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Muslim Prisoners: Victims of Poverty

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A recent TISS report reveals that poverty and illiteracy are the key factors for the large population of Muslims in jails.

By A Staff Writer
A recent report by two scholars, Dr Vijay Raghvan and Roshni Nair of the Centre for Criminology and Justice at the Tata Institute of  Social Sciences (TISS) reveals that Muslims comprise 32.4 % of the prison population in Maharashtra jails, whereas Muslim population  in the state is 10.6%. Commissioned by the State Minorities Commission, the study is based on interviews with 339 Muslim inmates,     mostly between 18 and 30 years of age, in 15 prisons. “Our team questions were first approved by the jail authorities, says Dr Vijay   Raghvan. The report points out the fact that some of the offences are minor in nature. Dr Vijay Raghavan says that 75.5% of the espondents were arrested for the first time and 24.5% were repeat arrestees .This shows that majority of the respondents were not career criminals, says the report. The study reveals that over 30% of the prisoners were not allowed to talk to their relatives at the
time of arrest. This violates the rights of an accused. The report discusses several reasons for so many Muslimsjoining crime. Lack of  resources and income opportunities, peer pressure and conflict with the police were cited as the major reasons. The report also gives area of residence as one of the major reasons for Muslims taking to crime. Many respondents who were involved in repeat offences came from Muslim neighborhoods where, they said, they were witness to the flourishing of illegal activities. A considerable number were arrested for alleged forgery of documents, making fake currency notes, cheating and fraud. Since many Muslim ghettoes are blacklisted by the banks, even better educated people forge documents to get loans. Some of them paid agents to make fake documents in order to get the loan, explains the report. Although Dr Vijay Raghvan declines to discuss in detail the alleged police discrimination  against Muslims, a few confessions do pertain to it. Sajid, a prison inmate with a criminal record, told the researchers: “I am trying to make a new beginning. Every time I start some work, the police arrest me on some charge or the other. They also demand money from  me. Those who can pay are set free. The police are very powerful and can do anything”. Human rights activist, Shabnam Hashmi cites  the recent example of Kalyan resident Bilal Shaikh, whom the police slapped with the non-bailable, cognisable Section 333 after he had  a spat with traffic constables for jumping a signal. Assaulted brutally for arguing with the cops, Shaikh suffered a fracture on his right  arm, arrested and cooled his heels in prison for eight days while the four cops got bail on the same day since their offence,according to  the FIR, was non-cognisable. This shows the clear bias of the police against Muslim offenders, alleges Hashmi. The TISS report says that  most Muslims echo these sentiments: They view the police as an unjust system using unfair methods in the performance of their duties. Another reason why Muslims  take to crimes is illiteracy. The study reveals that 31% of the Muslims under-trials and convicts could  not read or write, while another 61% could barely understand the written word, having studied only up to Class IV. Only a small  number of inmates from the minority community had completed their higher secondary education, while few had gone to college or  completed their post-graduate degree, states the report. If we add the percentage of illiterates to those educated up to the primary level, only 0.6% had completed their graduation, while the number of postgraduates was a marginal four, the 117-page survey report states.  Thus poverty and lack of education among Muslims have surfaced as the key reasons for them taking to crime, the report suggested. The highest number of illiterate inmates was found in Mumbai and Thane. Of the total 614 under-trials and convicts in  Thane jail, 176 had never been to school, while 378 had barely attended primary school. Of the 709 inmates in Mumbai jails, 225 were  uneducated and another 475 had studied only up to Class IV. A majority of the inmates interviewed by the team admitted that lack of  education was the main reason for their condition today. The report suggests that close to 48% of the Muslim prisoners had no vocational training which in turn resulted in unemployment. Barely 38% of the inmates from 15 jails in Maharashtra have acquired technical skills. However, they built proficiency through on the job training. Senior criminal lawyer, Majeed Memon points out that if offenders were aware of the Prohibition of Offenders Act, 1958, which can be invoked to avoid imprisonment if the offence is minor, many of them would not have been jailed. Memon cites the rash driving case of actor John Abraham who was let off under this Act. An accused can give a bond of 12 or 24 months to the court, which then appoints a probation officer who monitors his behavior, explains  Memon. Only if he is found guilty of repeating an offence, is he punished with imprisonment.