A rare peep into the lives of Tihar Jail's women inmates may leave you moved.
A ny glimpse into the confines of the Tihar Jail, Asia’s largest prison, is rare indeed. And any piece of work that documents the lives of its inmates is thus precious. The jail, after all, has been home to more than a few notorious criminals, but don’t go looking for high-profile inmates in photographer Renuka Puri’s work. In Custody: Women In Tihar offers a peek into just one block of Tihar, but one that is full of stories seldom told.
It is difficult to find literature on women imprisoned in India, and that adds novelty to this book, in addition to its association with the brand Tihar. The book is a blend of photographs and some finely-nuanced accompanying text. Both the author and the photographer are working journalists and have chosen to just state the stories and facts, while maintaining a reasonable distance from issues to do with the jail administration.
The tour of the women’s quarter begins with a rather special set of convicts and undertrials: women jailed for dowry-related offences. According to the 2003-04 figures provided in the accompanying text, 19 per cent of the Tihar inmates are there on dowry-related charges. Some are well into their 60s and 70s, but the author’s notes that these women (as well as most others in the jail), “never confess... their crimes”.
The photographs deserve a mention for the time it must have taken to compile them. The subjects appear remarkably at ease before the camera — even if many prefer to conceal their faces — and it must have taken some time for the women to get used to the idea of being photographed. The medium used is black and white and the simple compositions keep the focus on the subjects. The photographs of the children born in Tihar are especially emotive.
At Tihar, inmate welfare and rehabilitation gained momentum under Kiran Bedi. It seems the efforts are continuing: The women enjoy access to hair dye and hair-removing creams. Confectionery made by them is gaining fame and those awaiting release can equip themselves with skills for the outside world. One just hopes this model is replicated elsewhere too.
IN CUSTODY : WOMEN IN TIHAR
Photographs: Renuka Puri
Text: Amba Batra Bakshi
Publisher: Roli Books
Price: Rs 395