Social Profiling: Indian Style
“The Muslim is not wanted in the armed forces because he is always suspect - whether we want to admit it or not, most Indians consider Muslims a fifth column for Pakistan” [Vengeance! India after the assassination of Indira Gandhi (New Delhi, Norton, 1985), pp. 1995-96]
— George Fernandes
Amnesty International defines racial profiling as the targeting of individuals and groups by law enforcement officials, even partially, on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion, except when there is trustworthy information, relevant to the locality and timeframe, that links persons belonging to one of the aforementioned groups to an identified criminal incident or scheme.
Whether racial/social profiling is practised in India?
If one were to pose the question before the powers that be, we would encounter a strict ‘no’ to this question. Tonnes of statistics would be put before us to ‘prove’ that our sixty-plus-year experience in democracy is a living proof that such things do not happen here. Interestingly, barring exceptions, the articulate sections of our society would also be found singing paens to this biggest democracy in the world and would rather shy away from accepting the simple fact that the ‘bigness’ of this democracy has not stopped it from practising different types of ‘apartheid’ against its own people.
It is a different matter that there arise occasions when neither the representatives of government nor those of the civil society are able to deny the discrimination on similar markers.
Few weeks back newspaper were agog with the case of Maulvi Noorul Huda, who runs a madarassa in Deoband. He was forcibly alighted from an international flight and put in detention by the Delhi police because a lady co-passenger complained about his ‘suspicious behaviour.’ The police was told that his talk on his mobile informing his relatives about the expected take off of the plane (‘jahaz udane wala hai") aroused suspicion in the minds of his co-passenger. We were also told that it required no less than the Home Minister’s intervention to free him from detention without any false charges slapped against him. In fact, few enthusiasts in the police department wanted him booked under some pretext or the other to save their face. It was disturbing to note that the lady co-passenger who had lodged a false complaint against him and made him as well as his family members suffer many agonising moments, was allowed to go scotfree. Can one say that the case was an exception (as a section of the media wants us to believe) or that it is a reflection of the ongoing institutional discrimination against religious minorities, especially Muslims, of our society which has got societal sanction and legitimacy?
Close on the heels of this piece of news came an important announcement from one of the premier agencies of the government which was an indirect acceptance of the fact that religious minorities as well as other deprived sections of our society have faced unfair treatment in terrorism-related incidents at the hands of the investigating agencies.
Reports appeared in a section of the media (viz. Jagran Rashtriya, 3 June 2010, ‘Alpasankhyakon se poochtach mein satark rahegi NIA) tells us that the said directive issued by its Director General Mr S.C Sinha, which discusses the planning and the priorities of the agency, asks the investigating officers to be ‘extra careful and sensitive towards the emotions of the minority communities as well as other oppressed and deprived sections of our society’ and ‘respect the rights of the accused during investigations’ and that the agency is required to complete the investigations in any particular case within a year and if for any reason it is not completed then the investigating officer will have to seek permission directly from the Director General.
For any close watcher of the ‘terrorism-related investigations’ the context of the said directive was very clear. It was the same period during which the investigations into the Ajmer bomb blast had unearthed the connections of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The exposures in this case had revealed that members of the RSS executed this plan and one key member of this terrorist module worked as a whole-timer/Pracharak for the whole of Jharkhand state. It had also come to light that a team of Rajasthan police personnel had in fact revealed these links way back in 2008 but the then dispensation in power in that state (Rajasthan), namely the BJP, did not exhibit keenness to follow up the case.
The manner in which biases and prejudices entertained by the police and the officials of the investigating agencies affect the outcome of the probe were thus on full display in this case which had seen deaths of two innocents. As of now the Rajasthan Police is said to be trying to unearth the linkages of these Hindutva terror modules which were earlier blamed on fanatic Muslims despite clear early evidence about the involvement of Hindutva outfits. It is also learnt that Central Bureau of Investigation will soon take into custody two people, who had been arrested by the Rajasthan police in connection with the Ajmer blast, to probe their role in the Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad following evidence of links between the two incidents. One can thus look at the history of any terrorism-related incident in recent times and the manner in which investigation proceeded to study the pattern of the response by the law and order machinery. Barring exceptions, one would find that it has not been balanced and has unnecessarily stigmatised the minority community.
