ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Guilty until Proven Innocent

Deprived of Their Rights over Natural Resources, Impoverished Adivasis Get Prison: A Study of Undertrials in Jharkhand by Bagaicha Research Team, Ranchi, Jharkhand, 2016; ₹100.

For the civil liberties and democratic rights movement in India, conditions of undertrials are of great importance. One of the staggering characteristics of India’s prison population is the fact that out of 3,82,000 prisoners there are only 12,700 convicts. Indeed, according to the online data site, IndiaSpend, there are 22.2 million undertrials in India, whose trials are yet to conclude and that in 2013, in 85% of the cases trial was pending. We know little about these faceless undertrial prisoners and what the charge-sheets claim to be their crime. Why is it that when most undertrials—more than 22 million—remain free, 3,69,000 languish in jail? What social background do they come from? What is their economic situation? What are their stories? Here lies the significance of this study, brought out by Bagaicha, a collective of activists and writers. The study tells us about Adivasi undertrials of Jharkhand. It is, by no means, a complete story. But the great merit of this survey is that it takes us through the history of Adivasis from early days to now, introduces the role played by Naxalites, in particular the Maoists, and then provides readers case studies that bring the faceless numbers to life.

The report notes its “primary objective” was to “highlight, and document the state repression on Jharkandis who fight for their human and constitutional rights.” It is ambitious in trying to provide “detailed information required by the Supreme Court about Adivasis languishing in various jails of Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh.” It might have been useful if the report had referred to the case before the Supreme Court, in which this matter came up.

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