Policing And Minorities

Indian Police

Mahatma Gandhi had said that quality of democracy should be judged from the way minorities are treated. Democracies are participative system of governance but numbers assume great importance in it and when it is multi-religious or multi-cultural society, those in larger numbers tend to dictate to those who are fewer in numbers. It has been termed as majoritarianism. Any democracy which is based on the concept of majoritarianism, is qualitatively inferior. That is why Mahatma Gandhi maintained that real test of democracy is how it treats its (religious, linguistic or cultural) minorities.

But then everyone is not Mahatma, not even statesmen. An average person is motivated by his/her interests or prejudices. Most of the democracies in the world are infected by the virus of majoritarianism. Even western democracies treat immigrant populations from Asia and Africa in a manner which is far from desirable. They often remain on the margins of those societies.

India was multi-religious and multi-cultural from the day one in its history. Muslims were an important minority, even a ruling minority for few centuries but let us remember those who ruled were small minority within Muslim minority and had their own interests at heart, never of all Muslims. Overwhelming majority of these Muslims were converts from low caste Hindus, were poor and weak before conversion and remained poor and weak after conversion.

It is this poor and weak Muslim minority, which remained in India after partition to bear the brunt of not only their poverty and illiteracy but also of ‘guilt’ of partition. Those who were responsible for partition left the country to test its ‘fruits’ but Indian Muslims, remained behind to share its guilt and bear the brunt. Thus Indian Muslims have been suffering in different ways.

Majority communalists, and strangely even some rationalists, keep on blaming them for refusing to reform and become part of ‘national mainstream’. This kind of civil society discourse, holds only Muslims responsible for their backwardness and illiteracy. They are supposed to be living embodiment of ‘religious fundamentalism’.

The textbooks taught in municipal or state schools are no better examples of our composite culture and pluralist society. They are, on the other hand, worst examples of majoritarian ethos of our democracy. Thirdly, our media, especially, regional media, plays no less important role in disseminating raw prejudices against Muslims. Papers like Samna (Marathi), Daily Jagran (Hindi), Sandesh (Gujarati) and several others publish provocative material against Muslims and are read by millions of people including the police.

The lower levels of police officials, particularly constabulary, are deeply influenced by these papers, apart from textbooks and their family atmosphere. Some top police officials, are also infected and have to take orders from political bosses who freely use casteism and communalism as powerful instruments to fulfill their political ambitions. This was so obvious in Gujarat 2002.

Add to all this is the fact that our police is largely colonial in ethos. The British colonialists had created this police to suppress people, not to help them, to oppress and torture them, not to help them maintain law and order, to serve political masters, not to effectively check crimes in the society. But our colonial policing continues uninterrupted further embittered by anti-minorityism. Thus it becomes explosive mix.

From Mumbai blasts in 1992-93 to two Hyderabad blasts in July and August 2007 it is a long story of police inflicting torture on Muslim youth, mostly innocent; with no accountability. What is most shocking is that despite all this police has not succeeded recently in catching any real culprit. In Godhra train blasts too, all those arrested are not being tried in court of law as police has hardly any concrete evidence against those detained. Even experts have opined those arrested do not seem to be real culprits and charges against them may not stand in the court of law.

TADA was a monstrous law which was opposed by all human rights activists and which was misused to the maximum by all those who rule including the Congress governments but particularly the BJP rulers against minorities. After the train blasts in Mumbai in which more than 180 innocent lives were lost, the Mumbai police, has failed to lay its hands on real culprits, whosoever they are. Those arrested were inhumanly tortured and humiliated in most unimaginable manner before their family members.

Hyderabad BlastsMs. Jyoti Punwani, a human rights activist and noted freelance journalist, exposed some of these cases. She was the lone voice of sanity. The national media by and large ignored these cases. Only the Urdu press focused on them. But Urdu press is read by Muslims alone. Now same thing is happening in Hyderabad after the Mecca masjid blasts and subsequent Priyadarshini Park blasts on August 25, 2007.

It is indeed a long and painful story of torture and humiliation of young Muslims from Hyderabad. A team of investigators constituted by social and human rights activists like Mrs. Nirmala Gopalakrishnan, K.Anuradha and Mohammad Afzal. They visited detainees in jail and also members of families of these detainees and prepared this report very painstakingly.

