India, like the U.S., is a federal political system comprised of states. In both countries, the states have primary authority over creation, disclosure, use and collateral consequences of criminal records, albeit within a basic national framework. Police and courts both create and maintain criminal records required to carry out investigatory and adjudicatory functions. However, unlike in the U.S., Indian court records are not systematically available to the public and law enforcement agencies are generally prohibited from disclosing individual criminal history information for non-criminal justice purposes. There are no private information companies engaged in selling criminal background records to employers, landlords, volunteer organizations, and curious individuals.
The following post concerns the use of police records in India, which are (like police records in this country) generally not available to the public, yet have important implications for individual privacy. In a later piece the authors will discuss Indian policy and practice on court records, which are publicly available and may be used by employers and others to deny benefits and opportunities. Ed.
Comparative analysis is always good for the soul. As we think deeper and more broadly about the types, status and use of criminal records, it is helpful to consider laws and practices in other countries. Toward that end, this post illuminates the most salient and interesting type of criminal record in India, the “history sheet” and its cousin the “rowdy sheet”. History and rowdy sheets are analogous to our criminal intelligence databases, but are more subject to legal constraints. At the same time, they are more vulnerable to public disclosure because they call for intensive and frequently conspicuous monitoring both by police and civilian leaders.