BY EKTA GHIMIRE KATHMANDU, Sept 8
Sunu Maya Rai was behind bars when she was barely two years old. She spent eight years
of her life in Khotang Jail, and was the only child resident there. No, she did not
commit any crime, not even an accidental offence. Her father was the convicted one.
And by default, she too had to share his sentence.
She remembers how her heavily shackled father, with chains dangling all around,
had to carry her on his back to hospital when she fell sick.
She recalls, "It was just me and my father and the ‘bhat' he cooked for us".
Precious few were the occasions when she was allowed to go and play with the
local children outside the jail. "Those times were the happiest."
After eight lonely years of sleeping on a piece of foam spread on the craggy prison
floor in remote Khotang, it has now been four years at a cozy foster home in Kathmandu.
Sunu Maya still has no idea what her father was sent to prison for.
For ordinary children, the very word ‘jail' sends chills down the spines.
What must it be like to literally live inside one!
Further investigations unleashed more surprising realities.
At the Central Jail in Kathmandu, some incarcerated women have even given birth to
innocent little ones while still serving time in the prison.
Kamala Tamang (name changed) shows off her three-year-old. He was born while she was
already in the prison for a trafficking charge.
"While I'm entitled to 20 kgs of rice per month, my son gets 8 kgs," she informs.
So little Samar Tamang also has his food ration. She is quick to comment that the
food provided is not enough for his nutrition, though.
However, most families of these jailbirds, if any, seem to be so poor that prison
becomes a better option for them to raise their kids than outside.
At first glance, it may seem wrong of the jailers to imprison these juvenile innocents
along with their mothers and fathers. But the officers are actually doing them a favor.
If it weren't for the jail, they would have no place to go when their parents were arrested.
The prison gave the children shelter, food and a chance to live with their parents.
It was more or less a safe refuge for these little inmates.
Another baby was born to Dolkar Lama (name changed), at the same Central Jail.
She was already four months pregnant when brought to the prison.
The verdict of a 20-year-long imprisonment has been slapped on her for murder.
What fate for her young one to be born with! Children of parents having long sentences
apparently suffer the most.
However, living in jail is not as horrific as our wild imagination pictures it to be,
according to what some children recollect. Many rate their experience as ‘not so bad'
and some even say that they did receive some form of education while in prison.
The Central Jail has a school inside its premises. In some jails, children are sent
to outside day schools and they are back at the prisons after classes.
Jagat Dholi was born in Achham Jail – the same one that was destroyed by the insurgents
– and had lived there for three years. He says he sometimes had fun there.
Prison and fun – now, isn't that an oxymoron?
Well, not exactly, at least in Jagat's case, for he was the son of a ‘Naaike'-
a ‘powerful' prisoner. Policemen used to handpick Jagat and take him for a day-out
and show him around sometimes. He, however, remembers the same people forcing him
to divulge information about the inside affairs of the prison.
"And whatever I told them, they would accuse me of lying and beat me more," he relates.
Naaike-s are convicts who have stayed in prisons for quite a long time and are amazingly
respected around. Even looking at the female ‘Naaikes' in the women's wing of the
Central Jail, one could sense that they exercised some kind of power in their place.
Class and order even in prison – now, this was an interesting discovery.
According to police constable Sharmila Khadka, these oldies are chosen for
their good behavior. They can move in and out of the jail area and are awarded easy
duties like cleaning, guarding certain corners and passing messages between jailers
They are even pardoned some years off their sentence if they do a good job and keep
the wardens happy. "If a Naaike guards the gates for one year, he/she will have two
months deducted from his/her prison term," she illustrates.
Whatever be the adventures and rare good sides of some prisons, they are still a place
that house criminals of all kinds. It is certainly not a place where a child should be
brought up all along. Vulnerable as children are, they can easily become sexual and
A girl from the Jaleshwar Jail in Mahottari has haunting memories of being molested
and sexually abused in the prison. "It was very scary. I was always afraid," she says.
Kavita Dahal, 10, recalls frequent fights erupting inside the Bharatpur Jail while
she stayed there with her mother. Her life there is still fresh in her mind.
"A mentally deranged, dumb woman always hit me on the head. It hurt and irritated
me so much."
Living in such an environment definitely has long-lasting impact on the delicate psyche
of these young ones. Some even develop deviant behavior. The confines of the prison do
not permit their normal growth.
Indira Rana Magar, Chairperson of Prisoner's Assistance Nepal, has a rich experience
dealing with and providing relief to prisoners for 14 years. She has opened a homely
hostel to secure such needy children. She observes an abnormal possessiveness and greed
among kids of such backgrounds.
"They crave for something to call their own, and want to hold even onto little things.
This is because of the insecurity they have developed while in prison."
She further informs, "A little boy, Bishal Basnet, now living in my foster home,
tells me how people in the prison used to pinch and bully him all the time.
And he has caught up the habit too. Now, he does the same to other children here."
She adds that almost all of such children have psychological problems that are hard
to recover from. Some even develop a loathing for their criminal parents whose fate
they had to share.
Magar, however, comments that it is important for the newly born to stay with their
own mothers. But male prisons can be a dangerous place for any child.
"Women's jails are comparatively safer," she asserts.