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Above: A Dalit man (in wheelchair) whose two children were burnt alive in a village in Faridabad district; past NCRB data shows a rise in the number of atrocities against Dalits/Photo: UNI

It is surprising that the NCRB has omitted releasing caste and religion data of prisoners and undertrials this year. But this data is important for framing policies and understanding social realities

By Rajbir Deswal 

Every year, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) releases data on the number of Muslims, Dalits and tribals lodged in jails. While the NCRB data for 2014 confirmed that there were 82,190 Muslim prisoners, of whom 21,550 were convicts, 59,550 undertrials, 658 detainees and 432 other prisoners, the data for 2015 says: “Over 55 percent of undertrials in Indian prisons are Muslims, Dalits and tribals; one in every three undertrials is either an SC or ST.”

This year, however, the NCRB omitted reporting on prisoners and undertrials based on their caste and religion. Such analysis is vital to help understand social realities and institutional prejudices in the country. If the data isn’t sacrosanct, any kind of research would be a sham. Farcical analysis is detrimental to framing policies. This will render future roadmaps futile and counterproductive. While the NCRB did not publish data on Muslims, SCs and STs who were involved in crimes, it is a fact that this strata generally sides with the Congress, Samajwadi Party, BSP and the Communists. So what was the reason to hide this data?

Though the NCRB data is missing, there are other reports on the status of Muslims, backward classes and tribals in states and prisons which give us an idea about the shoddy treatment meted out to them. SCs and STs generally form 24 percent of the population, while jail statistics confirm that they constitute 34 percent of the total population of undertrials. A report titled “Criminal Justice in the Shadow of Caste” by the National Dalit Movement for Justice and National Centre for Dalit Human Rights reveals that Assam, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu are the worst performers in their treatment of SCs and STs. Tamil Nadu takes the lead in sending 38 percent of them to jail while their share in the population is 21 percent.

The Death Penalty India Report 2016 by National Law University, Delhi, throws up some shocking statistics too. It found that out of the 279 prisoners on death row, 34 percent were from the backward classes, 24 percent from the general category and 20 percent from religious minorities. A shocking 79 percent were from Gujarat, where 15 of the 19 death row convicts were Muslims.

The NCRB is controlled by the home ministry, which conducts its own research on internal security. The ministry’s keenness in having foolproof data by its own agency helps it in framing policies and programmes, taking into consideration the sociological, economic and demographical attributes. But without this data now, how will these policies be formulated?

Recently, the Punjab and Haryana High Court disallowed the practice of adding a person’s caste to his name while registering FIRs. While this can be seen as a progressive move, in order to study the patterns of crime, all parameters need to be taken into account. The police still believes in what is called “bad livelihood cases”. These involve people who come from the lower strata and have meagre means of subsistence and may resort to crime. While saner minds will want equitable justice for one and all, the fact remains that Muslims, SCs, STs and other backward classes belong to the lower strata.

Past NCRB data has indicated a rise in the number of atrocities against Dalits over the last two decades. There’s also a decline in the number of cases registered under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. This clearly indicates there is reluctance on the part of the police to register complaints under the Act.

The same position exists with regard to Muslims. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and Quill Foundation have studied how the Muslim community perceives policing, as well as biases and discrimination by the police. This study found that Muslims do not trust the police to protect their physical or legal rights. In fact, there is an overwhelming feeling that Muslims are harassed, victimised and targeted by the police. The police are known to commit extrajudicial killings in the name of “encounters”, which are typically carried out by junior and low-ranking police officers and have no eyewitnesses except the police. Considering the long history and scale of this practice, senior police officers unofficially sanction or even order these killings. Such police officers engage in what is called “bunker mentality”. This means they watch out for one another’s mutual unlawful interests.

Human Rights Watch has come down heavily on such illegal practices. Decades of partisan policing—politically motivated refusal to register complaints, arbitrary detention, torture and killings by the police at the behest of politicians—has resulted in an unprecedented level of public distrust and fear of the police. In such a situation, an unbiased, unattached, unsullied attempt at rese­arch and analysis of facts with figures should be made available to the public. Not coming out with any data is hardly the way forward.

The writer is former Additional DGP, Haryana, and is an advocate in the Punjab and Haryana High Court

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