Of course, not only during such investigations but it is also observed that there are occasions to demonstrate how the minority community as a whole is systematically targeted by those in power as well as the agencies. A few months back the news magazine ‘Outlook’ had made revelations that Muslim-dominated areas of two important Indian cities were targeted for random telephone tapping at the behest of the then National Security Advisor M K Narayanan (“Phone tapping: Why target us, ask Muslims”, April 25, 2010 19:45 IST, Mohammed Siddique in Hyderabad, www.rediff.com). This gentleman, whose follies and phobias are legion, is now governor of West Bengal. This activity was going on and perhaps still goes on under the Congress-led UPA regime disregarding the fact that phone-tapping is a serious violation of the right to privacy, guaranteed by the Constitution.
According to a news item which appeared in a section of the media:
Muslims in Hyderabad have expressed their unhappiness over reports that they were target of a sophisticated telephone tapping operation by Intelligence Bureau.
Reacting sharply to the revelations made by news magazine Outlook that Muslim-dominated areas of Hyderabad and Lucknow were targeted for telephone tapping at the behest of then National Security Advisor M K Narayanan, community leaders said that this was yet another proof of how Muslims were being eyed with suspicions by those in power as well as the agencies.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board secretary Abdul Raheem Qureshi has urged the Centre and the state to immediately put an end to the abominable practices of targeting of Muslims for telephone tapping and other espionage operations in the name of fight against terrorism.
One can go on enumerating instances where minorities have got a rough deal at the hands of the powers that be or how the articulate sections are not bothered to ensure building of a more inclusive, non-discriminatory atmosphere at every pore of our society. An outcome of this situation is very much visible on the educational front. A recent report by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), a central government body, tends to confirm this. Its surveys show that Muslims, India’s largest religious minority, are the most backward community on the educational front. According to it, Muslim ratio in higher education is lower than even the Scheduled Tribes (STs) who are considered to be the most backward community.
A letter circulated by Mr Faisal Khan, an activist of the National Alliance of People’s Movements provides vivid details of the unfolding situation:
..Attached to the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, NSSO, in its report titled Education in India, 2007-08: Participation and Expenditure, says that of 100 Muslims in the education system, just 10 are enrolled in high schools and above. Similar ratio for STs is 11, Scheduled Castes (SCs) 12 and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) 14.
The report also says that higher education among urban Muslims is lower than their counterparts in rural areas. This despite the fact that urban areas have better educational facilities. According to the NSSO report published on May 19, just seven out of 100 urban Muslims in the education system were enrolled in high school or above as compared to 12 in rural areas.
This is because poor Muslims in urban areas do not have easy access to education as they have in rural areas. The landless poor “labourers, rickshaw pullers etc”are hardly able to make both their ends meet, leave alone education for their children.
The report is based on the household survey of participation and expenditure in education conducted in its 64th round. The field work of the nationwide survey was carried out during July 2007 to June 2008. The survey covered a random sample of 445,960 persons, from 63,318 rural households and 37,263 urban households spread over 7953 villages and 4682 urban blocks, covering the entire geographical area of the country.
If one were to come back to the issue of racial/social profiling, then another simple query would be: whether it is possible for us to quantify it or would it be possible for us to know its effectiveness/ineffectiveness as a crime prevention strategy. In the absence of similar available data, the task seems difficult but possibly one can look at figures collated by US and Britain to know its impact. Studies by Amnetsy International USA tell us that a staggering number of people in the United States are subjected to racial profiling. Approximately 32 million people, a number approximately equivalent to the population of Canada, report they have already been victims of racial profiling. Victims of racial profiling include Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Arab Americans, Iranian Americans, American Muslims, many immigrants and visitors, and under certain circumstances, white Americans.
Interestingly racial profiling is not officially used in the UK but the statistics do show otherwise. According to section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, police officers are permitted to stop and search individuals with justifiable cause. The statistics provided by the Ministry of Justice tell us that some police do seem to be using racial profiling. Asian people were over five times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. Black people were seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. Only 0.6% of the searches ended in arrests for terrorism offences.
Human rights organisations such as Liberty active in UK have stated that racial profiling is not as effective as rational police methods. The manner in which racial profiling undermines law enforcement efforts is evident from the classic Oklahoma city bombing case from US. Facts tell us that the white male assailant, Timothy McVeigh, was able to flee while officers reportedly operated on the theory that “Arab terrorists” had committed the act.