Thursday, May 5, 2011

Indian state has not done enough for minorities: Vibhuti Narain

Aligarh: Notwithstanding the constitutional provisions of equality, the Indian state has not done enough to dispel insecurity from the minds of minorities as the most important symbol of the state – police – hardly enjoy the confidence of the Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, regretted Mr. Vibhuti Narain Rai, eminent writer and Vice Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi International University, Wardha today.
Delivering first K. P. Singh memorial lecture on “State Response to Communalism”, Mr. Vibhuti Narain Rai, IPS, said that the minorities never consider the police as friend or protector. The police is seen as the oppressor and the police behavior in communal riots bear testimony to the fact. Quoting his well-documented research on the role of police in combating communalism, Mr. V. N. Rai said that the Muslims always suffered heavy loss in terms of lives and properties at the initial stages and subsequently they were killed in police firing and police also arrested more Muslims.
Debunking the myth that the Muslims start riots, Mr. Rai said he sifted through the police records and found that even the first hour of the riots, more Muslims were killed. It proves that it is wrong to say that the Muslims start riot and the police control the situation. He said if the state is firm, no riot could continue more than 24 hours. During the communal strife, police become perpetrator of violence and the state lack the will to curb it.
Tracing the history of communal riots, Mr. Rai said that the assassination of Gandhi put a full stop to riot and no major riot took place till 1961. After that riots occurred in regular intervals of two or three years. The police always behaved in partisan manner and it resulted lack of faith in police that also denotes lack of faith in the state which is very alarming. This calls for serious introspection, he said.
Paying glaring tributes to Professor K. P. Singh, Mr. Rai said that he was an avowed enemy of narrowmindness and communalism.
Recalling K. P. Singh’s contribution to literature, noted Urdu poet Shahryar said that Prof. Singh wanted literature to reflect social consciousness. He also recited a poem in memory of Prof. K. P. Singh.
Delivering the presidential address, Prof. P. K. Abdul Azis, Vice Chancellor, Aligarh Muslim University said that Indian democracy has become more matured and now there is a considerable decrease in communal riots. He paid rich tributes to Prof. K. P. Singh who pledged his mortal remains to the Aligarh Muslim University for the medical students. Prof. Singh’s gesture was unparallel and the university will always remain grateful to him, he concluded.
Prof. V. K. Abdul Jaleel, Registrar of the University extended the vote of thanks. Prof. Imtiaz Hasnain and Dr. Ajay Bisaria also spoke on the occasion.


Vibhuti Narain Rai is a senior Indian Police Service officer and editor of 'Vartaman Sahitya', a Hindi literary magazine. He is also a novelist. 'Shahr Mai curfew' (Hindi) is his most well-known book which has been translated and published in English ('Curfew in the City'). He is also the author of 'Combating Communal Conflicts--Perception of Police Neutrality During Hindu-Muslim Riots in India'. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he talks about the role of the Indian police in handling communal riots.

Q: How did you decide to write a book on the subject of the police in
handling communal riots?

A: My book is the outcome of a one-year fellowship that I received from
the National Police Academy to study perceptions of police neutrality during incidents of Hindu-Muslim violence. Basically, the study set out to examine how Hindus and Muslims perceive the role of the police in different ways in such situations. Not surprisingly, I discovered over the course of my study that Hindu and Muslim perceptions of the police during communal disturbances are diametrically opposed. This is basically what I tried to show in my book.

Q: How do you account for these different perceptions of the police by
Hindus and Muslims?

A: In the course of my study I found that in a normal situation, an average Hindu does not necessarily see the police as friendly or helpful, but during communal riots he looks upon the police as a helper and protector. On the other hand, Muslim riot victims generally do not feel that they would get any protection from the police, even when their lives and property are under threat. I think one basic reason for this is the police themselves. After all, an average policeman -and most policemen are Hindus- gets his value system from his own society or community. That is why the average policeman often think of Muslims in very negative terms; they seem to believe the standard stereotypical images of Muslims as being 'dirty', 'untrustworthy', 'violent' and 'pro-Pakistani'. From this, it leads them to think of Muslims as 'aggressors' who initiate riots. Now, of course this is not true to say that most riots are started by Muslims. But still, when I point out to police officers that many more Muslims than Hindus lose their lives in the riots and so it is improbable that they could be said to have initiated them, they generally refuse to agree. They claim that Hindus are by nature: 'pious', 'non-violent' and 'law-abiding'. Therefore, they never initiate violence themselves. This perception seems to be deeply rooted in their psyche. My argument is that if you analyze the history of various riots that have taken place in India since the 1960s or so, you will find that there has probably been no single riot in which less than 90% of those killed have been Muslims. However, this point is generally not accepted by the average policeman, even though I am basing my claim on official records. I am not surprised that many police officers do not wish to recognize this fact. They, like an average Hindu, would disbelieve these figures. These are official figures and no government on earth would release false data.

Q: What do you feel about the sort of training that is given to the
police? Are they taught to deal with incidents of communal violence in a neutral way?

