The latest data on prisons released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show that Dalits, tribals and Muslims continue to be jailed in numbers disproportionate to their share in the population, unlike OBCs and those belonging to the general category or upper castes.
The data, for the year 2019, also show that among the marginalised groups, Muslims are the one community which has more undertrials than convicts.
At the end of 2019, Dalits made up 21.7% of all convicts in jails across the country. The share of Scheduled Castes among undertrials languishing in jails stood at 21%. The 2011 Census put their share in the population at 16.6%.
In the case of tribals, the gap was equally big. While the Scheduled Tribes made up 13.6% of the convict population, and 10.5% of all undertrials in jails, the Census put their numbers at 8.6% of the population.
With a population share of 14.2%, Muslims formed 16.6% of all convicts, but 18.7% of all undertrials. This convict to undertrial ratio was reversed in case of both the Dalits and tribals.
“The data show that our criminal justice system is not only tardy but also loaded against the poor. Those who can hire good lawyers get bail easily and also have a fair shot at justice. The poor also tend to get sucked into petty crimes for lack of economic opportunities,” former chief of Bureau of Police Research and Development N R Wasan said.
The numbers are stark when compared to the share of OBCs and non-marginalised population in the various categories. While forming 41% of the population as per the National Sample Survey Organisation 2006 data, they represented 35% and 34% of the convicts and undertrials respectively.
The others broadly include upper caste Hindus and non-marginalised sections from other religions. Estimated to form 19.6% of the population, they formed 13% of the convicts and 16% of the undertrials.
Compared to the NCRB data from 2015, the Muslim proportion among undertrials fell in 2019, while rising slightly among convicts. In 2015, Muslims formed 20.9% of all undertrials in jails, and 15.8% of all convicts — compared to 18.7% and 16.6% in 2019.
For SCs and STs, the situation has not changed much over the past five years. Dalits formed around 21% of the convicts and undertrials in jails as per the 2015 NCRB data — almost the same as 2019. The tribal numbers have remained almost constant among convicts (13.7% in 2015, 13.6% last year), while falling among undertrials (12.4% in 2015 to 10.5% in 2019).
State-wise, the maximum number of Dalit undertrials in jails were in Uttar Pradesh (17,995), followed by Bihar (6,843) and Punjab (6,831). Most ST undertrials were in Madhya Pradesh (5,894), followed by UP (3,954) and Chhattisgarh (3,471). The maximum Muslim undertrials were in UP (21,139), followed by Bihar (4,758) and Madhya Pradesh (2,947).
A similar analysis for convicts showed the largest Dalit numbers (6,143) in UP, followed by MP (5,017) and Punjab (2,786). Most tribal convicts were in MP (5,303), Chhattisgarh (2,906) and Jharkhand (1,985). At 6,098, the largest number of Muslim convicts were in UP, followed by West Bengal (2,369) and Maharashtra (2,114).
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