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Levels of distrust

Survey data confirms perceptions of a trust deficit between Muslims and the police.

"Pakistan still  has many voices that point out the falsehood of the intolerant doctrine fed to our population as its daily  diet." 24 per cent of Muslims in the same economic class expressed the same level of distrust of the police.

By sanjay kumar

The recent report “Strategy for making police forces more sensitive towards minority sections” prepared by three directors general of police, Sanjeev Dayal, Deoraj Nagar and K. Ramanujam, could not be more timely. There seems to be a sense of shared anxiety amongst Muslims after the BJP assumed power at the Centre. It is for the Modi government, more so for the home ministry, to act upon some, if not all, of the report’s recommendations which could help build confidence in the BJP among Muslims.

The report concludes that there is a trust deficit as Muslims perceive the police to be communal, biased, insensitive, ill-informed, corrupt and lacking professionalism. Surveys across countries indicate that the level of trust among people in the police is very low, much lower compared to other institutions. In India, the DGPs’ report moves one step further in endorsing such a perception.

Findings from surveys conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) confirm some of the observations in the report by the DGPs. Not only is the level of trust in the police amongst Muslims lower compared to Hindus, it has also declined during the last few years. In a 2009 survey, 21 per cent of Hindu respondents indicated they had no trust in police forces. This perception hardly changed in the next four years. But the proportion of Muslims who reposed faith in the police declined during the same period. In the 2009 survey, 19 per cent among Muslims indicated they had no trust in the police —  this went up to 26 per cent in 2013. But this change in perception was largely reflected among urban, upper-class, educated Muslims. Among Muslims living in villages, 24 per cent said they placed no trust in the police ( in comparison, 20 per cent among the Hindus said the same), but the figure corresponded to 29 per cent among Muslims living in towns and cities. While there is hardly any difference in perception between rural and urban Hindus with regard to trust in the police, there is a noticeable difference among Muslims on this question.

Similarly, the level of distrust of the police is higher among Muslims belonging to all economic strata as compared to Hindus in the same economic rungs. The 2013 study indicates that among upper-class Hindus, 17 per cent had no trust in the police while 24 per cent of Muslims in the same economic class expressed the same level of distrust of the police. This figure was even higher among middle-class Muslims (27 per cent) as compared to 17 per cent among lower-class Hindus. The level of distrust among Muslims keeps increasing as one goes down the economic ladder — 29 per cent in the lower class, and 32 per cent among poor Muslims. This holds true for Hindus as well (22 per cent for lower class and 23 per cent among poor Hindus) but the level of distrust of the police amongst them is much lower compared to Muslims belonging to similar economic strata.

Responses to a question in the 2013 survey on whether they believed the police would treat Muslims and Hindus equally if they needed to approach a police station for resolving disputes further revealed this clear difference in perception between Hindus and Muslims. Thirty-nine per cent among Hindus believed the police would discriminate between the two, while this figure corresponded to 49 per cent among Muslims. This perception is shared both among rural and urban Muslims, though in much higher proportion among urban Muslims.

The findings of the survey also indicate that of the various institutions and agencies (panchayat, tehsil/ BDO office, courts, police station/ thana, government hospital and ration shop), the police station is seen as the most corrupt by a cross-section of Indians, but in greater proportion by Muslims. About 25 per cent of all respondents considered the police to be the most corrupt. Among Muslims, 28 per cent perceived the police station to be the most corrupt.

The DGPs’ report seems to be correctly pointing towards the basic reasons behind such perceptions, namely, the under-representation of Muslims in the police and, perhaps, the misconduct of some police personnel, especially during the time of communal disturbances. In the 2013 survey, a larger number of Muslim respondents (51 per cent) expressed varying degrees of difficulty in obtaining help from the police compared to Hindus (40 per cent). Poorer Muslims had greater difficulty in obtaining police help (53 per cent) compared to rich Muslims (40 per cent).

Changing perceptions is a very challenging task, more so when it is about an institution like the police. Such perceptions could be changed largely by social interaction. The report rightly suggests steps like training, outreach programmes, forming specialised cyber wings to combat rumours and similar efforts for building long-term trust in the police. The positive side to this story is that, despite the trust deficit, many Muslims are not averse to getting in touch with the police if the need arose. In fact, there is hardly any difference of opinion on this issue among Hindus and Muslims.

The writer is professor and director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Views are personal

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