It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.

Nelson Mandela had once said “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones”. Indian society represents women with the highest position of the Goddess. A woman is the creator of a new life and also the nurturer of a home. A world where men want to dominate, she is reduced to just an object where she is exploited despite the fact that she is behind the bars under the guard of governmental authorities. When a woman is put behind the bars, be it for any reason, she can see her whole life shattered in front of her eyes even if her case is not yet proved. She, just not have to struggle with this dogmatic belief of the society, but also various injustices happening inside the jail.

This series of articles in three parts primarily deals with the conditions of such Indian women who have been put behind the bars and have to suffer every day for their day to day needs because the government and the authorities could not maintain a proper standard of living inside the jails for such women as promised. The subsequent parts of this series of articles shall deal with the detailed nature of their sufferings and suggested solutions to improve the situation.

The Cold-Shoulder response to Female Criminality

There has been a long history of women indulging in all kind of crimes similar to their male counterparts from simple assault to theft, cheating, forgery, property crimes, robbery, extortion, drug-related offenses, human trafficking, and even homicide. But, the study and research about female criminality in India have always been given a cold-shoulder response by the academicians, scholars and the Governments.

One of the prominent reasons behind such a massive neglect, in our opinion, is the fact that the number of female criminals, in comparison to their male counterparts, have always been significantly minimized. The other reason behind this neglect is that the female criminality has not been that threatening in the society as that of the male criminality. The comparative history of male and female criminality suggests that male criminality profoundly destabilizes the order of law and immensely affects the societal peace and tranquillity whereas female criminality visibly poses less danger to the society in comparison to the male offenders.


Vickie Jensen and Kristyan M. Kouri in their seminal work titled ‘Women Criminals: an encyclopedia of people and issues, Vol. I,’ suggest that the study of women who commit crime has a long history, stretching back to the 1800s with the work of Cesare Lombroso and other biologists who sought to explain crime from a biological point of view, often borrowing heavily from Darwinian evolutionary perspectives to explain the supposed lack of evolutionary development shown by criminals and all women, especially criminal women.  

Prison Statistics India, 2014 released by National Crime Record Bureau, suggests that merely 4.1 % of the total convicts and 4.3% of the total under trial prisoners lodged in different jails of India, were female offenders. Similarly, it reveals that 2.5% of the total detenus in 2014, in Indian jails were women.

Reasons For Ignorance

This ever-continuing, significantly disproportionate nature of female criminality vis a vis their male counterparts, have been a strong reason for the brutal ignorance for the proper study and research of the different aspects of female criminality and their correctional aspects thereof, which in turn has resulted in an excessive violations of their human rights and aggravated suffering inside the four walls of the prison, because the issue has not been paid the attention that it deserves.

This doesn’t mean that we propose to enhance the rate of female criminality in order to minimize the suffering of women inside the prisons, rather we simply tend to point towards the pathetic attitude of the Governments which have been blatantly ignoring the specific care and treatments that the female prisoners deserve, merely because they have been less in percentage.

Further, it also doesn’t mean that the male prisoners who constitute an excessively high rate of the prisons’ population are in a better condition than their female counterparts inside the prisons. But, the crux of the point is that had the rate of female criminality been higher the Governments would have paid more attention like constructing separate jails for female prisoners on each level, where they could get gender-based special care and treatments.

But, unfortunately, in present times, the general line of defense of the Governments remain that it is not possible to construct separate jails on each level for few female criminals, citing scarcity of resources for the same. This situation is indeed extremely paradoxical where women’s suffering is not getting reduced because their rate of indulgence in crime is comparatively very low than the male offenders.

National Expert Committee on Women Prisoners (1986), constituted by the Government of India had opined that:

Neglect of female criminality and her second citizen status in correctional and social defense strategies have been chronic in India. Much of this is a reflection of the unequal status which accrues to women in Indian society. Their freedom has traditionally been compromised. They are reduced to socio-economic serfdom through the exploitative manipulations of a feudal system, the onslaught of which continues to pressurize women in current times.

The Cost of Ignorance

These ignorances, have immensely costed the basic human rights of the female prisoners locked up behind the bars and thus have significantly aggravated their sufferings. The condition of women caught in the criminal justice system is becoming grim day by day. The various efforts of the Ministry of Human Resource Development and various other committees devoted to the amelioration of such women have been a tedious job nevertheless disheartening when it meets relentless fate.

Prison is a correctional center. It should have a healthy environment so that when a prisoner gets out of the prison he/she should not end up being the person which has made him land in the prison. But in the current scenario, the Indian Prisons have failed to provide such environment for various reasons. The lack of infrastructure and proper maintenance of the prisoners not only affects their physical self but also their emotional well-being.

This cold-shoulder response to the issue of female criminality is less likely to be properly addressed unless the process encompassing the well-intentioned efforts to address it, fairly constitutes the proportionate women’s voices and their genuine concerns. There is a significantly less probability of a Government disproportionally constituting the male population to bring strong policies, legislation and allocating adequate resources for the betterment of the female prisoners. Therefore, any attempt of improvement in the status quo shall have to necessarily pass through the sufficient number of women’s voices being included in the decision-making process of policies enactment and allocation of resources to convey their experiences and gender-based specific requirements.

To be continued…

Co-writer: Rupa Bhattacharya

Further, Read More: 

The Plight of Female Prisoners in Indian Prisons – II

The Plight of Female Prisoners in Indian Prisons – III

Rohit Kumar

Rohit Kumar is a law graduate, an RTI activist and a former SBI Youth for India Fellow (2017-18) Batch.