Mumbai (AsiaNews) - The high number of prison inmates from socio-religious minorities "is due to the attitude of some states, which target the most vulnerable sections of society," said Arun Ferreira, an activist for Christian Dalits and tribals, who spoke to AsiaNews following the release of the 2012 Prison Statistics report by the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB).
According to the report, Muslims, who are 13.4 per cent of India's population, represented 28.02 per cent of the prison population in 2012. Christians are in the same situation. Nationally, they are 2.3 per cent of the population but they constitute 6 per cent of the prison population.
For the activist, "We get these percentages because Dalits, Tribals, Muslims and Christians are often the victims of loopholes and sections of the Indian Penal Code.
Ferreira should know. He personally experience what it means to be behind bars. Accused of being a Naxalite (Maoist) guerrilla, he was arrested in May 2007 in Nagpur (Maharashtra) and indicted on 11 charges, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
During his detention, he was tortured and interrogated twice after being treated with a "truth serum," a psychoactive drug that is now illegal. After four years and eight months in jail, he was released on bail.
"My experience in prison is that every state tends to target minorities, showing some of its specific features," Ferreira told AsiaNews.
"In states where Hinduism is strong, like Orissa (where the effects of anti-Christian pogroms still linger), many innocent Christians have been arrested and thrown in prison, falsely accused of being Naxalites. However, the same thing happened in Gujarat after the 2002 riots."
"In Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, which are also under strong Hindu influence, the authorities have overtly attacked the Christian community, treating its members as the 'criminal' element in the Dalit and Tribal groups."
All too often, Christians fall into the clutches of the justice system on false evidence because they back causes that embarrass the authorities.
"In Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, some tribal Christians were arrested on false accusations of terrorism," Ferreira noted, "when in fact the problem was their struggle against large-scale mining projects that required huge tracts of land to be expropriated."
The same is true for Tamil Nadu, where Christians have been charged with 'subversion' for opposing the construction of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant.
"Sadly, neither the government nor the NCRB recognise political prisoners as a separate category, so there are no statistics about it."