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A DAMAGED RELATIONSHIP

The report on the Muslim perception of the police, authored by the director generals of police of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, reads almost as if it was written by one of the non-governmental organizations castigated in it. The report’s tracing of the communal problem from Partition to current times, the episodes described by it to illustrate the gulf between the country’s largest minority and its police, are spot on. So are the solutions suggested by it.

Ironically, it’s the solutions that make one suspect that this ground-breaking report may not make any difference to the relationship between the police and the minority community in question. All the measures recommended in the report: community policing, mohalla committees in which the police take a backseat, interacting with the community at all levels, were tried and proved to be spectacularly successful more than two decades ago. Yet they were not replicated anywhere. The Bhiwandi mohalla committee experiment was tried out by the deputy commissioner of police, Suresh Khopade, from 1988 to 1992. The results were seen after the Babri Masjid demolition, when 900 persons died in riots in cosmopolitan Mumbai, while Bhiwandi, notorious for riots, didn’t see even one violent incident.

So famous did this experiment become that from Goa to Switzerland, Khopade was invited to expound on it. But his own colleagues in Maharashtra — and their bosses in the government — had no use for his expertise. As the state went from riot to riot (Malegaon 2001, Dhule 2008 and 2013 were only the major ones), Khopade’s measures were ignored. So was the Maharashtra government’s booklet on “guidelines on dealing with communal disturbances”, written way back in 1986, after the 1984 Mumbai-Bhiwandi riots. Now, almost 30 years later, the DGPs want a standard operating procedure to prevent riots.

In 1998, the Srikrishna commission report into the 1992-1993 riots documented police prejudice against Muslims and recommended practical measures to deal with such prejudice as well as to prevent riots. Training aimed at sensitizing policemen (suggested by the DGPs’ report too) and immediate action against cops found by the commission to have indulged in communal conduct in the riots, were just two of these. But a government loath to touch its loyal men, a special police team that exonerated most of those named by the commission, and a police force quick to cry “demoralization” when the Supreme Court forced the government to act, all ensured that not one of the 31 named spent even an hour inside a lock-up.

But while the DGPs’ report does blame the conduct of “some” policemen during riots, for having strengthened Muslims’ suspicions against even bona fide police action, it does not mention punitive action against such policemen. Instead, it blames “propaganda” by NGOs, activists and the media for the spread of “distrust” among Muslims against the police.

“Activist propaganda” may be a factor; what of courts’ indictments of police conduct towards Muslims? B.N. Srikrishna wasn’t the only judge to recommend “strict action” against delinquent policemen. The Delhi sessions court made similar recommendations against officers of Delhi’s famous special cell for fabricating terror cases against Kashmiri Muslims. A few months back, the Supreme Court castigated the Gujarat police for implicating the accused (all Muslim) in the 2002 Akshardham blasts case. They had by then spent five to 11 years in jail. Then there are the cases of Muslims arrested in Hyderabad, Malegaon and Ajmer for bomb blasts confessed to by Swami Aseemanand.

Forget punishment, surely an apology for wrongful detention could be one way of bridging the gulf between the police and the community it has hounded? Without accountability for wrongs wilfully committed, wrongs that have ruined young lives, what’s the value of “sensitization”?

What is the fate of officers who show such sensitivity towards Muslims? The former Mumbai police commissioner, Arup Patnaik, was consigned to oblivion for restraining his men when they were attacked without provocation by a Muslim mob in August 2012. Only two deaths in police firing in the face of 45 policemen injured was seen as demoralizing to the force, never mind that a major bloodbath was prevented.

The DGPs’ report acknowledges the harmful message sent out by the presence of Hindu idols in police stations. But what of the message sent out by police indulgence towards Hindutva mobs; by the immediate transfer, in deference to demands made by Hindutva parties, of Muslim cops who’ve dared to act against these mobs; by the taunt, “Go to Pakistan” that police have been baiting Muslims with for decades?

These are not the deeds of “some’’ men. This is the police psyche. Till this is acknowledged by the police — and the government — no solution will be found.