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21 July 2012

‘96% Muslim prisoners do not have terror or criminal connections’

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The 141-page report says that in spite of chargesheets filed against 47.4% of the undertrial Muslim prisoners, only 3.8% have reached the judgement stage.

By Mamta Sen 

Mumbai: Mumbai has the highest number of Muslims prisoners (55.1%) in Maharashtra, followed by Pune and Aurangabad (9.1% each), says a study assigned to Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) by the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission. Titled "Socio Economic Profile and Rehabilitation Needs of Muslim Community in Prisons in Maharashtra", the study was conducted by Professor Vijay Raghavan and Professor Roshni Nair of the Criminology and Justice Department of TISS.

Around 339 Muslim prisoners (both male and female) across 15 prisons in Maharashtra were interviewed for the year-long research, which has thrown up alarming statistics on the condition of Muslim prisoners and the state of their legal representation.

The 141-page report highlights that in spite of chargesheets filed against 47.4% of the undertrial prisoners, only 3.8% have reached the judgement stage. Of the 70% undertrial Muslim prisoners, 64.5% are male and 5.2% are female. The report says that Byculla jail in Mumbai has the highest number of female prisoners from Bangladesh.

The report also brings to light the poor treatment received by women prisoners compared to their male counterparts and calls for immediate measures to stop this.

The majority of Muslim prisoners are aged between 18-30 years and account for 65.5% of the total Muslim population in prisons across Maharashtra. Around 58.2% of them are educated up to the primary level, while the remaining 31.4% are illiterate.

The study says that 96% of Muslims detained in jails do not appear to have any connections with criminal gangs or terrorist groups; 25% of them did not have any lawyers representing them. It says that corruption in the legal system and a biased police force are the key reasons why Muslim prisoners languish in prisons across Maharashtra. It further says that while 44% of those arrested were allowed to meet their families immediately, 38% were not allowed to do so, a clear violation of D.K. Basu guidelines.

The study adds that over 61% of prisoners did not have any contacts with NGOs and 23% were not even aware of their existence. The study also says that even though over 50% of the convicted prisoners completing their term of imprisonment in 2013, the Maharashtra State Minority Commission does not have any rehabilitation plans in place for them.

Professor Vijay Raghavan says that the research was a herculean task as they experienced several delays in acquiring permission to interview the prisoners. He says that many prisoners said that they had been falsely implicated in cases where they were either witness to a certain crime or complained against the police. "There have been cases when family members too ended up getting arrested and tortured by the police if someone from the family has committed a crime and is absconding to evade arrest, mainly due to the bias against their community," he says, adding that 42% of prisoners on short-term sentences are Muslims and that Acts like TADA, MCOCA and Official Secrets Act are slapped on them without any evidence.

Among the undertrials interviewed, charge sheets have been filed in only 47.4% cases and only 3.8% cases have reached the judgement stage. "Majority of these incidents, however are related to conflicts in family relationships, disputes over money or property matters, love affairs, conflicts arising out of peer relations, feelings of revenge," Raghavan says. He adds that all 15 case-studies of men and women prisoners presented in the report show some examples of police atrocities.

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