One set of numbers that the Justice Rajinder Sachar committee obtained from states told what is, perhaps, the most distressing story of the state of Muslims in India: in sharp contrast to schools and jobs, where their share is way below their share in the population, Muslims have a disproportionately high representation when it comes to being in prison — in many states, twice or thrice as much as their share of the population.
And yet this crucial data, first reported by The Indian Express on October 29, finds no mention in Sachar’s final report that is expected to be tabled in Parliament next week.
What makes this deletion surprising is that this data, showing such a high rate of incarceration, has significant social and political implications, including the further marginalisation of the community, reinforcing stereotypes and deepening prejudice.
When asked about this omission, Sachar said: “It would be improper on my part to comment on any aspect of this report now as it has been submitted to the Prime Minister. It is yet to be tabled in the House.”
The deleted data showed that when it came to Muslims in the prison population, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Kerala are the most disproportionate.
• In Maharashtra, the percentage of Muslim jail inmates in all categories is way above their share in the population Muslim share in population is 10.6%, share in the total prison inmates is 32.4%.
• When it comes to those in prison for less than a year, Muslims contribute 40.6% of all prisoners in Maharashtra.
• In Gujarat, the percentage of Muslims in the state is just 9.06% but they make up over a quarter of all jail inmates.
• Assam, the second highest Muslim populated state in the country, after J&K, has 30.9% Muslims, and here, the percentage of Muslim jail inmates is 28.1.
• Even Karnataka, which did relatively better than other states in providing jobs to Muslims, shows the same trend: 17.5% of its jail inmates are Muslim as compared with 12.23% of its population.
• In Delhi, where Muslims make up 11.7% of the population, they constitute 29.1% of those in jail for less than a year.
Says former bureaucrat and now Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah; “This data should have been included. They may have their reasons for excluding it but to see the story of the Indian Muslim and the problems faced by the community in totality, it should have formed part of the report.”
For, several experts raised questions about the implications of the data. While some, like former BSF DGP Prakash Singh, whose PIL has prompted police reforms, suggested that the data did not reflect a prejudiced police, others have said that this is linked to the Muslims’ high poverty level — 44% for urban Muslims as compared to the national figure of 28% — and the lack of opportunities, including access to legal aid.