BY: JAVED ANAND
On July 17, The Indian Express scooped a report prepared jointly by the police chiefs of three states — Sanjeev Dayal (Maharashtra), Deoraj Nagar (UP), K. Ramanujam (Tamil Nadu) — and a senior IB officer. Muslims think we are communal, noted the report presented at the annual conference of DGPs in New Delhi in 2013.
Significantly, there was an honest admission that such perception is not without basis: “Poor representation of the minorities in the police forces has contributed to this distrust and suspicion. It has to be admitted that the conduct of some members of the police forces in various states during communal riots had only served to strengthen and heighten these suspicions and distrust in the minority communities,” the report said.
Warning of the serious implications of police bias “on the communal situation in this country and thus its internal security”, the DGPs recommended urgent remedial measures. While the UPA government did nothing, under the new Sangh Parivar-backed NDA dispensation, any talk of corrective action will surely be castigated as “Muslim appeasement”.
On July 31, Justices V.M. Kanade and P.D. Korde of the Bombay High Court sent out a new red alert, observing that most victims of custodial deaths in Maharashtra appeared to be Muslims and Dalits. The high-powered Sachar Committee appointed in 2005 by the prime minister to study the educational and socio-economic status of Indian Muslims had concluded that the community was grossly underrepresented in various state and social institutions, and was conspicuously overrepresented in only one institution: India’s jails.
Rampant religious bias in our context is not very different. It is as old as the widely acknowledged racial bias in the US resulting in overrepresentation of people of colour in America’s prisons. Following countrywide research, Vibhuti Narain Rai, a senior IPS officer, had published a study in the mid-1990s on the perception of the police among India’s minorities.
The study found that the country’s religious minorities, Muslims included, see the police as a partisan force. Rai had pointed out that the police, the armed limb of the state, was also its front face. If the minorities continued to experience the police as an alien force, they will inevitably end up feeling alienated from the Indian state as a whole, with serious internal security implications, he had warned. The ruling classes were as uninterested in what Rai said then as in the DGPs’ recent report.
One need only look around, whether in our immediate neighbourhood or beyond, to acknowledge that prejudice and bias against vulnerable minorities — religious, ethnic, racial, linguistic, casteist — is a global, not an India-specific, malady. Forget self-flagellation. What about some honest self-introspection?
“As a first step it is very necessary for the police leadership to admit that the problem exists and acknowledge that there is a need for correction within us,” said the DGPs’ report. And here lies the critical difference between a wilfully blind majoritarian polity and some of the world’s older democracies: the critical first step, the recognition that there exists a serious problem.
In April 1993, a black British youngster was stabbed to death in London by a gang of white supremacists. The acquittal of the accused for lack of sufficient evidence created a national outrage resulting in the appointment of a commission headed by Sir William Macpherson. The commission’s inquiry found the British police force guilty of “institutional racism” and recommended drastic corrective measures.
Published in February 1999, the Macpherson report has been called “one of the most important moments in the modern history of criminal justice in Britain”. The then home secretary, Jack Straw, presented it to the British parliament with the words: “The Macpherson report challenges all of us, not just the police service.” (We Indians have never felt similarly challenged.)
Among the many outcomes of the radical overhaul of the British policing system since then is a “Hate Crimes Manual”. The manual is obligatory reading for anyone entering the British police service and its message is clear and simple: “Anyone who is unable to behave in a non-discriminatory and unprejudiced manner must expect disciplinary action. There is no place in the police service for those who will not uphold and protect the human rights of others”.
In late January 2001, Benjamin Hermansen, a young African-Norwegian was knifed to death in Oslo by two neo-Nazis.
The very next day, a massive protest demonstration held in the national capital was led by none less than the country’s prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg. The message the country’s chief political executive sent out was loud and clear: “We will not tolerate hate crimes. This is not our way.”
A news report from Norway published at the time read: “In a tragic way, Benjamin has made Norwegian history. Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through Oslo to protest racism and violence in the wake of what is seen as Norway’s first racial killing. Other cities followed up. Concerts with the most prominent Norwegian musicians were organised. Legal proposals have been made. The Norwegian public has made a clear statement: This murder will not be forgotten. And it will have clear consequences.”
Imagine a hate crimes manual for the Indian police force. Imagine the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, leading a protest demonstration in Delhi, after a young Muslim, Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh, was killed in Pune in June to denounce hate crimes in unambiguous words: “This is not our way.”
The writer is co-editor, ‘Communalism Combat’ and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy