Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh): Vartika Nanda heads the journalism department at the prestigious Lady Shri Ram College for Women in Delhi. But that is not her sole introduction. She is a prison reformer of repute and has won accolades for her efforts for making prisons better. Vartika and her associates have formed an organisation called Tinka Tinka Foundation for initiating and executing prison reforms.
Nanda was in the city Bhopal to address a seminar, organised by the MPHRC to mark the Human Rights Day on Sunday. On the sidelines of the seminar, Free Press talked with her.
What is the biggest problem of Indian prisons?
Of course, it is overcrowding. If you shove 400 prisoners into a barrack meant for 100, you can imagine what will happen. I know of jails where the inmates sleep in shifts. I know of jails where the inmates have to keep standing the whole night because they have no place to sleep.
What does this situation lead to and what is the solution?
It is clear that if jails are so overcrowded, we cannot hope that the inmates will be physically and mentally healthy. That is not possible. But this problem can’t be solved overnight. It will require cooperation from the judiciary, from the state governments and so on.
What about women prisoners? Many states including Madhya Pradesh don’t have separate prisons for women?
This is really unfortunate. Every state should have a separate prison for women. The problem is that the jails were designed keeping in mind only male prisoners. The infrastructure of the jails is suited for males. Currently, the practice is to set aside a section in the jails for women. But that is not enough. Women won’t feel safe unless they have a separate jail.
What is being done for the rehabilitation of women prisoners?
The same old mindset is at work. You teach women inmates how to make papads and badi and agarbattis. Nowadays, many women prisoners are well-educated. So, they should have other options. Everyone should be given work in keeping with her mental level, as far as it does not violate the rules.
So, what we need is innovation?
We at Tinka-Tinka foundation launched prison radios. The prisoners were the producers and the directors of the programmes broadcast on prison radios. They were the RJs, too. It made a difference in the level of their depression. Their mutual conflicts and disputes reduced.
What more can be done?
See. We need to make the prisons less ‘Udaas’ (sad) places. The arts, colours, painting, music - all can help. The main thing is that society should think about prisons and prisoners. Prisoners are out of sight. But they should not be out of mind.