A: Theoretically, such inputs are given to the policemen when they
undertake their training course. However, the training period is only nine months long and in this short period, you cannot completely disabuse them of the communal stereotypes that they have imbibed from their family and society. The course is only sufficiently long enough to train a person to handle a weapon. In any case, the course devotes little attention to history, culture, religion and other social issues. There is also no regular training component after this initial period. There is also the factor of infiltration by the RSS in the police, but this is difficult to quantify. I think there must be periodic training sessions after the initial course, where policemen should be thoroughly briefed on a range of social issues, including respect for and knowledge of different religions.

Q: Are there any efforts being made to provide this sort of training

A: As far as I know, there have been few organized or institutional
initiatives undertaken in this regard. Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer is doing some useful work in this direction. His institute arranges workshops with the Mumbai police to sensitize them on a range of issues related to communalism.

Q: What then do you think is the solution to the problem?

A: I think one major solution is to institute reservation for different minorities in the police services, where they are currently very poorly represented. And by minorities I do not mean just Muslims, but other religious minorities and even minority ethnic groups in every state as well. Reservation for minorities should, ideally, be in accordance with their share in the total population. Now, some people, including police officers, will argue that reservations in the police service for minorities would divide the police on communal lines. They might argue that instead of reserving jobs for minorities in the police services we should encourage the minorities to apply for police jobs. My reply to them is that ever since the independence of India, the government has sent out dozens of circulars, orders and guidelines to recruitment boards asking for a fair recruitment of the minorities in the police service. This has not worked though because it has not been made mandatory. When I talk of representation for minorities in the police service, I also want to stress that this should only be for the backward sections among them. Now, in the case of Muslims, the Muslim elites or 'Ashraf' do not want to recognize the fact that caste differences exists in the Muslim community. They talk of Muslims as a monolith, which is not the case. I think reservations for the Muslims must be restricted to the backward sections or 'biraderis' among them, the so-called 'Ajlaf' Muslims. The Ashraf are, on the whole, capable of taking care of their own interests, while the Ajlaf are poverty-stricken and suffer the most during communal riots. I am opposed to the idea of reservations for Muslims as an entire community. If that is done then the Ashraf are bound to occupy all the positions as they are more educated and better-off than the other Muslims.

Q: Perhaps encouraging Muslims to join the police services would be a less controversial way of promoting Muslim representation in the services. What are your opinions on this?

A: No, I don't quite agree because I think that many recruiting officers themselves have a bias against Muslims and would not be happy to see Muslims join the police. They will put up all sorts of flimsy excuses to see that this does not happen. They will claim that Muslims simply do not apply and if they do apply, they might dismiss their applications by claiming that they are not physically fit, which might not be the case. I think that, in fact, very little effort is needed to encourage Muslims to apply. If one is serious about it, one can get numerous such applications. After all, unemployment, even among the educated, is rampant among Muslims. Additionally, there is this feeling that wearing a police uniform is a matter of prestige.

Q: How do you think that increasing representation of minorities in the
police services through reservations will actually change things?

A: I think it will make a tremendous impact. Not only will it increase the confidence of minorities in the police, it will also help undermine the communal stereotypes. As I mentioned, they are quite deeply ingrained among many policemen and police officers. If Muslim and Hindu policemen live and work together it is bound to lead to a change in mutual perceptions and promote a sense of understanding. In turn, this will also lead to more responsible handling of riot situations by the police.

Q: What do you feel about the performance of Muslim police officers in
handling riot situations?

A: Normally, Muslim police officers are as good or as bad, as competent or incompetent, as other officers. However, in situations of communal riots, many Muslim officers do not have the courage to get out of the police stations for fear of being killed. Muslim officers might be reluctant to deal with Hindu mobs for fear of being accused as 'anti-Hindu'. They might feel that they do not have the confidence of the police force, which is largely Hindu. Just to cite an instance- during the recent violence in Gujarat, a Muslim police officer was mobbed by a group of Hindus and narrowly managed to escape with his life.

Q: How do you look at the phenomenon of communalism? How does it influence your writing?

A: I must confess that as a youth, I was associated with the RSS and even attended the local shakha. Later, I came under the influence of Marxism, which is how I changed my way of looking at the world. I believe that all forms of communalism are dangerous. The communalism of the majority is more dangerous because it is capable of capturing state power. At the same time minority communalism must also be fought against, including by the minorities themselves, as it poses a grave danger by deceptively appearing to champion their interests.

Q: How has your book on the police and communalism been received by the police and other government officials?

A: I must say that not many people in the police or in government actually read my book, but from those who did I got mixed responses. Some praised it, but many others condemned it. They claimed that I was creating dissentions among the police! They even alleged that my findings and conclusions were biased because they could not believe that some Hindus too can be aggressive, intolerant and violent. This, itself suggests that prejudices about other communities are very deeply rooted in our society, including among government and police officials, who ought to know better.

Posted on 2004-12-06
[Krodhi Praja Nyayadhisha - Vol. 1, No.17/8 (2 December 2004)]