The prison system around the world is going through huge changes in the present times.
In America, at one point in 2008 during the George Bush presidency around 1000 people in every 100,000 people were incarcerated or behind bars due to various legislative and policy decisions.
Bail reform was the solution to the above problem, with successful legislative intervention the Americans have been able to pull down the incarceration in 2021 to the rate it was in 1995. Though it is not a complete solution it is a step in the right direction.
A similar problem plagues India now. According to the recent NCRB data, around 76 Percentage of prisoners in Indian prisons are undertrial. Showing a rise of 11.7 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019.
This is a cause of concern because the dominant perception was that the administration was releasing prisoners to decongest prisons and not subjecting them to further risks during the pandemic.
Moreover, as early as March 2020, the Supreme Court ordered the setting up of High-Powered Committees (HPCs) to grant interim bail
What does undertrial mean? How has this problem disproportionately affected the minority? let’s find out in this article.
What does undertrial mean?
According to the Oxford dictionary, an undertrial is “ a person who is being held in custody awaiting trial for a crime.”
This means they have not been convicted of any crime they sit in jail because:-
- Bureaucratic lethargy- lack of switching to e filling systems.
- They cannot afford Bail charges
- They cannot afford good lawyers to fight their cases.
- The lack of state-provided prosecutors forces them to stay in jail because they cannot afford one for themselves.
This is a huge problem because your economic status shouldn’t decide the amount of time you will spend behind bars for a crime you might not have committed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed this problem stating “most of them are poor or from ordinary families”, and appealed to states to release them on bail wherever possible.
“Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) were found to have the highest ratio of undertrials in jails at 91%, followed by Bihar and Punjab at 85%, and Odisha at 83%.”
About 27% of all undertrials were found to be illiterate, and 41% had dropped out before Class X. This fact elaborates on their low economic conditions.
How has this problem disproportionately affected the minority?
Like many problems in this nation, this too has a disproportional impact on the minority population of this country.
The amount of people in prisons is higher than the population share of these groups in the total population for example- “While Muslims form 14% of India’s population, they accounted for about 20% of the total undertrials and 17% of all convicts.”
“Dalits, who form 16.6% of India’s population, accounted for about 21% of all undertrials and 21% of all convicts.”
Minority communities are one of the most vulnerable sections of society both economically and politically.
Thus this community is at the highest risk to rot in jail for various crimes they might have not committed just because they don’t have 1) Economical means 2) lack education thus not knowing their basic rights.
Even if they are given bail the economic conditions are so bad they cannot pay even nominal charges to leave the prison system.
Another disturbing fact is that during the period 2015 to 2020 data points out that “the prison population has increased by 16.4 per cent in the past five years, and the number of convicts decreased by 16.1 per cent.”
This shows fewer people are guilty of a crime, thus if everyone one of these undertrials gets a free and fair opportunity to present their case they actually can turn out to be innocent.
Amnesty International noted that amount of undertrials in India is “far higher than other democracies around the world”, and as of 2017, had the third-highest undertrial population in Asia.
Thus structural changes are required in this archaic system that pronounces your innocence or guilt according to your economic prowess, which is undemocratic in nature.
This is the only way we can control this epidemic of undertrials in our nation.
Credits:- Indian Express, The leaflet and The Quint
Featured Image Credits:- Hindustantimes