Sharjeel Imam for BeyondHeadlines
Muslims are overrepresented in the Indian prisons by a large proportion. The prison statistics from National Crime Records Bureau from 1998 had been recording the demographic break up of the prison population along caste and religion across India which showed that with around 14 pc of the population, Muslims constitute around 20 pc of the prison population. However, the BJP government has abandoned the policy of demographic data, and the latest Prison Statistics Report of 2016 does not contain it. The 17 years of available data, however, is enough to demonstrate the fact that in most of the Indian states, Muslims have been incarcerated in a larger proportion than their population. The situation is more acute in some states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
Ifran Ahmad and Md Zakaria Siddiqui in their important article ‘Democracy in Jail’ have presented the average data of these 17 years and discussed the over-representation of minorities such as Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis in Indian prisons. They also present a sociological analysis of this over-representation, referring to the structural political factors behind such over-representation.
In this essay, two things are attempted: 1) the yearly graph of these 17 years for India as well as various states with significant Muslim population, and 2) the break up of this data into prisoners who are convicted and prisoners who are undertrial in any given year.
Let us first look at the overall data for India:
Out of the undertrial prisoners, Muslims have been consistently above 21-22 pc mark for this 17 year period. However, out of the convicts, Muslims constitute a lesser percentage, which has ranged from 16 to 19 pc, whereas the overall population has increased from 13 to 14 percent during these years. It is clear that Muslims are arrested in a much larger proportion than they are convicted. Although caste breakup of Muslims is not available in the records, it is safe to assume that pasmanda communities and poorer Muslims would be hit more, as they form the weakest section among Muslims, with almost no access to legal counsel or political ‘connections’.
Now let us have a look at the states with most disparity against Muslims:
The data for Maharashtra is very surprising. While Muslims form around 10-11 pc of the population, they have been around 30 pc of the prison population. Here also, the conviction rate for Muslims is much lower than their arrest rate, with a difference ranging from 5-10 percent.
In Gujarat, with Muslim population of 9-10 pc, the prison population ranges from 20-30 percent. Here the conviction and arrest rates of Muslim seems to match each other, and for most years both figures are around 30 pc.
3) West Bengal
West Bengal has the largest number of foreign prisoners in its jails, and most of them are believed to be Muslims from Bangladesh and Myanmar. This fact raises the Muslim population in the jails there, which is around 50 percent for both convicts and undertrial prisoners.
However, situation does not improve dramatically, even if we remove the foreign prisoners, (and assume that 80 pc of them are Muslims):
Here also we see that the Muslim share is well over 40 percent, even though Muslims constitute around 30 percent of the population in that state. The conviction rates, and to a lesser extent the percentage of undertrial prisoners has gone down in 2009-2015 period.
With a population of 8-9 pc, Muslims form 17-20 pc of the prison population. Here the rate of convicts and undertrial prisoners are almost same.
5) Tamil Nadu
The case of Tamil Nadu is also startling. Muslims are around 6 pc of the population there, but the data shows that they are consistently around 15 pc of the prison population, and in some years as high as 20 pc. The case of Tamil Nadu needs further investigation.
6) Madhya Pradesh
With a population of 6-7 pc, Muslims form 12-13 percent of prison population. The data for convicts and undertrial prisoners is not very different.
Karnataka seems to be a special case. The percentage of Muslims among convicts is much higher than Muslims who have been undertrial for almost every year. With population of aorund 12-13 percent, Muslims are around 23-24 percent of the convicts.
Muslim population is around 14 pc, while in prisons more than 20 pc are Muslims.
9) Uttar Pradesh
UP has the largest Muslim population in India. With around 18-19 percent of the population, Muslim convicts have been around 20 percent of the total convicts. However, the number of Muslims under trial is greater than that and has been consistently around 25 percent.
And now the three states where data is a little better with respect to Muslims:
In Kerala, with Muslim population of 27 pc, the prison population ranges from 27-32 percent, with similar proportions in convicts and undertrials.
Here also, with 33-34 pc of the population, Muslims in prison are around the same percentage. And the proportion is almost same for the convicts as well as undertrial prisoners.
The data has fluctuated a lot in Bihar, but since 2002 (and till 2015), the Muslim percentage of convicts has been consistently lower than the population of Muslims in Bihar, and Bihar seems to be the only state with this feature. The percentage of Muslims in undertrial prisoners has been higher, but that also is around the population figure (16-17 pc) for 2002-2006 and 2011-2015 period. There was a spike in undertrial Muslim percentage between 2007-2010, where Muslims where arrested in much larger numbers. Despite this, the conviction rates remained lower than the Muslim population percentage in this period. In last 5 years of this period, the conviction rates, as well as Muslim percentage undertrial prisoners have approached the population figure
To summarise, the Muslim share in Indian prisons is much larger than their population figure. Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh are states where Muslims are jailed two or three times more than their population percentage would suggest.
Assam, Kerala and Bihar (with some fluctuation) are the only states where the data in jails and the population matches.
Secondly, the number of Muslim prisoners undertrial is much larger than the Muslim convicts, (a difference of 5-6 percent for the national data). The states where this difference is pronounced throughout these 17 years are UP, MP, Maharashtra. Bihar, for 2006-2010, also shows similar difference between convicted and undertrial Muslim percentages.
The Modi government has abandoned the policy of publishing the demographic details of the prisoners, and we can not know the development of the last 4 years. It would not be surprising if the Muslim percentage, especially among those prisoners waiting trial, would have increased significantly. After all, it seems that victims of communal assaults are being arrested more readily than the perpetrators.