Anti Muslim Riots in India
Biased investigation, gratuitous beating ,arresting and continuous witch-hunting of Muslim youths and student activist who have participated in Anti- CAA protest has regenerated an animated discussion about the anti-Minority attitude of the police.
Aamir Raza and Chanda Rani

A fact-finding committee appointed by the Delhi Minority Commission on the February Delhi riot has held the Delhi police “complicit” in the violence accusing it of biased investigation. According to the Report, Muslim complainants are reluctant to visit Police stations to make their complaints due to fear of being falsely implicated in the case. It is clear from the Report that violence was planned and targeted.

Biased investigation, gratuitous beating, arresting, and continuous witch-hunting of Muslim youths and student activist who have participated in Anti- CAA protest has regenerated an animated discussion about the anti-minority attitude of the police. The biased nature of Police towards Indian Muslims is compounded with Institutional communalism and the existing standard stereotypical image of Indian Muslims being ‘traitor’, ‘ violent’, and ‘ Pro- Pakistani’ in Indian society.

The Indian police were built during British Raj and have been historically been used to divide and suppress the subject. After Independence Police in India have perpetuated the certain structural problems of colonial policing and continued to be Prejudiced, brutal, and bereft of scientific police techniques. The relationship between the police and citizen, therefore, remains feudal to date.

The CAA Protest showed the extent to which the police could go in order to impose what they felt was right. The massive scale of the police Crackdown at Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia, the two federally run minority institutions on December 15, 2019, has revealed the emerging socio-political complexities and schisms in India after 2014.

A study by the Centre for the study of developing societies (CSDS), Lokneeti in 2019 has found disturbing prejudice of police personnel towards Muslims on the question of committing Violence. Around 50% of all police personnel believe that Muslims are somewhat more likely to commit crimes. The bias was strongest in northern and central India with an average of 63% of the police personnel in eight states in this region- Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Haryana, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Maharashtra- believing that Muslims naturally have a criminal disposition.

In recent years, numerous cases of mob lynching of Muslims on suspicions of cow slaughter, kidnapping, etc have been reported and the police are known to have played a partial role in favor of the people engaging in such violence. The study of the CSDS reveals the reason for this partial behavior of Police. It has been found that 35% of the police personnel believe it is “ natural “ for a mob to punish the “ culprit” in cases of Cow slaughter. Now it is not hard to assume why they would not try to prevent it or against it.

Another study by the India Spend Initiative found that as many as 90 percent of religious hate crimes since 2009 have occurred after BJP took control of India’s government in 2014. A report compiled by Human Rights Watch examined the “link between cow protection and the Hindu nationalist political movement,” and the failure of the police and criminal justice system to protect vulnerable minorities from attacks by extremist mobs.

There are structural realities that provide a wider view of the extent of vulnerability and marginalization Muslims face with respect to the larger criminal justice system. Statistics bear out that Muslims are incarcerated at rates higher than their population nationally. While they make up 14.3% of India’s population, Muslims constitute more than one-fifth of the total under-trial population in custody at 20.9%. They comprise 16% of convicted prisoners. The Status of Policing in India study found that in 22 states, based on a five-year (2011-15) average, there was consistently a higher proportion of Muslims in prisons than the community’s population in the state.

The Bombay High Court had occasion to remark, on July 31, 2014, that the victims of custodial deaths in Maharashtra appeared to be only those from the minority community (read Muslims) and Dalits. Justices V.M. Kanade and P.D. Kode said this after appointing Yug Chaudhry as amicus curiae. He said, “I have done my research and it shows that the cases are mostly of Muslims and Dalits. The court asked why such cases happen in Maharashtra. The case before it was not reported as a custodial death but natural death. Therefore the actual number of custodial death cases may be unknown” 

According to material distributed to students of the premier Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, which trains Indian Administrative Services Officers, 1,598 Muslims were killed in communal violence between 1968 and 1980, against 530 Hindus. A similar pattern has also been observed for the riots held after 1980.

Vibhuti Narayan Rai an ex-IPS officer and the author of the book ‘Combating Communal conflicts: Police Neutrality During Hindu-Muslim Riots in India has attributed biased policing to “the same predetermined beliefs and misconceptions that influence the mind of an average Hindu”. He argues that not unlike his average co-religionist, an average Hindu policeman too believes that Muslims by nature are generally cruel and violent.

