Ten years ago, the then prime minister, Mr Manmohun Singh had constituted a committee to assess the conditions of Muslims in the country. The committee was headed by Justice Rajinder Sachchar, a former chief justice of the Delhi High Court. As per the committee’s draft report, the number of Muslims imprisoned in the country’s prison was quite high in proportion to their total population, while their representation in several government departments was less than their share in the country’s total population. This part of the Sachchar Committee’s finding was so unpleasant that it was not included in the final report. People came to know about the truth only when an English newspaper had published this part.
Our country’s legal system is such that the moment a person is arrested he is considered to be a convict. Moreover, even if the charges against an accused are not proven the person who arrested him is never held accountable. In addition, he even gets an award and promotion for the arrest, but is never punished if the accused is not held guilty by the court. This is the precise reason that there is a rising trend of arrest of people from marginalized and downtrodden communities namely Muslims, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes on fake charges.
Finally, 10 years after the release of the Sachchar Committee’s report, the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) 2015 report on detentions and imprisonment on religious grounds had confirmed the committee’s finding which was not included in its final report. A report published in a national daily on 29 October had mentioned that as per the Sachchar Committee’s findings which were removed from its final report, large numbers of Muslims were held in jails; and now the NCRB report says that Muslims constituted 20.9 percent of the total number of detainees and among the convicts their percentage was 15.8 per cent.
As per the data which were sent to the Sachchar Committee by eight states, the number of Muslim prisoners was 32.4 per cent in Maharashtra that has 10.6 percent Muslims; while, in Gujarat, which has 9.06 Muslim population, Muslim prisoners comprised one-fourth of the total number of prisoners. In Karnataka, with 12.33 per cent population, Muslims formed 17.5 percent of the total number of prisoners. Interestingly, in Assam where Muslims constituted 30 percent of the total population, there were 28.1 percent prisoners from this community.
These data confirm that the frequency of Muslims’ arrest in the country has increased. Though, this trend did not start recently, rather it has been continuing for past many decades. However, neither the portion that was separated from the Sachchar Committee report mentions the reasons behind the trend of high number of Muslims’ arrest nor the NCRB report has discussed it. In fact, the number of under-trial Muslims in the country is 20.9 per cent, while the number of convicted Muslims is 15.8 percent. According to 2011 census, the population of Muslims was 14.2 percent.
It is worth mentioning that such trend is not limited to Muslims only, but it can be seen among SC and ST communities as well. According to the NCRB’s report, SCs constitute 16.6 percent of the country’s population, while the number of under-trial SCs held in jails is 21.6 percent and among the convicted they are 20.9 percent. Similarly, STs form 12.4 percent of the imprisoned under-trials and 13.7 percent of the total number of convicts, while their total population is only 8.6 percent.
If we combine the population of Muslims, SCs and STs together, it comes to 29.4 percent, while their share in under-trial prisoners is 54.9 per cent and 50.4 percent among total number of convicts. The NCRB’s 2014 report about Muslims had also mentioned that their share among under-trial and convicted prisoners was 21.05 percent and 16.38 percent respectively.
This clearly shows that the trend of Muslims’ imprisonment in 2015 was same as that of 2014. It is interesting to note that as per the NCRB report, in states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand the number of Muslim prisoners is very high with respect to their population. A glance at the number of prisoners held in jails shows that every second or third prisoner is a Muslim in any of the prisons in these states.
Like 2014, in 2015 also the worst reports came from Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan. In these states, the population of Muslims is 12, 27, 10.6, 3.7 and 9 percent respectively; while the percentage of Muslim undertrials in these states’ is 30, 16.47, 13.32, 22 and 16 percent respectively. Apart from this, we come across a huge gap in the percentage of Muslim undertrials and convicts when we compare them. In Maharashtra, there is a gap of 10 percent between the two which shows that Muslims have been arrested on fake charges, but later during the trial they proved innocent and freed. However, the intervening period between their arrest and release could range from few to several years.
Usually, an innocent person’s career gets ruined during this period, and he is no more capable of leading a dignified life in society. There are many people who were arrested on false charges, and it took 10 – 20 years or even more for them to prove their innocence. In this period, their family’s economic condition got ruined and they became completely penny-less. It is quite unfortunate that no one is held responsible for their misery, and above all, they are not given any compensation. Our country’s legal system is such that the moment a person is arrested he is considered to be a convict.
Moreover, even if the charges against an accused are not proven the person who arrested him is never held accountable. In addition, he even gets an award and promotion for the arrest, but is never punished if the accused is not held guilty by the court. This is the precise reason that there is a rising trend of arrest of people from marginalized and downtrodden communities namely Muslims, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes on fake charges.
Finally, while the total population of the marginalized classes that include Muslims, SC and ST is 29.4 percent, the number of under-trial prisoners from these communities is 51 percent. It means more than half of the total number of prisoners comes from these communities. This picture is based on the NCRB’s data from past two years show, but the government is completely silent. The moot question is: will the government will break its silence ever, and pay attention to the marginalized section of society?