The infamous Tihar jail nowadays resembles the VIP lounge of Delhi airport, boasting an A-list roster of Delhi's political elite. The most famous of these is, of course, the occupant of jail no. 6 in ward eight. Kanimozhi, disgraced and derided, languishes in a suffocatingly tiny cell with no more than a stinking commode for company. The sweltering heat, relentless mosquitoes, and lack of privacy are wearing her down – or so newspapers reports claim.
As with all things Kanimozhi, the media is obsessed with the most pedestrian details of her prison life. The Times of India helpfully included a little sketch of her cell, carefully noting the flimsy curtain that offers little privacy for a bath. Because inquiring minds need to know, no doubt.
There has been some talk of her inmates, but as teasing details that add "colour" to these tales of voyeurism. They are merely walk-on "extras" in Kanimozhi's larger-than-life drama.
But who are these women lurking in the background? The women who don't get a separate cell with attached toilet, television, lights and fan. Or home-cooked food and near-daily visits from their family. Women who are incarcerated and without hope, innocent or not.
These photographs may not offer answers but they raise important questions. Excerpted from In Custody: Women in Tihar Jail (Roli Books, Rs 395), these candid, moving portraits "capture the lives of these inmates, telling the story of hope in despair." The authors, Amba Batra Bakshi and Renuka Puri, visited the women over the course of a year, earning their trust and friendship. The result is a moving testimony to "the pain and desolation of life in confinement, but also the spirit of survival they continue to display even in their darkest hours."