October 2, 2008 1:05:55 am
Inspector M.C. Sharma of the Delhi Police succumbed to injuries on September 19, after an encounter that also resulted in the deaths of two terrorist suspects.
An officer with multiple awards for gallantry, Inspector Sharma died a martyr for the nation.
As a police officer, what is especially distressing to see were media reports about locals protesting the episode as another fake encounter. They were joined by social organisations and NGOs, then vice-chancellors and Union ministers, and now the mainstream media is carrying stories of how it doesn’t all add up. This episode covers all the professional dilemmas that face our police forces as we attempt to take on one of the most significant and well-organised threats to internal security. There is no denying that the modern Indian state faces a very peculiar problem with militant Islamism, especially the home-grown variety. The strategy conventionally used to fight terrorism have to deftly negotiate the minefield that is the politics of religious identity in India. When every act of commission and omission by the police is analysed through the lens of communal politics then the already difficult task of fighting terrorism becomes well nigh impossible.
Listen to the questions being raised one despairs for the fate of a civil society that is unable to distinguish between its violators and defenders. Why were two terrorists killed? Why was one arrested? Why and how did two of them escape? Why did Inspector Sharma die? Why wasn’t he wearing a bulletproof jacket? Let us add up the worst of the conspiracy theories and we get the following scenario. Delhi Police was under pressure from the media and the government to do something. So they made elaborate plans. A house was rented in a Muslim locality close to a mosque. Three innocent youths were picked up from different places and brought there at some unspecified time which would be corroborated by a ‘local eye witness’. Then two of them were shot dead and the third was arrested so he could testify as an eyewitness against the cops in the murder case that ought to be registered against Sharma and his team. To make the story more believable Sharma was shot dead by his own colleagues. How paranoid does one have to be to believe this theory?We will believe the worst about our men in khaki based on conjecture and propaganda because it is our democratic right and duty not to trust them. And the terrorists whose murderous deeds have been splattered across our TV screens deserve all the benefit of the doubt.
It seems to me that the life or death of a policeman is the cheapest commodity in our public life. Unfortunately due to a shameful post-Independence history where the police were not firm with dealing with communal violence and often became a direct party to them, and because of endemic corruption and incompetence and resource constraints, our credibility as upholder of the law stands badly dented. There can be no denying that the real and perceived bias of the police apparatus in India has directly contributed to creating a generation of radicalised Muslim youth. But what is equally obvious is that they are now linked to a transnational militant ideology that aims to weave together the narrative of global revenge for local injustices. Getting rid of this institutional bias is important to win the trust of all minorities though it will not wean back those already radicalised.
There is no denying that the national response to jihadist terror would entail making difficult and decisive choices, not least between the need for public safety and civil liberties. But one hopes that before it is too late, our civil society can find it within itself to trust the professional police leadership with a key role. Police forces all over the country would need to be backed by a cross party political consensus and a nationwide mandate for action. Perhaps even the constitutional contours of our federal structure would also need to change. Can a national threat be met by a piecemeal response? Our capabilities for targeted surveillance and general monitoring will need to improve, minorities need to be recruited, language skills improved, hitherto absent analytical and profiling capabilities developed and inter agency co-operation regardless of the political differences, would have to become second nature.
Like any other proud police officer I salute the sacrifice of Inspector Sharma. I am sure that he knew, like all of us do, that his khaki uniform may one day ask him to lay down his life in the line of duty. But I am equally, and sadly, sure that the significance of his sacrifice lies immersed with his ashes.
The author is a serving IPS officer. These are his personal views
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