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‘This could be a new home’

As the dawn breaks, Halima looks through the steely bars towards the distant and unknown roads. ‘I get to see the sunlight and the sky from here, yet I miss the darkness,’ she says ruefully. As she leans towards the bars, her six year old daughter Amina jumps upon her from behind. ‘Today, we will be cooking meat in our new home,’ Halima tells her lovingly.

There is an unmistaken spark in Amina’s eyes now days. ‘It’s perhaps the light, the open air and the big place,’ her mother wonders.

Their new home stands on eight acres of land situated on the Western edge of Kashempur. About an hour away from the city, Halima’s and a number of other women’s new home is the first female prison in Bangladesh.

A total of 21 women have been shifted to this new unit that has a capacity of about 200 female prisoners. Among this 10 women have been moved from Dhaka Central Jail and 11 from Gazipur Jail.

According to Brig Gen Zakir Hasan, the female prison unit was opened with limited number of convicts since the jail authorities did not get the approval of recruiting required manpower. ‘Besides, it will take another two months to complete the unit and it would depend on the government’s decision as to how fast they will pass our plans and approve the request for appointing more female staff.’

The women prisoners unit has been built on nearly 8 acres of land with a capacity of 200 prisoners. The estimated cost for construction of the female prison has been fixed at Tk 15.30 crore. ‘The structure and the construction of the prison itself are questionable,’ says a high-official of Prisons, preferring anonymity. ‘Following pressure from outside, it was in a matter of few days that the structure was built and the credibility of it is dubious.’

The prison which was planned in the early 1995 was extended till date due to problems of funding. According to officials, a large segment of the fund was in fact, given only recently and the prison was inaugurated hurriedly.

‘Our motto is to ensure their security and guide them to the path of light,’ says Zakir. ‘We are consistently working to ensure that the concept of traditional prison is changed. I personally want to ensure that we make these prisons a source of development and correction. This is the reason why the plan of this female prison consists of sections such as day care centre, beauty parlour, tailoring, handicraft and catering.’

‘If the plan is followed accordingly, this could be a live example and testimony to the fact that prisons are ought to be correction and development centres, rather than being a torture cell,’ hopes lawyer Alena Khan of BSEHR.

There are also two special cells named Night Queen-1 and Night Queen-2 for VIP female prisoners. These two cells will accommodate 20 prisoners. According to the Jailors Sultan, women will soon be cooking for themselves and also be trained to sew and make paper bags which will be sold.

‘All of the success at this moment depends much upon how fast government approves our proposal and we can employ the staff,’ says Zakir. He also expressed his disappointment at the delay on the approval and inefficiency.

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