, chil­dren be­low three years shall be al­lowed in crèche and those be­tween two and three years should be looked af­ter in nurs­ery. The prison au­thor­i­ties should run crèche and nurs­ery out­side the prison premises. Small chil­dren should not be kept in sub-jails un­less fa­cil­i­ties are en­sured for their bi­o­log­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal and so­cial growth,” the guide­lines say.

Ka­mal Lochan Sethi and his wife, Su­jata, whose daugh­ter was born in jail, would not have suf­fered so much had prison au­thor­i­ties de­vel­oped fa­cil­i­ties as per the guide­lines. They were ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of be­ing ‘ac­tive’ sup­port­ers of the out­lawed CPI (Maoist) on May 18, 2008. Three months af­ter their ar­rest, Ms. Su­jata gave birth to a girl. Over the next nine years, both Mr. Ka­mal and Ms. Su­jata lived in four jails and their ex­pe­ri­ence of rais­ing a child in prison was painful.

“The one good thing done by the ad­min­is­tra­tion was that they ad­mit­ted my wife in the MKCG Med­i­cal Col­lege Hos­pi­tal, Ber­ham­pur, for de­liv­ery. On re­turn to jail, the mother and baby were sup­posed to get spe­cial pro­tein­rich diet and mas­sage oil, but to our sur­prise noth­ing reached them. My wife had to go on strike to get them,” said Mr. Ka­mal.

Ms. Su­jata shiv­ers rec­ol­lect­ing her first day af­ter shift­ing to a Bhubaneswa­r jail. “The au­thor­i­ties put me and my daugh­ter in a 6X6 feet soli­tary cell for 24 hours. In that dark room, she cried for hours but the warders turned a deaf ear. The next day, we had to plead with the au­thor­i­ties to free us from it,” she said. The Sethis were re­leased last year af­ter be­ing ac­quit­ted in all cases.

Anup Pat­naik, for­mer IGP (Pris­ons), Odisha, ad­mit­ted that jail man­u­als had to be un­am­bigu­ous in han­dling sen­si­tive is­sues.

“Reg­u­lar vis­its by top of­fi­cers to jails and sit­u­a­tional re­ports by the pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer would sort out most prob­lems. I don’t think it is hap­pen­ing,” he said.

Fur­ther, once they turn six, chil­dren must be handed over to a guardian as per the wishes of the mother or sent to an in­sti­tu­tion run by the So­cial Wel­fare Depart­ment. How­ever, prison staff al­legedly ma­nip­u­late the chil­dren’s age to avoid of­fi­cial pro­cesses for com­ply­ing with SC guide­lines.

GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOT­O ■

Court guide­lines say cases of women pris­on­ers with chil­dren should be cleared ex­pe­di­tiously.

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