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  • Ananya Pathak


Ananya Pathak

Institute of Law, Jiwaji University



The article explores the human rights issues faced by female prisoners in the Indian Penal system, focusing on legal, social and health perspectives. It critically assesses the effectiveness of existing legal frameworks and institutional mechanisms in safeguarding the rights and dignity of female inmates. The study highlights disparities in treatment compared to male prisoners, such as overcrowding, inadequate healthcare, and gender-based violence. It also explores the impact of societal stigmas and cultural norms on female prisoners’ experiences. The goal of this article is to promote a more equitable and humane prison environment for women in India.


Is crime a male? Prisons, once solely for men, are now gender-neutral and welcome both men and women who commit crimes. Although there are fewer female prisoners compared to men, they still face difficulties and laborious conditions. Understanding and appreciating the rights available to women prisoners is crucial. Women in prisons also live with their children, requiring proper care and treatment. They have separate personal sanitation and hygiene needs, and the health of pregnant women is a significant concern.

Hate the crime and not the criminal

~Mahatma Gandhi

Problems faced by women prisoners:

  1. Overcrowding: The National Prison Manual is a guideline for maintaining decent living standards for prisoners, ensuring proper facilities and proper ventilation. It outlines the size of cells and barracks in Indian prisons, but overcrowding has led to worsened hygiene, health problems, and psychological effects. The disproportionately low number of toilets and bathrooms exacerbates the situation. Despite the need for separate housing for convicted and under trial offenders, space constraints often prevent this. Women often face further challenges due to limited prison space and inadequate infrastructure.

  2. Poor Health care: In 2005, Indian prison authorities spent an average of Rs.10, 800 per inmate per year on food, clothing medical expenses, vocational and educational activities and welfare activities. This is significantly lower than the US average of $22,650 in 2001. The right to health in India includes providing accessible, authorized, and quality healthcare. However, many inmates face inaccessibility to gynecologists and are overlooked for mental health issues. In 2015, 51 women prisoners died, with 48 due to natural causes and three suicides.

  3. Sanitation and Hygiene: In India, 81.8% of female prisoners aged 18-50, particularly those in the menstruating group require proper sanitation facilities and access to menstrual hygiene products. However, some prisons charge for sanitary napkins or provide a set monthly number, leading to unhygienic practices. Essential sanitation and cleanliness offices are neglected, and the Prison Manual suggests having one toilet and bathing cubicle for every prisoner. Insufficient water supply also degrades sanitation and hygiene, as per the minimum standard of estimate of 135 liters per prisoner.

  4. Custodial Rape: In the famous case of State of Maharashtra vs. Chandraprakash Kewal Chand Jain[1], the victim faced custodial rape and became a sex offence victim. In terms of evidence, the Supreme Court stressed that cooperation should often not be required in these situations unless the prosecution’s testimony was deemed to be untrustworthy. Second, it should be assumed that no woman typically fabricate a rape accusation. Thirdly, there are perfectly reasonable explanations for the victim woman’s wait to file a complaint against the police, and the delay in doing so is not fatal. Regarding the sentencing, there could be no leeway; the penalty had to be outstanding.

  5. Prison is regulated by the patriarchy in which women often face this sort of physical and sexual harassment.

Other problems faced by women prisoners:

  1. Lack of nutritional food availability negatively affecting the health of female prisoners.

  2. Lack of medical services and women in jail are not given access to appropriate prenatal and postnatal medical care.

  3. Women prisoners are not mostly aware of their right to free legal aids. The Constitution of India has provided the right to free legal aid to the one in prison.

  4. Women prisoners in jail often lack gender-specific needs and privacy.

  5. Lack of training programs for the knowledge and awareness of the women prisoners’ rehabilitation.

  6. As women face the discrimination in society, it remains same in prisons as well. Women are discriminated from men prisoners.

  7. Shortage of female prisons in India is the major problem that women prisoners face. Also, shortage of female jail staff leads to discomfort and irregularities.  

Constitutional aspect of women prisoners in India:

The Indian Constitution does not give any special protections for female convicts. Nonetheless, women are granted equal standing under the Indian Constitution. Equal protection under the law is granted to women in India under Article 14 of the Constitution, while sex-based discrimination is outlawed by Article 15. However, Indian women incarcerated continue to confront several challenges. In order to advance and defend human rights, the Indian government has established the National Human Rights Commission and approved the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. The Directive Principles of State Policy, included in Part 4th of the Indian Constitution, instruct the state to grant its citizens economic and social rights in a certain way.

