Freedom Filling Station: India’s first petrol bunk run by women convicts in Tamil Nadu
Thirty women serving time at the Special Prison for Women, Puzhal, Chennai, operate the fuel station and make Rs 6,000 per month each.
On August 10, the Tamil Nadu Department of Prisons and Correctional Services launched a first-of-its-kind fuel station run by women convicts from the Special Prison for Women, Puzhal. It was inaugurated by state law minister S Regupathy.
Thirty women serving time at the Puzhal prison have begun working at the petrol retail outlet for a 12-hour shift from 6 am to 6 pm, after which male convicts take over for the night shift.
A note from the Departments of Prisons said the women prisoners employed at the petrol bunk—named ‘Freedom Filling Station’ on the Ambattur-Puzhal road in the outskirts of Chennai—will earn Rs 6,000 per month each from this job.
Amaraesh Pujari, DGP, Prisons and Correctional Services, Tamil Nadu, said the initiative is aimed at de-stigmatisation of women convicts and an opportunity to help them reform, rehabilitate and reintegrate with society.
"Two security guards are stationed at the gate of the petrol station for the safety of the women inmates. The initiative will provide our inmates an opportunity to learn new skills and gain work experience, which can help them find employment after their release,” Pujari told HerStory. “It will also expose them to the outside world and help them interact with customers and society. This can improve their social skills and reduce isolation.”
The new Freedom Filling Station is the latest in a series of fuel stations employing convicts, which have been set up by the TN Department of Prisons in Vellore, Coimbatore and Palayamkottai jails, and the Borstal School in Pudukkottai, in association with Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. According to the department, a total of Rs 847 crore has been made out of sales at all these petrol retail outlets in the state up to March 2023. The bunks have seen a total profit of Rs 24 crore, and Rs 2.37 crore has been paid as wages to inmates working in these outlets.
“Through Freedom petrol outlets, we want to encourage our inmates to behave well and follow the rules, as they have to meet certain behavioral yardsticks to be eligible for the job,” said Pujari.
The Tamil Nadu government has been running schemes for prisoners across the state. The ‘Prison Bazaar’, set up inside all prison campuses features clothes, accessories, bakery items, artwork and compost made by inmates.
The need for reform
In India, only 15 states/union territories have women-only jails. The country has a total of 32 such establishments with a capacity of 6,767 inmates. However, the number of female prisoners in India at the end of the year 2021 was 22,918.
The capacity of women inmates in other types of jails is 22,659 with the actual number of women inmates inhabiting women-only jails being only 19,115 (84.4% occupancy rate).
Tamil Nadu is home to five such jails with a capacity of 2,018 people, according to the National Crime Records Bureau data. As of December 2021, it estimates the occupancy rate in women’s jails across the country to be 56.3%.
Women inmates in India, when compared to male inmates, suffer from both a lack of privacy as well as greater social stigma.
In a report from 2018, the latest year for which such data is available, the National Commission of Women stated that during its inspections of various jails, they found that the number of female inmates in the women's barracks exceeded the authorised capacity based on the available infrastructure and facilities.
This overcrowding led to a decline in the living conditions of the inmates. Issues such as lack of space, insufficient beds, limited mobility between beds, inadequate sanitation facilities, and insufficient toilets were highlighted in the report.
Many of these challenges continue today, as the capacity of women inmates in other types of jails is 22,659 with the actual number of women inmates inhabiting women-only jails being only 19,115 (84.4% occupancy rate).
It added that the hygiene and sanitary conditions of female wards are, in many cases, poor due to the nonavailability of running water, overhead tanks and water storage facilities, and an inadequate number of toilets and bathrooms.
Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti