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Gender breakdown in jail

Balurghat, Sept. 3: Even as the state administration goes on an overdrive to improve prison conditions following the Malda lock-up tragedy, the Balurghat district jail stands out as a glaring example of the collapse of the system.

The sub-jail, in the home constituency of Biswanath Choudhury, the state minister for prisons and local MLA, was promoted to the status of a district prison in 1996.

The premises were moved to Hussainpur and work began soon after to build a penitentiary on the lines of a “rehabilitation centre for the prisoners.”

Though separate wards for women inmates, cordoned off from their male counterparts by high walls, and a separate section for inmates sentenced to rigorous imprisonment were built, implementation of the lofty plans left a lot to be desired.

The women’s wing today serves a different purpose — accommodating security personnel of the prison. As for the women, they have been relegated to a section of the male wing built to house RI inmates.

“Though all arrangements were made for the prison to function on the lines of a rehabilitation centre, the lack of barracks or quarters for the forces stalled the process,” a jail staff said.

Taking stock of the situation, a barrack was built last year. But with a 10-family capacity, it has done precious little for the 30 other employees who continue to call the female ward theirs and have a female warder for company.

Of the six cells in the female ward, one is occupied by a woman warder and three by senior security guards. One of the cells has been condemned while the other doubles as a kitchen.

Sources, however, said that the transfer of females to the male ward was not the only problem the district jail had on its hands.

That the superintendent, jailer, doctor and pharmacist stayed a considerable distance away from the prison was a matter of grave concern.

“The chances of them being able to be present in the event of an emergency is slim,” the sources said. “Communication problems only compound the situation.”

The jail has an ambulance that is used for all official purposes. With no other vehicle around, the authorities will be in a fix if the ambulance is not available,” they added.

Deputy inspector-general, north, Parimal Das has requested the transfer of the female inmates back to their ward, though no step to this end seems forthcoming.

When asked about the repercussions of converting a part of the prison into staff quarters indefinitely, superintendent M. Guyen ducked.

He did not have the authority to make a statement in the matter, Guyen said.

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