Prisons across the world are dangerous places to be. Without sounding condescending, let me tell you, prisons are hardly the places to reform. While some hardened criminals may shed their earlier hide to don the garb of a reformed man or woman, many of the inmates hardly ever leave their corrupt ways of life.
Crime inside the walled and wired premises is rampant, no matter how sensitive and well-equipped a jail may be. While I am no expert at human behaviour, chitchats with my friends placed in the police department say that prison-behaviour is difficult to tame, especially because so many criminals are held up in bounds at one place, fighting for supremacy, space, sex, food, and even mere survival.
And the most dreaded of all the crimes inside the confined space is sexual assault. The older inmates, notwithstanding their actual sexual orientation, take it as a challenge to subjugate and control the “fresh” prisoners.
A typical scenario when a young boy arrives at the prison is to have a bid a price for the boy. The price offered is in terms of bidis, soap or charas. The various gangs of inmates would usually fight a duel to win the new entrant.
The scenario is disturbing, for a young person to land in jail, would be subjected to violence and sexual assault, even before he has spent a night in his new habitat. It is a common practice in jails for any undertrial accused of rape to be brutally sodomized as a ‘welcome’ gesture.
The menace is real big, for regular monitoring and even the installing of CCTV cameras can do little to mitigate the issue. Also, punishing the already punished criminals hardly is the solution. Such measures can jeopardize the victim even more, and in extreme cases, he can be murdered for inflicting “harm” on the perpetrator. Probably that is why despite having one jail official for nine inmates, prison rapes happen.
An article published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research in 2010 stated that in Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail, a staggering 72% of the inmates accepted that said sex between men was common, with about 11% of them confessing to have had sex with other men. Prisoners from well-to-do families can “buy” their safety. But the poor and the physically weak bear the brunt of prison violence.
In majority of the cases, the trauma of a rape leads to assaults, murders, severe psychological illnesses and suicides. A National Human Rights Commission report made the disturbing revelation that between 2007 and 2011, most of the prison suicides resulted from same-sex rapes by fellow prisoners.
Apart from the money and muscle power of gangs, the culture of hyper-masculinity in prisons makes a sodomy victim the target of derision among fellow prisoners. Unable to take the humiliation and pain, men often resort to killing themselves, while some others prefer to become “prostitutes” in exchange of security and favours from the gangs.
In Delhi, the average number of under-trials is 74.49%, higher than the national average. Tihar Jail houses 12,000 convicts, and nearly 45,000 people are imprisoned and an equal number exit every year. Also, 65% of the undertrials are in the bracket of 16-18 years that makes them vulnerable to the convicts who are almost twice as old.
A large number of the undertrial prisoners are declared innocent by the courts. But by then, they are already raped by a singular or multiple men and scarred for life.