These prison notes are true tales from “jail within a jail” told by an activist author B. Anuradha who had been a political prisoner herself in Hazaribag jail for about four years (2009-13). Her notes became stories and together these stories are woven in such a way that one feels like reading a novel. These stories were originally written in Telugu and have been translated by eminent translators and edited by Gita Ramaswamy. As the blurb of the book says, most of these stories were published in the Sunday special edition of the daily Andhra Jyothi, a prominent Telugu daily.
Stories are about helpless women prisoners who had been framed in various criminal cases and some of them simply do not know why they were in jail and how to get out of the clutches of centuries old laws and its cruel interpretations. A large number of these women, either convicts or undertrials, are even disowned by their families. Eventually, many of them have no help from outside world and do not know where to go, if at all they are ever released. And also there are stories about innocent children who are in not because they did anything criminal but simply because their mothers are in.
Some of these children were even destined to be born there. They don’t know anything outside the cell. Their world is confined within the walls of the room shared by their mother with fellow jail-mates. Some of them are not lucky enough even to have seen a moon in a night sky. The first story in the book, ‘Baby’s Day Out’ vividly describes the plight of the children in the jail.
Every story compiled in this book has its heart-wrenching moments and all the stories stir different emotions in the reader – anger and helplessness the foremost. Some stories are bound to give you watery eyes. ‘Lathi Budhiya’ is a story of a feisty old woman who used to walk with the help of a stick with her back fully bent yet she had the courage to look straight into the eyes of the jailor, or another story, ‘Smoke from a Poor Household’ brings forth the plight of two post-graduate sisters from a poor family whose rich neighbours got framed them in a completely false ‘murder’ case though they were lucky to get the help from the author and caught the attention of the High Court to get the bail just in time to get one of her a decent government job. Then there is heart-rending story of Phoolmani who stayed in jail for five years because there was no one to stand surety for her bail.
The author in an epilogue of the book, aptly titled ‘The Story Behind the Stories’ writes that these women were mostly victims of patriarchy. They were perpetrators as much as they were victims (of the crimes committed by them). Describing the mindset of the inmates, the author says that when life and movement were restricted to such narrow spaces, it was no surprise that the inmates spent so much time shouting, abusing and fighting. (Resultingly), most people leave jails with a renewed antipathy towards the society, she adds.
After writing these stories, the author wonders, “What constitutes a crime. Who does the law protect? Are the laws of the land capable of rendering justice to people of the most oppressed strata of the society, to classes and social groups that are exploited? Whether the existing laws are being implemented fairly? At the end, some of the questions remain, perhaps unanswered: what is a crime? Who is a criminal? How to make law of the land accessible to hapless common man?
Title: Prison Notes of a Woman Activist
Author : B. Anuradha. Traslated from Telugu: Gita Ramaswamy and others.
Publisher : Ratna Books
*Suresh Pant – Independent writer, Linguist, interest in etymology, renders advice to some national and international institution as Subject Expert Hindi; published some books on linguistics, language and grammar; Columnist, blogger, YouTuber; Awarded by Dakshin Bhartiya Hindi Prachar Sabha, Sahitya Kala Parishad, Sanskrit Academy, Hindi Academy, Himachal Pradesh Government etc.
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