Rai found the police “held the view that apart from being cruel and violent, Muslims were untrustworthy, anti-national, easily influenced by a fanatical leadership, and capable of rioting at the slightest provocation. Further, most policemen believed that riots are initiated by the Muslims. Even when confronted with evidence that it was not in the interest of Muslims to start a riot, the arguments rarely changed.”

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The communal riots such as Ahmedabad (1969), Bhiwandi (1970), Tellicherry (1971), Varanasi (1977), Aligarh (1978 & 90), Jamshedpur (1979), Moradabad (1980), Meerut (1982 & 1987), Delhi (1984), Bhagalpur (1989), Mumbai (1992-93), Gujarat Program 2002), Orissa (2008), Muzaffarnagar (2012) and Delhi (2020) have proved how the police behaved with the minority communities and remained a passive spectator for a long time.

AG Noorani in his essay ‘Muslim and Police’ has quoted two contributors from Paul  Brass edited book ‘Riots and Pogroms’ (1996), who are anything but sympathetic to Muslims, record: “The authors have been told by police officials that, outside his uniform, the PAC constable is a Hindu first and last. He belongs squarely in the traditional, folk culture of rural India. The constable’s training seeks to instill in him some degree of professionalism, but it leaves untouched his hard-core Hindu identity. In times of crisis, his Hindu identity has the better of his professional identity as an impersonal instrument of the secular state.

In all communal riots, the police and the administration generally identified themselves with the majority community. In the Mumbai riots (1992-93), ‘the police officers and the constables openly said that they were Shiv Sainiks at heart and policemen of a supposedly secular state by accident’. The Srikrishna Commission report (1998) observes;

“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 inbuilt 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, bordering on the 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 onlookers 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).

 The Report of Justice D.P. Madon Commission on Bhiwandi riots (1970) passed severe strictures on the role of police in Bhiwandi riots. On anti-Sikh riots, three inquiry commissions—Justice Rangnath Mishra Commission (1987), Justice Jain-D.K. Agarwal Committee (1990), and Justice R.S. Narula Panal (1994) submitted their reports and all inquiry commissions had unanimously indicted the discriminatory role of the police. Similarly, there are many reports by fact-finding committees that give appalling findings on the police’s partisan role in the Gujarat riots of 2002.

The Sachar Committee’s findings have pointed out that the under-representation of Muslims in police forces across the country has contributed to institutional communalism and a persistent failure to defend the community’s basic right to security.

According to the 2011 census, the percentage of Muslim policemen in the Uttar Pradesh police force was less than 5%, while Muslims make up more than 19% of the state’s population. This disparity is not only visible in Uttar Pradesh. The figure for all of India, minus Jammu and Kashmir, for the percentage of Muslim policemen, is only 4%. State-wise, for Delhi police it is 2%, Maharashtra 1%, Bihar 4.5%, and Rajasthan 1.2%.

A detailed study titled “Status of Policing in India Report 2018 – A Study of Performance and Perceptions shows the ratio of Muslims in the police force to the population was abysmally low and reflected on people’s overall trust and perception of discrimination.

Omar Khalidi in his book ‘Khaki and the Ethnic Violence in India’ (Three Essays, Delhi, 2003), argues that  ‘An unrepresentative force makes the state a lot less legitimate for those unrepresented in its most obvious instrument of coercion.  He also focused on the fact that Muslims were better represented during the colonial rule and that their representation in Independent India was dismal.

In a Democracy, the structure and composition of the police force should not be given much concern but it matters when democracy itself became functional anarchy and found itself at crossroads. It matters more than ever when the state has an obsession to exclude the Minorities from mainstream politics and branding their right to voice as a threat to the nation followed by the supremacist ideology hinges on reducing them into second-class citizens.

  In this scenario, a more representative police force structure including Muslims will lead to an ability to understand the perspective of persons and communities who are different from the mainstream. It also means more internal dialogue within the police that helps in developing a matured and balanced perspective at the field level. More Diverse force structures will ensure that the police defend all communities during riots rather than act as the self-appointed sword arm of sectarian interests. Along with the inclusion of Muslims and other marginalized in Police forces, Reform within police machinery is the need of the hour to meet the changing security needs as well as the expectations of the communities they serve.

  • authors are the students of Political Science in the Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi