Central Jail Number Six - over 26% of the female
prisoners in Tihar
NEW DELHI: The mother-in-law, that lumbering bearer of
many keys and grudges, has a special place
not only in Balaji Telefilms but also in Tihar jail.
A portion of Central Jail Number Six is dedicated to
housing women accused in dowry-related
atrocities. Endearingly called the saas-nanad
barracks, the special prison is a cluster of
melancholic cells flanking a corridor leading to a
About 1,200 mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law of dead
and living victims enter this cell every
year and almost an equal number either get bail or are
At the moment, there are about 120 in-laws here, over
26% of the female prisoners in Tihar. They
are chiefly semi-literate women from Delhi and the
villages around who spend their days weeping,
milling around any casual visitor to describe the
treachery of the girls side, praying in serious
groups, listening to religious lectures, and making
bags for social workers.
They even observe karva chauth, and for some reason,
according to information officer Sunil
Gupta, they love primetime soaps despite the frequent
triumphs of the young wife in those plots.
Mothers-in-law who are over 60 grimly accept the
privileges of being old 400 grams of milk,
butter and eggs on most days.
The idea to separate the perennially stunned in-laws,
usually first-time criminals, from more
seasoned female inmates, was conceived when Kiran Bedi
was the Inspector General of prisons, but
the mother-in-law barracks were born some time in
There is wisdom in the move to sequester the in-laws.
Some of these women are, without doubt,
murderers. They did kill young women who came to their
house in hope. But an overwhelming
majority are inside for mental torture.
They may be bad persons like many women we know but
not professional criminals the way prison
authorities understand the term. Bedi says that she
did not want veterans in immoral trafficking
and kidnapping to influence those arrested in
dowry-related cases. But the mother-in-law barracks
have become a howling island from where old and young
women beg for release.
Several police officials confirm that there is a
growing trend of the girls side putting almost
all the family members of the boys side in prison and
negotiating release money that runs into
Many times, enterprising daughters-in-law, even from
far-flung villages, use the benevolence of
law to teach a lesson to their mothers-in-law by
accusing them of torture. Over 90% of the
in-laws who arrive in the barracks get bail. A
minuscule portion has been convicted. Just about
10 among those in the cells right now have been given
Many of them cannot comprehend the illegality of dowry
or their harassment of the bride. It was a
culture that they had seen all around them, and had
suffered in silence when they were young.
The complexity of bringing law into the traditional
fault lines between women is disturbing the
conscience of jail officials. And not everybody who is
cautiously sympathetic to the jailed
in-laws is male.
I wouldnt know in percentage terms but I can say that
there are several cases of women arrested
in dowry-related cases who turn out to be innocent or
their crimes have been exaggerated, says
The cruel harassment that young women face today is a
very real issue but what exactly
constitutes abetment to suicide is never clearly
defined. These days, the police are afraid of
being accused of being insensitive to women. So, when
the girls side files a complaint, there is
a tendency to make quick arrests.
But the evil of dowry with its lasting scepters of
charred girls has no other remedy but to raise
a system in which it is easy for a woman to put her
cruel in-laws in jail.
It is inevitable that such a system will send to the
mother-in-law barracks, along with real
murderers and torturers, aging women who had probably
done nothing to deserve imprisonment.
When Diya was arrested, her son was about three months
old. Her sister-in-law had been admitted
in a hospital for burns. One hour after admission, she
said that she had suffered the burns while
cooking. Her condition improved and she returned to
A few weeks later, due to improper care, she died of
an infection. Before that she gave a second
statement implicating Diya and others from her
husbands family. Diya was 23 when she was
arrested. That was five years ago.
Sunita was an adolescent when she was arrested nine
years ago for burning her sisterin-law who
eventually died. Sunita is serving a life sentence in
the special cell and she still maintains
that she was in her village far away when the incident
Sunita and Diya are among the many who wail when
anyone visits the cell, especially a senior
police officer or a new social worker.
Through prayers and handicraft, they survive the days.
But convictions are rare in dowry cases,
especially for harassment charges.
The numbers of the more transient inmates though, the
bulk of the population here, are growing
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Disclamer : These are my personal views.Your views could be different.