“Women’s stories are the saddest in prisons,” says journalist Sunetra Choudhury, author of ‘Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous’.

In her new book, Choudhury has chronicled the lives of those behind the prison walls—a heavily guarded place away from the public eye. She took up the task on unravelling some of the most controversial stories of convicts in her book from Peter Mukerjea to Amar Singh.

Ask her what motivated her to write the book and she has an interesting story to tell. “It was a chance accident with a model. She knew that I was working on a CBI story and she gave me a call. But then we started talking about how she got massages in jail. And that she had an LCD TV and things that I couldn’t imagine even after being a journalist for two decades. Her experiences in jail piqued my interest and I thought I have to write about this,” recollected Choudhury in a conversation with SheThePeople.TV.

Currently working with NDTV, Choudhury has drawn a stark parallel between the lives of people from different strata of society and how it affects their jail term in her book. “If you steal Rs 1,000, the hawaldar will beat the shit out of you and lock you up in a dungeon with no bulb or ventilation. If you steal Rs 55,000 crore, then you get to stay in a 40-ft cell which has four split units, internet, fax, mobile phones and a staff of 10 to clean your shoes and cook your food (in case it is not being delivered from Hyatt that particular day),” writes Choudhury in her book.

She documents first-hand interviews with some of India’s most well-known inmates. While she puts the rich and powerful prisoners under spotlight, the award-winning journalist also makes a crucial inference on the women in prison.

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“Did you know that a lot of women are in jail for rape? Can you imagine women sent to jail for rape? And that happens because if some guy and girl run away. Then the girl’s parents blame a neighbourhood girl for helping them elope. So they put a rape case on the man and the abetment to rape case on the neighbourhood girl. A lot of women who have not committed any crime are in jail and the bail amount is so low, but because they are poor, they don’t know how to pay that money,” said Choudhary.

“These women spend up to two years before they get bail. They are sometimes single earners, having children etc but they are in jail for this reason and also for dowry. But the abetment to rape cases really shook me. And usually in jail, a prisoner’s family can send them up to Rs 6,000. They can use the money to buy food and other necessities. However, really poor women don’t have that money, so they become maids inside the jail for other inmates and do their work to earn some money,” she added.

She also disclosed the story of a woman named Rehmana in her book who had to go to jail just because she married someone who was accused of terrorism. These stories need to come out for help to reach such people living in atrocious jail conditions, believes Choudhury.

“Can you imagine women sent to jail for rape? And that happens because if some guy and girl run away then the girl’s parents blame a neighbourhood girl for helping them elope. So they put a rape case on the man and the abetment to rape case on the neighborhood girl. A lot of women who have not committed any crime are in jail and the bail amount is so low, but because they are poor, they don’t know how to pay that money,” said Choudhary

Having dug deeper into how the prison system works, she suggested a few corrective measures. “One of the things they can do is to have a much more effective system where people listen to them. Increase in jail visits of counsellors, legal help will ensure corrective behaviour of prisoners. And if the free legal aid firms at least give the bail amounts of people, who need just Rs 500 or Rs 1000, that would really help.”

In this day and age where Sasikala’s VVIP treatment in the Bengaluru prison was recently called out by IPS official, D Roopa Moudgil, it is pertinent for more such stories to come across. And Choudhury’s effort in bringing some of the stories out in the open is commendable.

Choudhury also spoke on how it is for a woman writing such a book. She says, “As women, we tell stories of much more empathy. And people open up to women quicker than they would to men. They don’t look at us with intimidation or a threat to them. This book was about people telling their own stories. And I think they felt that they could trust me, so it worked to my advantage. Someone like Amar Singh, who went through such a humiliating time, and the woman who got gangraped in jail. I don’t think she would trust a man with her story. She needed to tell that to me. And she knew that I would tell it in a humane, dignified manner.”

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta

 

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