In T.V. Vatheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu[2], it was held that the Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution are available to the prisoners as well as common men

In addition, India has ratified a number of international conventions and human rights instruments that guarantee women’s equality. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which was ratified in 1993, is a crucial one. State Parties should guarantee to women suitable services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, providing free services when necessary, as well as proper nutrition throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding, says Article 12(2) of this convention. 

Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says every individual has the right to life, liberty, and personal security. Article 5 provides that no one shall be the victim of torture, cruelty or inhuman treatment.

Therefore, it is against the law for the State to violate the fundamental human rights and the constitutional rights of women inmates, as well as national and international human rights laws, to treat female prisoners inhumanly or degradingly.

Rights of Women Prisoners:

  1. The Supreme Court established in M.H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra[3] that an accused person who was impoverished or indigent had an implied right to free legal assistance at the state’s expense. This right was part of the fair, just and reasonable processes specified in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

  2. Free legal aid was added to the list of Directive Principles of State Policy under Article 39A of the Constitution of India, by the 42nd Amendment Act of 1976. The right to legal aid is not specifically guaranteed, however, the court has granted mercy to low-income mates who are unable to hire the advocates of their choice due to financial condition.

  3. Human dignity is inextricably linked to human rights. In a number of cases, the Indian Supreme Court has expressed grave concern over the cruel treatment of inmates and has directed relevant authorities to take immediate action to protect their rights. The court noted that it would definitely be arbitrary and in violation of Article 14 to treat a person in a way that violates their human dignity, subjects them to needless suffering and dehumanizes them.

  4. The Bombay High Court ruled in Christian Community Welfare Council of India vs. Government of Maharashtra[4] that women should not be arrested after sunset or before sunrise, and directed the state government to establish a police accountability scheme  against female detainees facing human rights abuse.

  5. Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 mandates a registered medical practitioner’s examination of an arrested person’s body for torture and maltreatment cases.

  6. In Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar[5], it was held that women prisoners have right to speedy trial. It was stated that speedy trial is a fundamental right and is covered under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

  7. Article 39A of the Indian Constitution ensures free legal aid for female inmates, promoting justice, equal opportunity, and preventing discrimination based on economic conditions.

  8. The NCPCR recommends early release for pregnant, ill or child-dependent women in jail, based on personal boundaries.

National commission for Women:

The National Commission for Women (NCW) in India is a statutory body that was established in nation to address women’s issues, including those related to women in the prison.

The NCW, in its capacity as a statutory body is expected to advocate rights and well-being of women across various aspects including prison. This involves, monitoring conditions, addressing violence and abuse, providing legal assistance, access to healthcare and addressing the gender-specific needs of women.

The National Commission for Women (NCW) in New Delhi conducts inspections of prisons and custodial homes to create a safer, gender-sensitive environment for inmates. They use a comprehensive proforma and information from the Superintendent of Prisons to identify deficiencies in women's wards. In 2018, they inspected 20 jails and 96 jails information was obtained for examination.


The study highlights the need for separate prisons in India to accommodate increasing number of women prisoners. Prioritizing the personal needs of women is crucial, and reducing the number of under-trial prisoners is essential. Staff behavior towards women prisoners should be improved, and training sessions should be provided if needed. Regular legal awareness programs should be conducted, and pregnant women should granted bail. Lady Doctors should be appointed to duty in women jails, and fast-track courts should be initiated to reduce the burden of under-trial prisoners.

The primary goal of punishing women prisoners is reformation and rehabilitation and jails manuals should be prepared accordingly. The article emphasizes the need for positive steps to ensure the basic human rights of prisoners are not infringed and they live with dignity.


[1] (State Of Maharashtra vs Chandraprakash Kewal Chand 1990 AIR 658, 1990 SCR (1) 115, 1990)

[2] (T.V. Vatheeswaran vs State Of Tamil Nadu 1983 AIR 361, 1983 SCR (2) 348, 1983)

[3] (Madhav Hayawadanrao Hoskot vs State Of Maharashtra 1978 AIR 1548, 1979 SCR (1) 192, 1978)

[4] (Christian Community Welfare Council of India v. State of Maharastra 1996 ACJ 199, 1996 (1) BomCR 70, 1995 CriLJ 4223, 1994 (2) MhLj 1769)

[5] (Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State Of Bihar 1979 AIR 1369, 1979 SCR (3) 532)

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