India’s Prison Populations Reflect Systemic Marginalization

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Seven in 10 of the 478,600 people in prison in Indian jails are under trial, according to the 2019 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data on prisons released in August 2020. Only 14 countries in the world have a higher proportion of undertrial or remand prisoners.

A majority of India’s undertrials are from marginalised castes. In the 17 years to 2019, nearly two in three (64%) on average were from the SCs (21.7%), scheduled tribes (STs or Adivasi communities, 12.3%), and other backward classes (OBCs, 30%).

Further, more than one in five (21.5%) undertrials were Muslim, the highest proportion among religious minorities.

Caste prejudices and over-policing of certain communities are important social factors behind the significant presence of marginalised caste groups in jails, experts told IndiaSpend. When exacerbated by poverty, the high cost of litigation, and the poor quality of free legal aid, the result is that social inequities in society get replicated inside of prisons.

“The issue of overrepresentation of minorities is a worldwide phenomenon, not particular to India,” said Vijay Raghavan, professor, Centre for Criminology and Justice at the Tata…


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