Making of a criminal, one register at a time | Shivangi Narayan

In September 2020, a court in Delhi granted bail to a man named Neeraj who had been detained by the police on the charge that he committed theft and vandalism during the Delhi pogroms. Since February, Neeraj had been kept in jail without any evidence supporting the police’s charge and only the claim that he was a known “bad character”. While a judge in the case stated that one “cannot be made to languish in jail” based on a “bad character” tag, this case draws attention to police records that are used to surveil and document people on such a label. 

Reams and reams of paper-based registers, colloquially known as “history sheets” or “ruffian records” record details of young people in an area who have not been convicted of a crime but who, in some cases, may have been previously arrested for petty crimes. These “bad characters” are those who the police have labelled as “trouble-makers”, “budding” or “potential criminals” or people who are supposedly “addicted to crime”. Because the police relies on its eyes and ears to collect information and mark people with this tag, it is only a specific section of the people that end up in these paper-registers– people living in slums or shanties, overwhelmingly belonging to the so-called non-dominant castes of Hindus or Muslims, Adivasis or migrants–people whose socio-economic status leaves them visible to the very in-real-life, physical, penetrating gaze of the state. This is what I have termed visible surveillance1In Narayan S. Guilty Until Proven Guilty: A Study of Preventive Policing Databases in India (forthcoming), a form of state intrusion enabled by the police to collect information on people who can be literally ‘watched’– within the private spaces of their home, by being physically followed or asked to periodically present themselves in police stations– that merges the boundaries of public and private.

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From Segregation to Labour, Manu’s Caste Law Governs the Indian Prison System | Sukanya Shantha

Editor’s Note: This article has been reposted with permission from the writer, Sukanya Shantha & The Wire, with illustrations by Pariplab Chakrabarty. It is also available in Hindi, Marathi, Urdu, Tamil, and Malayalam. This article, part of the series ‘Barred–The Prisons Project’, is produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

On his first day at the Alwar district prison, Ajay Kumar* was gearing up for the worst. Torture, stale food, biting cold and harsh labour – Bollywood had already acquainted him with the grisly realities of jails. “Gunah batao (Tell me your crime),” a police constable, placed at the undertrial (UT) section, asked him as soon as he was escorted inside a tall iron gateway.

Ajay had barely mumbled something, when the constable snapped, “Kaun jaati (Which caste)?” Unsure, Ajay paused and then hesitantly said, “Rajak”. The constable was not pleased with the response. He further inquired, “Biradari batao (Tell me the caste category). An inconsequential part of his life so far, Ajay’s caste identity, as part of a “Scheduled Caste”, was now to shape his 97-day stay in the prison.

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Pandemic Policing in Madhya Pradesh | Podcast

A conversation with Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project (CPAProject) on their 2020 report, “Countermapping Pandemic Policing: A Study of Sanctioned Violence in Madhya Pradesh” & on what motivates their intervention in the criminal justice system, the everyday policing of certain groups (like denotified tribal communites) and the over-reliance on criminal law to manage the COVID-19 pandemic in India.

You can read the full transcript with accompanying audio here.

The CPAProject is a grassroots litigation-research intervention based in Bhopal that particularly focuses on accountability against the criminalisation of marginalised communities across the state of Madhya Pradesh.