By: Arvind Verma
Much like Bollywood movies where the police appear in the last scene, when the full story has already been told, the recent report by three DGPs is a belated realisation. That Muslims are poorly represented in the armed forces, including the police, has been known and documented for decades. Every commission report on communal riots has provided further evidence of police bias against the largest minority community in the country. Justice Srikrishna, in his inquiry on the Mumbai riots of 1992-93, stated: “Police officers and men, particularly at the junior level, appeared to have an in-built bias against the Muslims which was evident in their treatment of the suspected Muslims and Muslim victims of riots”. That Muslims continue to distrust the khaki and see it as communal should be a surprise to the three senior DGPs or the home ministry. The only welcome part of their report is that this is the first admission by the police establishment of having neglected the Muslims of India.
For decades, police forces have been blind to the need to earn the faith of the community. Even in areas with a high proportion of Muslims in the population, their sense of insecurity and alienation has been apparent. Terrorism in the name of Islam has led to further profiling, which has engulfed a large number of innocent Muslim youths. The acquittal and the scathing remarks by the Supreme Court in the Akshardham case reveal how anti-terrorist operations in the country target innocent Muslims. The police have yet to develop a response to the sense of persecution and the growing ghettoisation of Muslims, as seen in Gujarat and, more recently, in Muzaffarnagar.
Improved training, countering rumours through modern communication systems, better public relations and monitoring provocateurs, as recommended by the DGPs, are all welcome and much-needed steps. However, it is doubtful if these steps can bridge the gulf between Muslims and the Indian police. According to National Crime Records Bureau data, in 2013, there were 1,08,602 Muslims serving in the police, that is, around 8.05 per cent of the total number of personnel. Thus, in no state police force, except Jammu and Kashmir’s, do Muslims serve in proportion to their numbers in the general population. Unfortunately, there is no data to determine how many Muslims occupy supervisory positions and importantly, are posted at police stations where service to the Muslim community is more meaningful.
But numbers alone do not matter. The small proportion of Muslims does not necessarily reflect a bias in the recruitment of police personnel. For the subordinate ranks, the selection begins with a physical test. This entails running a mile, which has to be done in open fields. It is difficult to discriminate against anyone qualifying in these physical tests, though nepotism and corruption in the final selection are known to exist. The small number of Muslims going for higher education similarly affects their representation in the IPS cadre. The DGP panel did not examine whether greater representation of Muslims alone is likely to close the gulf between the community and the police force. The reservation of posts for Scheduled Castes and Tribes has not controlled atrocities against these communities. The government policy of a three-year term limit at any post restricts any possibility of the personnel building ties with the local community. Rather than numbers, it is the prevailing politics that explains the alienation and sense of insecurity among Muslims.
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The Indian police is a discredited organisation. Citizens repose little faith in its capability or even reliability. The harassment experienced in reporting crime, seeking assistance and dealing with anti-social elements is not only ubiquitous but also deep-rooted. Political considerations affect every function of the police and every community, including Muslims, experiences the brutality, indifference and inefficiency of poorly trained and corrupt personnel. No citizen is willing to approach the police for help unless there is no other recourse.
In such a situation, public relations, hiring more Muslims and talk of community policing are mere window dressing. The police needs an urgent overhaul and wide reform. An organisation where 80 per cent of the personnel with power to arrest are still restricted to a role of watch and ward, and treated on par with class IV employees, can hardly provide succour to citizens. The poor working conditions and lack of resources, a policy that comes in the way of police personnel developing roots in the community and a leadership that is aloof and feudal are well-known shortcomings of the Indian police. A re-evaluation of the criminal justice system and an emphasis on due processes are some of the initial steps that are needed. Muslims and every other community will be served better by a professional police, accountable for its actions and properly supervised, than by more numbers being added to the present decrepit system.
The writer is associate professor at the department of criminal justice, Indiana University