Khaki Prejudice

By Ram Puniyani

The episode of (9th April, 2000) police force barging in to the Hostel of Jamia Milia Islamia on the pretext of looking for two offenders, and then going on rampage is not only highly disturbing, but is one more reminder of the communalisation of State apparatus in general and of the police Force in particular. Earlier there was a fracas in which two of the students were involved and were to be apprehended. The police contingent of close to a thousand broke open the gate of the hostel, beat up the warden and then mercilessly beat all around while hurling highly communal abuses, calling the students Pakistani agents, ISI agents and also made other derogatory remarks. It is worth recalling that Jamia Milia Islamia is one of the products of the struggle for independence and has been the flag bearer of Indian Nationalism, Secularism and Democracy.

The list of biased behaviour of police can be infinitesimally long. Not very long ago in Post demolition Mumbai riots most of the victims of police 'action' were Muslims. In the first phase of riots when police was using the bullets with gay abandon, the victims who during this phase happened to be mostly Muslims suffered bullet wounds. While in the second phase the victims suffered stab wounds mainly due to the action instigated by the Shiv Sena.

A police officer, Vibhuti Narayan Rai, conducted a study into the behaviour of police in the communal riots (Record of Police Neutrality in Communal Riots, Indian Journal of Secularism, Dec 97). The finding of this study is very disturbing. The study is based on the interviews with the community leaders, feedback from serving and the retired police personnel, record of the police academy, and study of the reports of different communal riots. While we know that 65% the victims of communal riots have been Muslims the arrest and casualty figures are very revealing. In Bhiwandi riots 1970 of those arrested in cognisable offences, 21 were Hindus while 901 were Muslims; casualties-wise, 17 were Hindus and 59 were Muslims. In Meerut riots of 1982 the pattern is no different. 124 Hindus were arrested, as against 231 Muslims while 2 Hindus and 8 Muslims were the victims of casualty. As in Mumbai, here also police bullets selective hit the body of Muslims and soul of secular values. In Bhiwandi (1970), Firozabad (1972), Aligarh (1978), Meerut (1982) there was not a single Hindu victim of police bullets while the number of Muslims dying of police bullets respectively was 9, 6, 7, and 6.

Let us have a look at some of the glaring examples of police partiality. In Meerut riot in 1987 P.A.C. was deployed to control the riots. As the violence continued unabated for some time, PAC according to its theory that Muslims are responsible for the riots and should be taught a lesson, picked up more than two dozen Muslims from a locality known as Hashimpura and killed them at two places in Gaziabad after transporting them in their truck.

One of the worst complicity of the police in communal violence was seen in Bhagalpur riots (1989). Here the police was a mute witness to the murder of 116 Muslims who were buried in a field and cauliflower was grown on it to cover up the episode. Bhagalpur police administration kept denying this till another police party led by a DIG dug out some of these dead bodies.
Because of the heavy communalisation of the police force it believes that communal riots are due to Muslims and this is what guides their conduct. Their communalised consciousness is supplemented by brutal savagery, which gets further compounded by their non-professional approach in dealing with these situations. Many Muslim predominant areas are termed as 'mini-Pakistan' and police forces while entering these areas enter with the preparation and the spirit as if they are entering the enemy territory. This also makes them do the riot investigation in apathetic manner and year after year they keep sitting on the available evidence, which goes against their deep-set biases. Two of the comments from inquiry commission reports will give us a good glimpse of the attitude of some of the officers of the police. In the Bhiwandi-Jalgaon riot the Madon commission commented, "The real reason for the inadequacy of the measures taken by the authorities was the communal bent of mind of some of the officers and incompetence of others. Unfortunately, the SP, Mr. S.T. Raman appears to have possessed a communal bent of mind and perhaps a pro-Jana Sangh (Previous avatar of BJP) he fully realised the seriousness of situation but chose to turn a blind eye"

In more recent Mumbai riots people who were implicated in the riots dubbed Justice Shri Krishna as anti-Hindu. The police also got its 'due share' in the report, " police officers, particularly at the junior level, appeared to have an in built bias against the Muslims which was evident in their treatment of the Muslims and Muslim victims of the riots. The treatment given was harsh and brutal and, on occasions, bordering on inhuman, hardly doing any credit to the police. The bias of policemen was seen in active connivance of police constables with the rioting Hindu mobs on occasions, with their adopting the role of passive onlookers on other occasions, and finally, in their lack of enthusiasm in registering offences against Hindus even when the accused were clearly identified (vol., p.25-26). And "Despite clues, miscreants were not pursued, arrested and interrogated, particularly when the suspected accused happened to be Hindus with connections to Shiv Sena or Shiv Sainiks. This general apathy appears to be the outcome of built-in prejudices in the minds of average policeman that every Muslim is prone to crime"(Vol. I, p.26).

Commission after commission of inquiry are full of these and similar type of examples of maltreatment and biased behaviour against Muslims. Police not only behave in a partial manner during riots, in most of the 'regular' situations also these biases govern their attitudes. Mostly the police act more as a 'Hindu force' rather than as an arm of secular state. The discrimination in their behaviour is obvious at all the levels. By now minorities have starting looking at them as the hostile force. Lately it is the experience of the second largest minority, the Christians as well.

What is the remedy to this impasse? On one hand the communalisation of society is cornering the minorities and on the other the supposedly protective force has no qualms in conniving and even acting on behalf of the offending communal elements. This is of course due to multiple factors. The recruits to the police force are from the same group, which is on the communal offensive. The training programmes of police academies etc. are not at all geared for secularisation of its trainees. On the contrary many a top officials themselves are having heavy communal bias. The representation of the minorities in the police force is abysmal and the recruitment policy of the state has remained lop sided resulting in a very low percentage of Muslims in the police force. All these need to be reversed as early as possible. Not only that there should be a conscious effort to improve the percentage of Muslims in the police force but also the training programme needs to be recast with an emphasis not only on the human rights of minorities but also the general communalisation has to be fought against at all the levels.

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(PUCL Bulletin, Aug 2000)