Have you ever wondered about prisoners who are lodged in India? Well, according to an official report on prisons released this month, majority of them belongs to three of the most vulnerable sections - Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis.
As per report, the proportion of these three communities in India adds up to about 39%, their share amongst prisoners is 53%.
India had 4.2 lakh persons in prison in 2013. Nearly 20% of them were Muslims although the share of Muslims in India's population is about 13% according to Census 2001.Religion-wise data from Cen sus 2011 is yet to be released but it is unlikely to be much different. Dalits make up 22% of prisoners. Their proportion in population is about 17% according to Census 2011. While Adivasis make up 11% of prisoners in Indian jails, their share in the general population is 9%.
What could be the reason of this high percentage of these three communities in jail? Do they commit more crimes? The answer is ‘NO’. It’s not because they are more involved in criminal cases. Instead, they are in jails because they are poor and fail to pay money to fight their cases or at manier times pay bail. Some say that these communities are targeted with false cases too.
Prominent experts were also quoted by news daily saying the same about this high percentage.
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 preva lent 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.
Ramesh Nathan of the National Dalit Movement for Justice alleged that false cases are filed against Dalits in order to intimidate them, causing this disturbingly high number of prisoners among vulnerable sections.
“In my experience as a lawyer, whenever a Dalit person files a case under the Atrocities Act, a false counter-case under some penal code provision is filed by the culprits,“ he said.
The statistics about prioners are published by National Crime Records Bureau since 1995 and caste based breakup is available since 1999. The proportions of Muslims, dalits and adivasis have remained virtually unchanged over the past 15 years indicating that this is a systemic problem.