Byculla prison’s anganwadi leads the way

A view of the Byculla in Mumbai.

A view of the Byculla in Mumbai. | Photo Credit: PTI

There are a total of 11 children of prisoners who are currently living inside the women’s jail in Byculla, with their mothers serving time. This is one of the few prisons leading the way for the anganwadi system to be instituted across the country.

The landmark judgment delivered in 2006 by the Supreme Court of India in R. D. Upadhyay Vs. State of Andhra Pradesh had stated, “There shall be a crèche and a nursery attached to the prison for women where the children of women prisoners will be looked after… the prison authorities shall preferably run the said crèche and nursery outside the prison premises.”

Based on years of advocacy work by Prayas, a project by the Centre for Criminology and Justice of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), the first anganwadi for children living in prison was set up at the Byculla Central Jail outside the prison premises in 2012, under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). Since then, seven more anganwadis have been set up in prisons through the ICDS, with four of them outside the prison premises.

Seema*, who works closely with the Byculla jail authorities said, “As per the counting done last month, there are 11 children in Byculla jail and according to the ICDS, there is an anganwadi outside the jail set up 10 years back. It is run by a teacher and a helper, and since it is a government post, the teacher is paid ₹8,000 monthly and the helper is paid ₹4,000. They teach kids the basic alphabet, tell stories, make them identify images. It is run like a nursery for kids above the age of three.”

She explained that each time a child enters the prison, the child welfare committee (CWC) is informed about it. After the age of six (when the law does not permit children to be brought inside prison), they are sent to their families or placed in the CWC, if no relative is willing to take the child. Inside the jail, everyone lives like a family — there is no barrier of class, caste or religion. “Earlier, children would not [be able to] identify the family because they wouldn’t see each for years. Now, that has changed, and because of the mulakat system, the children are aware of who is who. If the child stays in the CWC, no one there knows they have come from jail. They are given a nutritious diet in jail and the CWC, consisting of eggs, milk and rice,” Ms. Seema said.. In prison, the child and mother are kept in a separate barrack, with other mothers and children.

Civil rights activist Sudha Bharadwaj, who was first lodged at the Yerawada Central Jail and then the Byculla jail for almost four years in the Bhima Koregaon caste violence case, also reiterated the same. She said, “In Byculla and Yerawada, there is a nursery outside the prison where children from age three to six go. This facility was, however, stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a separate place for the mothers to live with their children inside the jail. In Yerawada, there is a small area outside the prison where children go and play. They also get a special diet of chappati, sabzi, khichdi, eggs and bananas.”

A guide by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, an international NGO working for practical realisation of human rights in the Commonwealth, titled ‘Standards behind bars: Security rights of women prisoners’ in the year 2020, puts forth standards set out under various national and international documents which are instrumental towards ensuring the rights of women prisoners.

It mentions, “The prison administration must ensure that the child be placed in a manner that he/she can interact with the mother regularly at least once a week. In case the child is in the care of family/friends, the female inmate should be allowed to call every day for a week, and thereafter at least twice a week, for a reasonable time to be in touch with the child or the caregiver of the child.”

However, according to a report dated March 31, 2021 by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights titled, ‘Education Status of Children of Women Prisoners in India’: “It was observed that children above six years were allowed to visit their mothers in Byculla prison at least once every quarter and children from Yerwada Jail visit their mothers once a month.”

The National Crime Records Bureau’s 2020 prison data for India reveals there are 20,046 women prisoners, comprising 4.1% of total prison population. There were 1,427 women with 1,628 children in the year 2020.

*Seema’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2022 5:29:10 pm |