PUCL Bulletin, January 2004

Police officers guilty of misconduct towards minorities escape punshiment

-- By Asghar Ali Engineer

Recently few trainee police officers in U.K. were suspended for their racial remarks against Asians. The BBC had made a secret film on these trainees officers and they were passing racist remarks against Asians. It came as a shock to the authorities and immediate action was taken against the concerned officers. According to the newspaper reports four British police officers have been suspended following allegations of racism prompted by undercover reporting in a BBC documentary.

These officers, three from Manchester in North-west England and one from North Wales, were suspended after police chiefs viewed the programme “The Secret Policeman”. According to the documentary a police officer was dressed in a Ku Klux Klan mask at a training centre in North-west England. According to the undercover BBC reporter he also recorded some racist comments by some officers.

The Police department took action against these officers even though the BBC had not supplied them the copy of the programme. These accused were suspended immediately as they heard about it from other sources. A thorough inquiry will be conducted against these officers. The Home Secretary David Blunkett called on the forces “to take decisive action”, a spokesperson of the Home office said.

This was the biggest survey of the forces ever undertaken. Nearly 13000 officers were scanned for sexual and racist attitude among the police. The study led by Prof. Gus John, a key adviser to Home Secretary David Blunkett on race, found evidence that at virtually every stage of the prosecution process Asian and black people appeared to suffer discrimination.

The Britain is becoming a pluralistic society and the authorities are worried that police may not have right attitudes to handle law and order in the new pluralistic set up. A couple of years ago the Home Secretary had visited Mumbai along with few members of House of Lords to study how a city like Mumbai with its tremendous plurality is managed and how law and order is maintained. A few prominent citizens of Mumbai with experience with the police were invited and I was one among them, to find out how the police handled the situation.

The fact that such secret survey was done with the help of the BBC undercover reporter speaks volumes about the concern the British authorities have towards law and order problem in the growing multi-religious society in Britain. It is also interesting to note that the authorities took immediate action against the officers involved even without seeing the undercover BBC programme.

It is in sharp contrast with the behaviour of authorities towards those policemen who publicly display their anti-minority bias. No action has ever been taken by any erroneous police officer. Every communal riot has its own story of police behaviour towards minorities. The PAC in U.P. displays crude anti-Muslim sentiments and deliberately kills innocent Muslims and yet no action has ever been taken against these guilty policemen despite all available evidence. The classical case is that of PAC commandant Tripathi who ordered killing of 23 Muslim boys pulled out of their houses in Hashimpura in Meerut on 23rd May 1987 and their bodies thrown in the nearby canal after shooting them dead. Only two boys survived to tell the story.

These officers have not been brought to book till today, no case has been filed against them, let alone suspend them or remove them from service. In U.K. the guilty officers were suspended immediately just for passing racial remarks.

In 1970 riots in Jalgaon a police sub-inspector Kadam led the mob and set fire to the house of a Muslim widow in which her children were burnt alive. Hajra Begum whose children were burnt had to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to get the concerned sub inspector suspended. Madon Commission of inquiry also passed severe remarks against the police behaviour during Bhivandi-Jalgaon riots. The police even tampered with the daily diaries and Madon Commission was very upset about it. It arrested Ibrahim Maddu and others falsely implicating them in ‘conspiracy’ to engineer riots without any iota of evidence against them.

No action was taken against any officer; on the contrary many of them were promoted and enjoyed high status. The strictures by Madon Commission also did not move the authorities to take any action.

The story is no different as far as Mumbai riots of 1992-93 are concerned. The Srikrishna Commission too, like the Madon Commission, passed severe strictures against the then Additional Commissioner of Police Mr. Tyagi and 31 other officers and yet hardly any action was taken. After long agitation by some NGOs and filing of PIL in the Supreme Court Tyagi was nominally arrested and immediately released on bail. After the riots he was promoted as Commissioner of Police, Mumbai and he retired ‘honourably’ and nothing happened to him. He was accused of ordering killing of 9 bakery workers near Minara Masjid.

In Bhagalpur riots of 1989 a police officer dumped the bodies of several riot victims in a village well and then buried them in the field and began to cultivate cauliflower to hide his crime. Another officer was suspended in Bhagalpur City and had to be reinstated by Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, as he was gheraoed by the policemen demanding his reinstatement. And Rajiv Gandhi obliged them.

What is happening in Gujarat need not be repeated here. A large section of the Gujarat police was part of the mob, burning, killing and lynching poor and helpless Muslims. It displayed open bias even in launching prosecution. It even refused to take down FIRs or even openly changed the FIRs and did not record the names of the culprits given by the victims.

And just see what happened to the accused for killing a Sikh in New York mistaking him for Muslim after the attack on New York trade towers on 9/11, 2001. He was sentenced to death though he was white male. And see the contrasting behaviour of the authorities in Gujarat after the Godhra incident? More than 1000 persons were done to death most brutally and yet not a single culprit has been brought to book. In the Best Bakery case in which 14 persons were burnt alive, all the culprits were let off by the fast track court. It is only the Supreme Court, which came to the rescue of the victims.

There are several such stories of police bias against minorities, which I do not want to repeat here. It is quite clear from what is stated above that the Indian police, in general, with some honourable exceptions at higher echelons, is strongly biased against minorities. So is the U.K. and USA police. But there is stark difference between how authorities behave in U.K. and USA and how they behave in India. The Home Ministry took immediate action against the guilty police officers only for passing a racial remark whereas in India the policemen can get away even if they shoot a number of people belonging to minority community.

What is needed is to sensitise the police to communal and racist situations in a multi-racial and multi-religious society. India is bewilderingly diverse and a police officer should be thoroughly aware of this social situation. His thinking should be purged of all majoritarian ethos or a majoritarian arrogance. A qualitative democracy should ensure equal rights for all, whether belonging to majority or minority.

However, there is no such training, sensitising the police is imparted and authorities themselves display such prejudices and even election campaigns in India are based on caste and communal basis. The BJP openly indulged in anti-minority propaganda in its election campaigns. The policemen also listen to these speeches and acquire these prejudices.

At least to neutralise the police a thorough training is needed. But there is no such effort and the training module for the police does not include any such material. I have been conducting workshops on communal harmony for the police regularly and the police trainees display very raw prejudices during discussion. In one such workshop when I asked police constables what comes to your mind when I utter the word ‘Muslim’, one of the constables said ‘criminal’ and the other constable said ‘violent person’ and others clapped indicating support for the two constables.

If the policemen at lower levels display such crude prejudices how can they be expected to be impartial while handling a riot situation? It would be in the interest of our multi-religious and multi-cultural society to train policemen to appreciate diversity and respect it. Such training would ensure much better law and order in the society. We do have multi-religious and multi-caste society but we have still to develop a multi-religious cultural ethos. Such bloodshed would not have taken place in our country in post-independence era if we had developed such culture.

We are unfortunately still quite reluctant to develop such culture. Our politicians aggressively promote majoritarian ethos and thus put up comfortably with such police attitude. The whole culture has to change if we want India to become one of the leading democracies in the world.
The police have often been accused of having anti-minorities attitude in general and anti-Muslim attitude in particular. Various inquiry commissions like Madon Commission and Srikrishna Commission have also passed strictures against the police. Enough has been written on this by many scholars and others.


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