Sree Krishna Janamasthaanam
The state of our prisons and the making of our Prison State
by Uma Challa
(Published by MyIndMakers)
Media sensationalization of crimes against women is not new to India, neither is the diversely vociferous public response. Just within this decade, starting from “youth icon and female role model”, Nisha Sharma in 2003, all the way to “braveheart”, Jasleen Kaur, in 2015, we have witnessed several cases in which the media has held trials and pronounced “guilty” verdicts against the accused as soon as a complaint was lodged or an FIR was filed. We have witnessed the bloodthirsty lynching mob mentality of a sizable section of Indian public. In each instance, we have also heard quite a few sane voices on various forums, pleading the media and the public to exercise self-restraint and to allow the law of the land to take its course.
In the recent times, especially in the wake of the Rohtak sisters’ and Jasleen Kaur’s cases, enough has been said about the perils of media trials and ignorant demands for extrajudicial punishments. However, little has been said about what “law taking its course” means today, how it impacts the lives of the many who are accused, whether or not they are guilty of a crime. Much less has been said about how we have become a prison state by approving virtually every possible draconian law in the name of curbing crimes against women, condoning arbitrary arrests of ordinary citizens, and imprisoning them in deplorable conditions.
Here is the data from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) showing the number of arrests made under cognizable and non-bailable offences against women, the number of accused who were pronounced guilty by the end of year 2013 and the number of undertrials under the same laws, in prisons all over India at the end of year 2013.
As seen in the above table, a total of 3,90,038 people were arrested and jailed in one year, only under the above mentioned crimes against women.
There have been a total of 15,075 convictions in one year, which is a mere 3.86 percent of the total number of arrests made only within that year, under these specific crimes against women.
Ironically, a large percentage of prison population constitutes undertrials, meaning, they are in prison without being pronounced guilty. Most of them are under detention not because they might tamper with evidence nor because they are convicted (pending appeal or otherwise). Repeated adjournments of bail hearings due to an overload of cases in courts, poverty and the resultant inability to furnish the required surety, illiteracy and ignorance about legal procedures involved in obtaining bail, shoddy investigation and corruption are the main reasons which contribute to the indefinite detention or delays in release of the accused under bail. Every year, the largest number of undertrials spend upto 3 months in jail, and the number stood at 1,05,457 in year 2013 alone. In the same year, the number of undertrials who spent between 3-6 months in jail was 59,344 and the number that spent between 6-12 months in jail was 49,155. (NCRB statistics, 2013)
The total number of undertrials specifically under crimes against women (mentioned in the table above), in prisons all over India at the end of year 2013 is 40,739.
In essence, among the 55,814 inmates imprisoned for these specific crimes against women, 73 percent are undertrials. This is in accordance with the overall picture, whereby 68 percent of all Indian prison inmates, under every crime listed in the Indian Penal Code, are undertrials.
While the total available prison capacity in India is 3,47,859 inmates, the actual total occupancy of prisons in India is 4,11,992. Thus, there are an excess of 64,133 inmates in our entire prison system, and the total occupancy rate of Indian prisons stands at 118 percent. Not only are the prisons overcrowded, but they are also understaffed.
As a result, prisons, which are, in principle, meant for isolation, and if possible reformation of socially dangerous elements, have now become places for confinement of ordinary citizens accused of all sorts of crimes regardless of their nature or gravity. Unnecessary arrests and imprisonment, and overcrowding of jails, combined with insufficient prison staff and unbearable living conditions have made prisons breeding grounds for depression, anger and violence, not to mention infectious diseases too.
Due to the overburdened judiciary, there are thousands of undertrials who stay imprisoned for periods longer than the term prescribed as punishment for their crimes. Here, it would be useful to note that of the total number of cases pending during year 2013 (including cases pending trial from the previous year), only 15.2 percent of cases have been disposed off by courts (this figure includes cases which were compounded or withdrawn and cases which have resulted in convictions or acquittals). A whopping 84.8 percent of cases remain pending at the end of year 2013. (NCRB statistics, 2013)
Under these circumstances, taking advantage of legal loopholes and biases to have men thrown in prison merely based on a complaint, without evidence, investigation or trial, is one of the easiest methods to harass them. Viewed from the perspective of radical feminist masterminds behind women-centric laws, immediate arrests and incarceration provide instant “justice” (read revenge) to “victim” (read disgruntled) women. The widespread and growing tendency to get men jailed by hook or crook probably also reflects the Indian public’s loss of faith in the legal system, the police and the judiciary. In other words, we probably have extreme faith in the slowness and inefficiency of the system, and can imagine that once someone is pushed into a legal maelstrom, they will not get out of it easily, at least not without serious bruises to their spirit if not its complete annihilation.
The viciousness of our gender-biased laws is matched only by the audacity with which they are being abused every single day and the ignorance and apathy of the public, which turns a blind eye to such misuse. While the rampant misuse of laws is being instantaneously hailed as bravery and valour, sometimes even accompanied by announcement of rewards, the misery of many souls needlessly languishing in prisons is considered “law taking its course”, even by some of the most well meaning citizens, officials, opinion makers and leaders of our country.
Here, I must make an honest admission that I was one of the well-meaning but ignorant (if not downright apathetic) citizens myself. During my childhood, I remember people referring to the prison as “Sree Krishna Janmasthaanam”. I knew about Kamsa incarcerating Devaki and Vasudeva, not because they did any harm to him, his subjects or his kingdom, but only to escape the impending consequence of his own sins, namely, death in the hands of their divine child. Despite knowing this story of Krishna, for the longest time, I thought everyone inside the prison was a thief or a thug…but that’s only until I was granted the divine (and profoundly life changing) opportunity to visit prison myself. Ever since, and for almost a decade now, I always look at a prison, not with fear or disdain, but with a certain melancholic fondness…I see “Sree Krishna Janmasthaanam”.
On the occasion of Sree Krishna Janmaashtami, I pray for the well-being and speedy release of all those who have been wrongly incarcerated in Indian prisons.
Crime in India, 2013 – Compendium: http://ncrb.gov.in/CD-CII2013/compendium%202013.pdf
Prison Statistics India, 2013: http://ncrb.gov.in/PSI-2013/PrisonStat2013.htm