The over-representation of Muslims in jail is a reflection of the communal bias of the police

The over-representation of Muslims in jail is a reflection of the communal bias of the police

December 10, 2021

By Christophe Jaffrelot & Maulik Saini

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports show that in almost all the states of the Indian Union, irrespective of the party holding office, religious minorities are over-represented in jail.

Muslims are a case in point. During UPA II, they represented 21 to 22.5 per cent of the “undertrials” and under NDA II (from 2014 to 2019) 19 to 21 per cent. But law and order being a state subject, this question needs to be scrutinised at this level. Muslims are (and were) over-represented among jail inmates in almost all the Hindu-majority states: In Assam, Muslims, according to the 2011 census, are 34 per cent of the population and they represent 43 to 47.5 per cent of the “undertrials”; in Gujarat, Muslims are 10 per cent of the population and since 2017, they have been about 25 to 27 per cent of the “undertrials” (they were 24 per cent in 2013); in Karnataka, Muslims are 13 per cent of the population and they are 19 to 22 per cent of the “undertrials” since 2018 (they were 13 to 14 per cent in 2013-2017); in Kerala, they are 26.5 per cent of the population and 28 to 30 per cent of the “undertrials”; in MP, Muslims are 6.5 per cent and 12 to 15 per cent of the “undertrials” since 2017 (they were already 13 per cent in 2013); in Maharashtra, Muslims are 11.5 per cent of the population, and their percentage among the “undertrials” peaked at 36.5 per cent in 2012 (it went back to its 2009 level, 30 per cent, in 2015); in Rajasthan, Muslims are 9 per cent and they represent 18 to 23 per cent of the “undertrials” (they were 17 per cent in 2013); in Tamil Nadu, Muslims are 6 per cent, and 11 per cent of the undertrials since 2017; in Uttar Pradesh, Muslims are 19 per cent of the population, and 26 to 29 per cent of the “undertrials” since 2012; in West Bengal, Muslims are 27 per cent of the population, and they represent more than 36 per cent of the “undertrials” since 2017. The only major state where Muslims have been under-represented among the “undertrials” is Bihar, where the latter are 15 per cent when Muslims constitute 17 per cent of the population.

The over-representation of Muslims in jail is to some extent a reflection of the communal bias of the police. In many states, the percentage of “convicted” Muslims is much lower than their percentage amongst “undertrials”. Take 2019: The percentage drops from 47.5 per cent of “undertrials” to 39.6 per cent of “convicted” in Assam; from 19.5 to 14 per cent in Karnataka; from 31 to 27 per cent in Kerala; from 12 to 10 per cent in MP; from 30 to 20 per cent in Maharashtra; from 18 to 17 per cent in Rajasthan; from 29 to 22 per cent in UP. These data show that when the judiciary, at last, take up the cases of many “undertrials”. the judges realise that there is not enough evidence and they release people who have spent a lot of time — years sometimes — incarcerated for no reason. The police and judiciary are, therefore, somewhat at cross purpose in many states, to such an extent that the share of the convicts is not much larger than the share of the Muslims in many states, including Karnataka, Kerala and even UP. At the pan-Indian level, the proportion of Muslim convicts was 2.5 percentage points above the percentage of Muslims in the population, according to the 2011 census (14.2 per cent).

The police and the judiciary are on the same page in only a few states. The percentage of Muslim “convicts” is equal to the percentage of Muslim “undertrials” in only one state, Tamil Nadu (11 per cents) and the former are more than the latter in only three states: Gujarat (31 against 25 per cent), West Bengal (38 against 37 per cent) and Bihar (18 against 15 per cent).

If Muslims are overrepresented among jail inmates in most of the Hindu-majority states — among “undertrials” more than “convicts” — Hindus are overrepresented among jail inmates in the only Muslim majority state, Jammu and Kashmir. In this state, where Hindus represent 28.5 per cent of the population, they were 34 to 39.5 per cent of the “undertrials” between 2014 and 2019 and were even more over-represented among convicts — between 42.6 and 50.5 per cent. Muslims, 68.3 per cent of the state population, followed the opposite trajectory: Their percentage of “undertrials” (between 60.5 per cent and 56 per cent) was much higher than their share of the “convicts” (between 53 and 43 per cent). Similarly, in Punjab, Sikhs — 58 per cent of the population — tend to be under-represented among the undertrials at 51 per cent in 2019 and 52 per cent in 2018, whereas Muslims (2 per cent of the population) are over-represented at 4-5 per cent.

These detailed figures suggest something very disturbing: In almost every state, the minorities are over-represented in jail and the majorities are under-represented. This is a clear indication of the communalisation of the police that tends to prevail, irrespective of the ideology of the ruling party. One of the only ways to correct this state of affairs could be the recruitment and promotion of policemen from minority communities. Indeed, Muslims are under-represented among the IPS officers, except in J&K.              Source : The Indian Express 

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This column first appeared in the print edition on December 10, 2021 under the title ‘Majority in jail’. Jaffrelot is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at King’s India Institute, London and Saini is a Data Analyst & Researcher on Indian politics.

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