With the impending elections to the Karnataka Assembly, the Siddaramaiah government's attempts to pay the BJP in its own communal coin is taking on a life of its own, and a dangerous one at that. Having beaten the BJP at its own game for some time, the Siddaramaiah government scored a self-goal by initiating a move recently to withdraw cases against "innocent minorities." Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy tried to do some damage control by saying that the government was only looking at minor riot-related cases where innocents had been booked and that none of the big cases were being withdrawn. When BJP leader Shobha Karandlaje asked him why the government could not consider dropping cases against "innocent Hindus" also, Ramalinga Reddy tried to wriggle out of the situation by saying that "innocent minorities" was nothing more than a "typographical error" in the state DGP's circular. Later, the state government was forced to do a complete U-turn and halt the process of withdrawing cases.
Instead of communalising and polarising the issue, the two national parties should seriously consider the horrible plight of undertrials belonging to all communities and find a solution. A report by Amnesty International on the state of undertrials in India, based on an analysis of 2017 data available with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) from a little over 500 district and central jails across the country, makes some shocking revelations. The study shows that 67%, or two-thirds, of all inmates in India's jails are undertrials. Of this, Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis comprised 53%, though these marginalised communities together account for only 39% of the population. Not surprisingly, most undertrials were poor and illiterate or less educated. The survey also showed that in states such as Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, undertrials were routinely kept in jails without being produced in court, either for want of police escort or for want of lawyers offering legal aid, or due to insufficient use of video-conferencing facilities.
Those playing communal politics should note that there are thousands of undertrials, both Hindu and Muslim, who have undergone more than half of their potential prison sentence without ever being tried, and Section 436A of the Criminal Procedure Code has a clear provision that they are eligible for automatic release from prison on personal bonds. But the absence of functional and effective undertrials' review committees at district level and the lack of adequate legal assistance condemn them to interminable incarceration, which no society with a conscience should tolerate. The country's apex court also recently observed that even the lower court judges mechanically follow "jail, rather than bail" principle, when they are supposed to offer bail more liberally. It's time politicians embraced humanism, too, rather than indulging in politics all the time.