The northern state of Punjab recently became the first in India to allow prisoners conjugal visits, and a 60-year-old murder accused was its first beneficiary.
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Gurjeet Singh, who has been lodged in Goindwal Jail in Tarn Taran district for the past few months, told the BBC that he was “lonely and depressed” in jail and that he felt “a great relief when I was allowed to meet my wife and spend a couple of hours with her in private”.
The meeting came after prison authorities in Punjab said inmates who exhibited good conduct would be allowed visits from their spouses for two hours every two months.
Since then, authorities told the BBC more than 1,000 prisoners in the state have applied for permission for such visits and nearly half of them have already happened.
In some Indian states such as Rajasthan and Maharashtra, prisoners who maintain good behaviour in jail are allowed to stay in open prisons with their families and courts across the country have often allowed prisoners leave for “procreation” or to “maintain marital relations”, says Supreme Court lawyer Sunil Singh.
But a majority of the more than half a million prisoners in the country can go for years without being able to meet their spouses, he adds.
With the launch of the new scheme last month, Punjab became the first Indian state to allow such meetings inside jails.
Starting with three of the state’s 25 jails on 20 September, the scheme was expanded to cover 17 prisons by 3 October. Officials say the remaining jails are too small to provide the facilities and one is meant for children.