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The Penal System

The constitution assigns the custody and correction of criminals to the states and territories. Day-to-day administration of prisoners rests on principles incorporated in the Prisons Act of 1894, the Prisoners Act of 1900, and the Transfer of Prisoners Act of 1950. An inspector general of prisons administers prison affairs in each state and territory.

By the prevailing standards of society, prison conditions are often adequate. Some prison administrators concede that the prevailing conditions of poverty in Indian society contribute to recidivism because a prison sentence guarantees minimal levels of food, clothing, and shelter. Despite this overall view, India's prisons are seriously overcrowded, prisoners are given better or worse treatment according to the nature of their crime and class status, sanitary conditions are poor, and punishments for misbehavior while incarcerated have been known to be particularly onerous.

Prison conditions vary from state to state. The more prosperous states have better facilities and attempt rehabilitation programs; the poorer ones can afford only the most bare and primitive accommodations. Women prisoners are mostly incarcerated in segregated areas of men's prisons. Conditions for holding prisoners also vary according to classification. India retains a system set up during the colonial period that mandates different treatment for different categories of prisoners. Under this system, foreigners, individuals held for political reasons, and prisoners of high caste and class are segregated from lower-class prisoners and given better treatment. This treatment includes larger or less-crowded cells, access to books and newspapers, and more and better food. Despite laws that mandate egalitarian treatment of Dalits (see Glossary), members of Scheduled Tribes (see Glossary), and members of the so-called Backward Classes (see Glossary), a rigid class system that circumvents the spirit of these laws exists within the prison system (see Varna , Caste and Other Divisions, ch. 5).

The press and human rights groups periodically raise the subject of prison conditions, including problems of overcrowding, the plight of prisoners detained for long periods while awaiting trial, and the proper treatment of women and juvenile prisoners (children are often incarcerated with their parents). Reports have also surfaced alleging that torture, beatings, rape, sexual abuse, and unexplained suicides occur on many occasions in police stations and prisons. Because of a shortage of mental institutions, numerous "non-criminal lunatics" are imprisoned, often under conditions worse than those afforded criminals. The government concedes that problems exist, but insists that its attempts at prison reform have suffered from a paucity of resources.

National Security Challenges

As the twenty-first century approaches, India faces a number of key challenges to its national security. The vast majority of emergent threats are essentially from within.

Because of increased educational opportunities, greater political awareness, and media exposure, hitherto quiescent ethnic minorities are steadily claiming their rights in the political arena. This form of political assertiveness has generated a backlash from the well-entrenched segments of India's majority population. Much violence has accompanied this process of social change. Increased use of coercion alone, however, is unlikely to contain ethnoreligious violence. Further development of India's political institutions and social policies is also needed.

A related national security problem in the region is linked to the porous borders and cross-national ethnic ties that characterize South Asia. Consequently, Pakistan has found it expedient to support Muslim militants in Jammu and Kashmir and, to a lesser degree, Sikh insurgents in Punjab. India, on occasion, has retaliated in Pakistan's Sindh Province, supporting various movements for Sindhi autonomy. Furthermore, India has also been involved in supporting the Tamil extremists in Sri Lanka. As long as governments in the region yield to these temptations for short-term gains, continued fratricidal violence is inevitable.

The other major source of instability in the region stems from the proliferation of nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities in both India and Pakistan. The long-standing border dispute with China and the memories of the 1962 military debacle have encouraged India's efforts to acquire these capabilities. India's acquisition of weapons of mass destruction may well precipitate a three-way arms race in the region involving India, Pakistan, and China. Such an arms race not only would be strategically destabilizing but also would impose enormous costs on resource-poor societies.

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Stephen Philip Cohen's The Indian Army is the best work on the historical evolution of the Indian army. One of the earliest and still useful accounts of India's security problems is Lorne J. Kavic's India's Quest for Security . Raju G.C. Thomas's Indian Security Policy is probably the most comprehensive, although not necessarily the most analytic, treatment of Indian security questions. Basic armed forces information appears in SP's Military Yearbook and the weekly armed forces news magazine Sainik Samachar (available in thirteen languages), both published in New Delhi. Analyses of the state of India's armed forces, including its paramilitary forces, periodically appear in the journal Armed Forces and Society . Within India the best discussions of security issues are found in the privately produced Indian Defence Review and the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses Journal , the house journal of the government-supported think tank, the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses. Broader discussions of regional security issues can be found in Survival , published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.

The various wars that have taken place in the region are well documented. The best analyses are Lionel Protip Sen's Slender Was the Thread on the 1947-48 conflict, D.K. Palit's War in the High Himalaya and Stephen Hoffmann's India and The China Crisis on the 1962 India-China border war, Russell Brines's The Indo-Pakistani Conflict on the 1965 war, and Robert Jackson's South Asian Crisis and Richard Sisson and Leo E. Rose's War and Secession on the 1971 Indo-Pakistani conflict. Sumit Ganguly's The Origins of War in South Asia is the only comparative and comprehensive account of the three Indo-Pakistani conflicts. Civil-military relations and defense decision-making issues have been discussed in articles written jointly by Jerrold F. Elkin and W. Andrew Ritezel and by Sumit Ganguly.

An excellent discussion of nuclear proliferation issues is found in Stephen Philip Cohen's Nuclear Proliferation in South Asia . Indian nuclear and ballistic missile programs are discussed in some detail in Brahma Chellaney's Nuclear Proliferation: The U.S.-Indian Conflict . For an early analysis of the motivations underlying the Indian nuclear program, see Sumit Ganguly's "Why India Joined the Nuclear Club." Another useful analysis of India's nuclear and ballistic missile programs is Raju G.C. Thomas's "India's Nuclear and Space Programs: Defense or Development?" An important discussion of Indian strategic culture and doctrine is George K. Tanham's "Indian Strategic Culture." (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of September 1995

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India Table of Contents