Members of the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) are over-represented, in relation to their population, in India’s prisons, a new study has found. While the groups account for 24% of India’s population, their representation in prisons is significantly higher, at 34%.
The report titled ‘Criminal Justice in the Shadow of Caste’ has been prepared jointly by the National Dalit Movement for Justice and the National Centre for Dalit Human Rights. It draws heavily from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.
The report also finds that certain states have strikingly higher levels of disparity between the percentage of SC/STs in their total population and in their prisons. It says that Assam, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Rajasthan as the worst performers. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, the difference is as high as 17%. As many as 38% of under-trials in Tamil Nadu are either SC or ST, while their share in the total population is 21%.
“These facts together point to a pattern of targeting Dalit and Adivasis and call for investigation of factors leading to the continued victimization of the community by the Police and further victimization as under trials,” the report said.
It also notes that when members of the Dalit or Adivasi communities register atrocity complaints, the accused often register counter FIRs against the victims. “This is done with the sole intention of counter blasting the complaint filed by the SC victims. As a result of the counter cases, SC victims of atrocities are being arrested and subjected to criminal litigation as accused in the counter cases,” the report said.
This is the kind of misuse that the Supreme Court said the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was subject to, and based on which it decided to dilute the Act in March last year.
The 2015 NCRB report noted that Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims constitute 55% of the undertrial prisoners in India. This figure is considerably disproportionate to their total share of the population. According to the 2011 Census, the three communities constitute 39% of the total population in India.
The report on criminal justice also pointed out that a disproportionately high percentage of those sentenced to death are from the backward classes. The analysis, based on the Death Penalty India Report by the National Law University launched in 2016, found that of the 279 prisoners on death row, 127 or 34% are from the backward classes. Those from the general category constitute 24%.
Another 20% of those sentenced to death belonged to religious minorities. That figure climbed to 79% in Gujarat, where 15 of the 19 prisoners sentenced to death were Muslims.
According to the report, ‘deeply entrenched prejudices’ play a crucial role in the harassment and incarceration of underprivileged communities. “Usually the victims of police torture are mainly Dalit’s and Adivasis. They are often picked up and jailed on concocted charges,” it said.
The report also highlighted that delayed police investigations result in large number of Dalits and Adivasis in jail. “Many prisoners languish in prisons because the police do not complete investigation and file the chargesheet on time. This is a very serious matter because such people remain in prisons without any clue of a police case against them.”