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TAWQEER HUSSAIN | 25 NOVEMBER, 2014

53% of Indian prisoners are Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis

No justice in sight


NEW DELHI: It is official. A report by the National Crime Records Bureau released this month reveals that the Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis-- three of the most vulnerable sections of Indian society-- comprise 53% of the prison population in India.

The report further points out that overcrowding in Indian jails, instead of being resolved, has gone beyond extended limits from 112.2% in 2012 to 118.4% at the end of 2013.

The report reveals that with a total prison population of 4.2 lakhs in 2013, these three communities comprise more than half of the prison population, when their actual population in the country is just 39%.

The data reveals that in 2013, the prison share percentage of Muslims, Dalits and Tribals stood at 20%, 22% and 11% respectively, while their actual overall population in country is 13%, 17% and 9% respectively.

According to experts, these disturbing figures doesn’t mean that these three communities commit more crime but owing to the economic backwardness are clearly not in position to fight their cases and are languishing in various jails. Civil society groups have for long been claiming, with proof, that these communities are highly vulnerable to police action and are often booked without sufficient evidence and proof.

Overcrowding of jails remains a major issue. “It is observed that the occupancy rate of such prisons during the period under consideration was high against the available capacity for the female inmates in the State of Uttrakhand (187.6%) followed by Chhattisgarh (174.7%), Delhi (153.8%), Jharkhand (118.5%), Goa (112.0%) and Uttar Pradesh (107.6%)” the reports reveals.

The reports further states that the majority of the prisoners in Indian jails are undertrials and are in prisons from months to years together, thus raising serious questions about the slow judicial system in the country. Against the 1,29,608 convicted prisoners, Indian jails have 2,78,503 undertrials who have been waiting for years for the final dispensation of their cases, the report points out.

Regarding deaths in Jail, the report states that 1,597 prisoners were reported dead in jails due to natural and unnatural causes in 2013 of which 1,482 were natural deaths and 115 were due to unnatural causes. Natural deaths accounted for 92.8% of the total deaths.

Among the unnatural deaths, Uttar Pradesh has reported the highest number (18) of deaths followed by Rajasthan (11), Tamil Nadu (10), Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab (9 each), Delhi (8), Assam, Gujarat & West Bengal (5 each). Most of the unnatural deaths have occurred due to suicide (70) followed by deaths due to assault by outside elements during transit or inside prison (12) and murder by inmates (8).

Former chief justice of Delhi high court Rajinder Sachar, who headed the committee that brought out a report on the condition of Muslim community in India in 2006, pointed out that there had been several cases of Muslim youths being acquitted after years in prison.

"Poverty is more prevalent among these three communities and that becomes an obstacle in dealing with the legal system," said Colin Gonsalves, human rights activist and lawyer.

"Our system has an ingrained communal and casteist bias. Also, the proportion of these communities in the police officers and even judiciary is less. These are key factors behind this shocking imbalance," he added.

However most experts are of the opinion that, these Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims are being arrested again and again under different laws thus, making it difficult for them to get out of prison.

"In my experience as a lawyer, whenever a Dalit person files a case under the Atrocities Act, a false counterbcase under some penal code provision is filed by the culprits," said Ramesh Nathan of the National Dalit Movement for Justice.

The report published by the National Crime Records Bureau since 1995, shows that the proportion of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis has remained virtually unchanged over the past 15 years indicating that this is a systemic and deep problem.

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