The Union home ministry’s decision to discontinue collection and publication of data on the share of Muslims in the police is misguided. This data, which had been made public by the National Crime Records Bureau every year since 1999, when the practice began, helped in tracking the strides the state had made — or not — towards ensuring that India’s largest minority had adequate representation in the police. After several years in which the share of Muslims in the police force fell, from 7.55 per cent in 2007 to 6.27 per cent in 2013 — less than half their share in the overall population, which is a little over 14 per cent — rather than examining the reasons for this decline, the government has chosen to draw a curtain over the problem.
Enumeration is a critical tool in helping policymakers address a vital question: Does the police force reflect the diversity of the communities it serves? It is important for the police to be seen as diverse, because that perception increases its credibility with the community, builds trust. Even if police officers from minority communities enforce the law in similar ways to their counterparts, having a department that represents the composition of the local population helps burnish the image of an institution that is frequently at odds with citizens, and is routinely accused of unfairness, and the arbitrary use and abuse of coercive state power. The Sachar Committee reported that Muslims lacked a “sense of security” and felt that “every bearded man is considered an ISI agent” by the police and, should any incident occur, immediately, and likely unjustly, picked up — this may explain why, according to NCRB data, 21 per cent of jailed undertrials are Muslims. Indeed, the report suggests that this intense vulnerability and fear is accentuated by a diminished Muslim presence in the police, which also heightens insecurities in communally sensitive moments, and recommends that more Muslims be inducted into the force.
Other pluralistic societies like the US and UK, for instance, have made conscious efforts to recruit more members from minority groups in a bid to address perceptions of institutionalised racism and prejudice. While it is true that representation is only one tool to build public confidence in the police, recording the ethnicity of officers is central to that exercise. The government should not only count how many Muslim police officers it has, it should also document the representation of other minorities in local law enforcement.