The inauguration of the Women Central Jail built within the complex of the Keraniganj Central Jail completes a process of creating modern and better facilities for inmates of both sexes. Although there is a female-only prison in Kashimpur, Gazipur, it is inconvenient to shuttle between courts in Dhaka and that facility. Also the Kashimpur Women Jail is not as spacious as the newly built one. Built on 30 acres of land as against 7.50 acres of Kashimpur prison, this has added several facilities to raise the standard of prison life. For example, a library named after Shaheed Jahanara Imam will draw inmates who want to enlighten themselves or seek refuge in the world of knowledge far from the painful life of confinement. Similarly, an exclusive provision has been made for sheltering girls under 18 in a separate house named Preetilata Kishori Bhaban for juvenile delinquency. Even a mental ward has been created for treatment of the mentally ill prisoners.
Dedication of buildings and facilities to the memories of illustrious women precursors who have ever remained inspirational such as Begum Rokeya, Sultana Razia and Dr. Kadambini is certainly a considered move to put history in its right perspective. But calling the main building Begum Rokeya Barrack is somewhat anachronistic. Had it been named Begum Rokeya Reform Centre, it would sound not only modern but also convey a definitive sense of purpose. In fact, more space in terms of land area is futile unless modern concepts of reform can be introduced. Of course, more open space is an advantage but only when it incorporates the idea and vision of semi-open prisons, a few of which even neighbouring India has already established. Accepted that the special arrangement made for confinement of women involved in militancy and terrorism has to be high-security buildings or wards detached from the rest, but there is no reason to treat every woman prisoner as a threat.
Women are more sinned against than sinning. They are more often than not victims of circumstances in a patriarchal society. Exceptions are there but that should in no way frame laws or create facilities to deal with as important an issue as conviction. Even today, society and laws are at times hostile to women's special need. It becomes particularly exposed when pregnant prisoners or prisoners with babies or children have to be confined in an environment with more serious types of criminals. Women, moreover, cannot produce witness to crimes such as sexual violence committed against them. Their prosecution by lawyers of the opposite camp often turns ugly.
So chances are that women at times suffer for no fault of their own. If the system in a prison is enough caring, such female inmates can indeed make startling recovery. In the face of adverse socio-economic conditions, illiterate and underprivileged women have to compromise on moral and ethical considerations. But there are instances where they are led to desperation to commit crimes. Dependent as they are on parents early in life and then on husbands and sons, women need a far better social regime than they enjoy for leading an independent life. Until that happens, the benchmark of trial of their crimes should be lowered.