ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Democracy in Jail

Over-representation of Minorities in Indian Prisons

Based on data from the Prison Statistics India, this article demonstrates an over-representation of minorities such as Muslims, Adivasis, and Dalits in Indian jails. It offers an anthropological and sociological analysis of this over-representation. The authors connect it to structural–political factors, a connection the scant Indian literature rarely makes. They relate the data to literature on over-representation of minorities in jails in Western democracies, about which scholars use terms such as “penal democracy” and “punishing democracy.” The authors then draw on recent memoirs of imprisoned Indian “terrorists,” and argue that their imprisonment generates a notion of democracy that is conceivably an alternative. At its heart is the identification imprisonment generates amongst fellow humans through a shared vocabulary of injustice, pain, human finitude, and vulnerability.

We thank the anonymous reviewer for her/his encouraging, critical comments on this article and asking questions which allowed us to state the argument more clearly. We are also thankful to Santosh Kumar Singh, Ambedkar University and Kashiful Huda of for offering feedback on an earlier version. Errors, if any, are entirely ours.

As soon as the annual report Prison Statistics India (PSI) is published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Ministry of Home Affairs, many newspapers report each year that Dalits, Muslims and other minorities are over-represented in Indian prisons (Rukmini 2014; Indian Express 2015; Wall Street Journal 2014). Such reports also appear in weeklies and fortnightlies such as Frontline (2015, 2016), India Today (2014, 2016), and Tehelka (2013). However, follow-up analyses by journalistssuch as Rukmini (2014) and Vajpeyi (2013)are rare. Scholars have so far not paid sufficient attention to the PSI data, much less drawn implications from the data to shed light on the health and working of Indian democracy. A noticeable exception is Raghavan and Nair (2013). However, their analysis is limited to Maharashtra. Furthermore, they do not foreground analytical connections between democracy and the prison data they have meticulously gathered. An in-depth, sustained, scholarly analysis of the PSI data at a pan-India level, inquiring into its connections with the ideals and practices of democracy, is, we maintain, urgently needed.

The aim of this article is twofold. First, it offers a detailed, multipronged analysis of the PSI data from 1998 to 2014. Since the data prior to 1998 is not available, we limit ourselves to that period.1 We analyse the prison data along anthropological and sociological coordinates of communities such as Adivasis, Christians, Dalits, Muslims, and Sikhs. We compare their percentage in prison populations with their respective proportion in the total population. This comparison is undertaken at a pan-India level as well as at state levels. We must point out that our focus on communities by no means implies that other factorssuch as gender, income, age, nature of offence, and educational capital of the detainees, which the PSI recordsare not significant.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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