Author : Vaibhavi Batra


1983 SC 378


Justice Rangnath Misra, Justice P.N. Bhagwati, Justice Amrendra Nath, Justice R.S. Sen and Justice M.M. Dutt


Indian Constitution grants equal rights to women, prisoners’ rights and arrested person’s rights under Article 14, 15(3), 21, 22.

Women prisoners, usually, have complained of harsh behavior and treatment in the lockups from the prison authority.

They have complained of physical, sexual and mental abuse. Also, women have complained about disregard and insensitive behaviors from the officers during their arrest and interrogations.

In regard to this, various legislations have been passed to protect the women prisoners from violence in the lockups like Prisoners Act, 1984, Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and Indian Evidence Act, 1872.


Sheela Barse, a journalist, addressed a letter to the Supreme Court of India, showing her concern regarding the ill treatment of women in the prison lockups.

She mentioned that, five out fifteen women who were interviewed by her at Mumbai Central Jail complained about the assault and torture which they were facing from the police officers.

Her letter was treated as a writ petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution by the Supreme Court. Simultaneously, the Director of the College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan, was instructed to interview the women of Mumbai Central Jail without the presence of anyone else and verify that the allegations which was put forward in the writ petition are true or not.

The Director after interviewing the women prisonrs, stated in her report that, “all the allegations in the writ petition were true. Apart from this there was no proper system of providing legal assistance to female prisoners.

Two women who were foreign nationals even told that a lawyer duped and defrauded them and took most of their money and jewelry on the pretext that he was retaining his fee.


Whether the treatment given to female prisoners justifiable?

Does this treatment infringe rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution?

Is the state liable for providing legal assistance to prisoners?


The court held that, legal assistance should be provided to poor who are being arrested as it is a part of Article 14, Article 19 and Article 39A of the Indian Constitution.

The Court directed the Social workers to make report of the female prisoners, regarding ill treatment in the lock ups, if any.

The Supreme Court issues a notice to the Inspector of Jail to for ‘legal aid organisation’ at High Court and District levels.

Apart from this, the Court also directed guidelines to Inspector General of Maharashtra Jail about the prisoners under which a notice should be issued to all the Superintendents of Maharashtra:

  • Send a list of all the prisoners and the crimes committed by them. Males and females details must be separately specified.
  • A list should be put up by the police officers regarding the lawyers appointed to the prison people. This should be done to make prisoners aware about their lawyers.
  • Facilities should be provided to lawyers to comes to meet the prisoners.

And finally, the Court issued guidelines for the protection of female prisoners in the lockups. They are as follows –

  • There should be separate lockups for female prisoners and it should be guarded by female police officers only.
  • Interrogation of the female prisoners should only be done in the presence of female officers only.
  • The person should be informed about the ground of arrest and provision of bail.
  • It is mandatory that a female suspect is to be checked by a female police officer only (Section 160(1) of CrPC).
  • Women prisoners cannot be arrested after sunset and before sunrise.