According to the report titled ‘Criminal Justice in the Shadow of Caste’, members of the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) are over-represented, in relation to their population, in India’s prisons. While the groups account for 24% of India’s population, their representation in prisons is significantly higher, at 34%.
The report 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.
“Deeply entrenched prejudices against Dalit and Adivasis play an important role in their harassment and incarceration. There are allegations that police officers have their own caste and gender biases and often behave towards Dalit’s and Adivasis in a discriminatory way. Usually the victims of police torture are mainly Dalit’s and Adivasis. They are often picked up and jailed on concocted charges. A study Report on alleged cases of police atrocities against Kuravan Community (SC) in the state of Tamil Nadu submitted by 3 members study committee to National Commission for Scheduled Caste revealed the of treatment of people belonging to Scheduled Castes by the police and their discriminatory behaviors. They are subjected to illegal arrests and detention and physical torture, by the police in the name of nabbing the “habitual offenders”. The members of the community, including men, women and children, are subjected to systematic, continuing, ruthless treatment in the hands of the police. It has become handy for the police to catch hold of the Dalits and Adivasi communities and foist false cases on them for crimes which they had not committed. Dalits and other indigent people too poor to seek legal counsel obviously spend too long a time behind bars, unable to seek justice even when they might be innocent.” The report 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 charge sheet on time. This is a very serious matter because such people remain in prisons without any clue of a police case against them.”