Saturday, December 16, 2006

In jail

The Sachar committee report finally excluded analysis of the number of Muslims in jails in India. I read an article by Ishtiyaque Danish, of Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi, where he has written:

"Jails are the only place where Muslims are over-represented. Their share in the jail population is more than their share in India's population. This shows that poverty and illiteracy have compelled Muslims to enter the world of crime and land in police custody and jails.

There is a strong link between illiteracy or lack of education and crimes. Poor education, caused by whatever factors, internal or external, is instrumental in keeping Muslims backward, economically and otherwise. And it is a known fact that poverty or economic deprivation compel people to indulge in criminal activities. This explains why Muslims are over-represented in jails."

I would like to take issue with Danish about this. What he has written only lends further credence to what the Hindu middle class loves to believe, that Muslims comprise most of the criminals in India.

First, the direct link made between poverty and crime is too simplistic. The overwhelming number of the poor - are not engaged in crime. (That a large part of their life is lived outside the law - for instance in matters of obtaining water, or electricity - is another matter; this is how "governance" operates at the grassroots, in the absence of basic services.) Yes, poverty leads to crime. But that is at an advanced stage in the life of a community, when there is utter hopelessness and all-round stagnation. And the criminal activities are also closely linked to external crime lords, political parties as well as the police.

Second, Danish completely forgets the fact that in many parts of India - in Mumbai, in Gujarat, in Calcutta and West Bengal, in Kashmir - Muslims are routinely picked up, taken into custody, tortured, their families harassed. Several people simply disppear. All Muslims are seen as terrorists - whether by the police, or the middle class Hindu society. For any crime in a neighbourhood, the police will break into the homes of poor Muslim slumdwellers in the dead of night, beat people up, pick up youths and put them into lock-up. Lacking any assistance, some would then find themselves serving a jail sentence, with hardened criminals. This is also a way of pushing youths into crime.

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