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Police reforms in India: a distant dream

Anti-minority bias in the Indian Police is well-documented fact by slew of Inquiry commissions, say MH Lakdawala

Mumbai: What happen in Gujarat was not riots but carnage. It was all evident in the biased behaviour of the police. According to the requirements of the Constitution, law and democratic aspirations of the people, the police is suppose to be professional, service-oriented, free from extraneous influences and above all be accountable to the rule of law. 

This has, however, not happened because those who control and run the system have abused it beyond repair and are responsible for the large number of ills that presently threaten to destroy the system. 

More than fifty percent of complaints received by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India every year are against police personnel. 

Public complaints against police personnel indicate that: 
They are brutal and lawless; 
They are highly corrupt; 
They are partisan and politicised; and 
They lack professional competence 

A media scan done by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), a non-governmental organisation fighting against human rights violations in India, reveals that over the last few years, there has been increasing involvement of police personnel in committing crime. Official statistics also indicate increasing deviance amongst police personnel.

Anti-minority bias in the Indian Police is well-documented fact. Slew of Inquiry commission have pointed fingers at the police for being anti Muslim. Consider this:
*"This commission of inquiry has cited more than half a dozen instances where Muslim religious places adjoining police lines or police stations were attacked or damaged. The argument advanced by the police officers that because they were busy quelling riots at various other places, these police stations were shorn of adequate strength and hence these attacks on religious places could not be punished, did not impress the Commission. It has made this observation because not a single case of damage to a Hindu place of worship near a police station was reported to the Commission."

Report of the Justice Jagmohan Reddy Commission on the Ahmedabad riots of 1969
*"The response of police to appeals from desperate victims, particularly Muslims, was cynical and utterly indifferent. On occasions, the response was that they were unable to leave the appointed post; on others, the attitude was that one Muslim killed was one Muslim less...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. The treatment given was harsh and brutal and, on occasions, utterly inhuman...The bias of policemen was seen in the active connivance of police constables with the rioting Hindu mobs, on occasions, with their adopting the role of passive on-lookers on occasions, and, finally, their lack of enthusiasm in registering offenses against Hindus even when the accused was clearly identified and post-haste classifying the cases in 'A' (True but not detected) summary".
- Report of the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission on the Mumbai riots of 1992-1993.

*"The working of the Special Investigation Squad is a study in communal discrimination. The officers of the squad systematically set about implicating as many Muslims and exculpating as many Hindus as possible irrespective of whether they were innocent or guilty. Cases of many Hindus belonging to the Shiv Sena, Rashtriya Utsav Mandal (an extension of the local branch of the Jana Sangh) were wrongly classified as 'A' category and investigations closed and no proper investigation was undertaken into several complaints of murders of Muslims and arson of their property. No investigation was conducted into the composition and activities of Hindu communal and allegedly communal organisations operating in Bhiwandi but only in respect of Muslim communal and allegedly communal organisations. Deputy superintendent of police S.P. Saraf held private conferences and discussions with several leaders of Hindu organisations including many who were implicated by Muslims in offences of arson and murder."
- Report of the Justice D.P. Madon Commission on the Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad of 1970

* "The evidence of the deputy SP says that while on patrol duty he had to curb many among his rank and file who could not restrain themselves when they met Muslims on the road. Similar evidence was given by the sub-collector and other witnesses who have testified saying that while chasing away some Muslims many policemen yelled at them to go to Pakistan. At Mattambaram one or two of them got into the mosque and besides beating Usmankutty Haji, a very respectable person, broke the tube-light and chandeliers in the mosque. There is nothing to show that there was any justification for this action...So far as the minorities are concerned, it is the feeling among them that they are nor getting justice, that they are discriminated against in the matter of appointments in the Public Services, that they do not get equal protection of the law and that their religion is in danger, that prompts them to rally around religious organisations of their own. It is of the greatest importance that appropriate steps are taken by the government to remove the cause for such feelings in the minorities. There is much truth in saying that if you want peace you must work justice."
- Report of the Justice Joseph Vithyathil Commission on the Tellicherry riots, 1971

About twenty years ago, the National Police Commission (NPC) made a series of recommendations for police reforms, some aimed at insulating the police from illegitimate outside control, pressure and interference .The NPC's recommendations have remained unimplemented till today. There is a deep-seated and strong resistance to the idea of police reforms. Politicians and bureaucrats have developed a great vested interest in retaining control and superintendence over the police organisation. This can be judged from the lack of response from several states in India to the letter written in April 1997 by the then Union Minister for Home Indrajit Gupta.It was indicative of the deeply entrenched resistance to police reform. The letter directed chief ministers of all states to rise above narrow partisan or political considerations and introduce police reforms. Not a single state responded to the letter nor it was acknowledge.

Communalism is bad, whether it is indulged in by the majority community or the minorities. But, the communalism of the majority community can hold the entire society to ransom. The wanton and deliberate demolition of the Babri Masjid by the Hindu fundamentalist forces in December 1992 was a watershed in the governance of the country. For the first time this divided society on the basis of religion and created the ugly and frightening monster of terrorism indulged in by the Muslims. This has long term implications for maintenance of law and order as the Muslims, with their population of over 150 million, can hardly be called a minority, except in the relative sense of the term when compared with the large majority of Hindus.

The first concerns the composition of the police. The representation of women in police is dismal and stands at less than 1%. This is particularly worrisome in view of the increasing crime against women. It is well recognised that in crimes such as rape, molestation, dowry deaths, kidnapping and so on, victims would be more forthcoming if questioned by women police. The same is true of the representation of religious minorities, SCs, STs, and other weaker sections. It must be our endeavour to ensure that the composition of the police reflects, as closely as possible, that of the society itself. It is unfortunate that no serious effort has been made so far to change the profile of the police to remedy these deficiencies.

This takes us to the image of the police and the respect, which the police enjoy in society. 

The matters relating to police reform have been gone into by a number of state police commissions over the last 40 years. As early as 1959, the Kerala Police Reorganisation Commission had cautioned that, 'The greatest obstacle to efficient police administration flows from the domination of party politics under the state administration. the result of partisan interference is often reflected in lawless enforcement of laws, inferior service and in general decline of police prestige.' Similar observations were made by the West Bengal Police Commission (1960-61), the Punjab Police Commission (1961-62), the Delhi Police Commission (1968) and the Tamil Nadu Police Commission appointed in 1971.

Its high time human rights organisation take up the issue seriously. Muslim must put the pressure on secular organisation and political party to take up the issue of police reforms seriously. No civilised society can afford to have a Gujarat-like carnage repeated.

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