A clear case of discrimination?
By Rajiv Shah
In a shocking revelation, just-released Government of India statistics suggest that 32.9 per cent of all convicts and 23.4 per cent of all undertrials in Gujarat’s prisons are Dalits. What makes the situation particularly precarious for the state, being projected as “model” for the whole country to follow, is that Dalits in Gujarat form a just about 6.7 per cent (2011 Census) of the total population of the state – lower than any other major state of the country. This would suggest that there are 4.9 times higher convicts and 3.5 times higher undertrials than the proportion of their population – a disproportion activists link with “discrimination” against vulnerable communities.
The data were released early this week by the National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, in a 256-page book, “Prison Statistics India 2013.” The statistics pertain to different aspects of prisons and prison inmates in Indian jails as of December-end 2013. In absolute numbers, there were 3808 convicts in Gujarat as of December 2013, out of which 1251 were scheduled castes (SCs) or Dalits, 624 scheduled tribes (STs), 1360 other backward classes, and 573 “others.” As for undertrials in Gujarat, out of a total of 7604, there were 1778 SCs, 1405 STs, 2718 OBCs and 1703 “others.”
While detailing these facts in the section on demographic profile of prisoners, the writeup in the book provides no explanation as to why there are so high rate of SC convicts and undertrials in proportion to Gujarat’s population, or for that matter other states. In fact, a comparison with other states suggests that the gap between the proportion of Dalit prisoners and Dalit population is the highest in Gujarat. Following Gujarat, Assam has 18.2 per cent SC convicts and 17.7 per cent undertrials while the state’s SC population is 7.2 per cent, suggesting much a lower disproportion gap.
The demographic details of prisoners further suggests that Muslims formed 23.3 per cent of all convicts and 23.6 per cent of undertrials in Gujarat – which is also higher compared to the proportion of the community’s population in the state, 9.1 per cent (2011 Census). The disproportion between the prisoners (both convicts and undertrials) and the population is quite high – 2.6 per cent – though less than four out of total of 20 major states, Odisha, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand. In Gujarat, there are 886 Muslim convicts out of a total of 3808, and 1796 Muslim undertrials out of a total of 7604.
A comparison with all-India average would suggest that, while Dalits and Muslims do form a higher proportion of convicts and undertrials vis-à-vis their population, the all-India gap is not as wide as Gujarat’s. The data show that while Muslims constitute around 13.4 per cent of India’s population, their share of jail population is around 19 per cent – 17.1 per cent of convicts and 21 per cent of undertrials. The situation with regard to SCs is not very different. As against their population strength of 16.2 per cent, the SCs constitute 22.5 per cent of convicts and 21.3 per cent of undertrials.
Gagan Sethi, a senior Gujarat-based activist, who heads Centre for Social Justice in Ahmedabad, believes the data go to suggest the system in which we live promotes “criminalization of the vulnerable sections” not just in Gujarat but in the country as a whole. “It discriminates against the backward sections. We activists brought this matter before the Planning Commission of India and other important forums in the past, but unfortunately there is so far little effort to see that this is because of intensive discrimination of Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and other vulnerable sections”, he said.
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