The whole text of this report is before me and it makes very painful reading. One is saddened to read this report and one wonders such flagrant violation of laws at the hands of their protectors, has been going on even sixty years after independence. Lower levels of judiciary and bureaucracy is no less insensitive to such blatant violations of law and victims and members of their families feel totally helpless.

Not only this, these victims and members of these families are so traumatized that they refuse to speak except in total confidentiality. Sometimes they do not speak even after all assurances of confidentiality are given to the victims and their families. The police even manipulates records of arrests or detentions. They arrest victims on slightest suspicion, torture them for days and then after several days will show them arrested or detained. The report under reference mentions several such cases. They were never produced before court within 24 hours as stipulated by law.

Most of them were detained illegally and tortured for days and even their family members were not informed. In certain cases habeas corpus petition had to be filed in the Andhra Pradesh Court as police would not inform their whereabouts. The Report, after meticulous investigation observes: “Many were picked up on flimsy grounds, kept in custody and released after many days of interrogation. For example, the Committee met Hafez Mohammad Bilal Muftahee, age 26 years, at the meeting with the families of the detainees, on 19-9-2007. He told the Committee that only reason for his detention (reason given to him by police) was that the police; wanted to question him about his association with Rizwan Ghazi. Hafez said that he had taught Rizwan a year ago. Hafez teaches Koran at the Royal Indian School, is from West Bengal and has been living in Hyderabad for past six years.� The police came to his house on 2/9/2007 and had Rizwan Ghazi with them. Hafez was not allowed to inform his family. For five days he was interrogated at an unknown location where he was severely beaten, kicked, hit with sticks on the sole of is feet. After five days he was released. He was hospitalised and the records showed that the injuries he had were result of beatings.

Ibrahim Ali JunaidThis is one among several cases mentioned in the report on such illegal detentions and inhuman torture. Our police is generally very much against weaker sections of society, dalits, women from poor families and Muslims. When it comes to Muslims they are also motivated by their raw prejudices against Islam and Muslims.

I keep on conducting workshops for the police and experience these prejudices in the form of their questions. But I do not blame them as they are hopelessly ill informed and authorities make no attempts to train them in secular values and responsibilities in multi-religious society. Policing in multi-religious societies in modern competitive societies is highly challenging.

Media is also either prejudiced and justifies such torture for solving terrorist attacks (police has hardly ever succeeded despite such torture and indignities inflicted on people) or does not consider worthy of news. In the Hyderabad case also only Urdu papers, particularly Siyasat Daily, a sober Urdu daily, was reporting these cases and the English and Telugu papers turned a blind eye to it.

Such state terror to counter terror by terrorist groups would never solve the problem, but would intensify it. The problem is political and has to be solved with justice and wisdom. All state governments have failed to solve Naxalite problem too, for the same reason. The police lets loose repression against innocent citizens and ultimately derive them in the fold of Naxalites. We will create more terrorists by letting loose terror against innocent citizens.

Are our authorities listening? Perhaps not, and will not.


Centre for Study of Society and Secularism
Mumbai: – 400 055
E-mail: csss@mtnl.net.in

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Asghar Ali Engineer

Asghar Ali Engineer is a Muslim scholar. Internationally he is known for his work on liberation theology in Islam, the leader of the Progressive Dawoodi Bohra movement, and his work on (and action against) communalism and communal and ethnic violence in India and South East Asia. He is an advocate of a culture of peace and non-violence. He has authored more than 40 books and many articles in various national and international journals, and is founding chairman of the Asian Muslim Action Network, director of the Institute of Islamic Studies, and head of the Center for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai.

5 thoughts on “Policing And Minorities”

  1. Nice article.

    As citizens of this country, we have a big responsibility on our shoulders.

    It is the first time in 60 years of independence that India is ready to take off economically. However, all our economic progress will come to naught, if we do not address our internal conflicts in a satisfactory manner. The way I see it is that our prejudices against each other are conflagrating more and more, and this may finally prove to be our greatest undoing. The only way to nip this demon in the bud is through swift justice regardless of creed, caste or gender. The cost of failure can only be a civil war for which coming generations of India will never forgive us.

  2. Absolutely True! The police need to be trained in human behaviour rather than anything else. It is this mindset of police which alienates innocents from believing that the society is equal. Bomb Blasts done by anyone are condemnable. Who will like to be in the middle of a blasting bomb whether he is a hindu or Muslim. This should be the awareness that any policeman should understand. Rather than catching the real culprits and making the society safe they are making it more unsafe by filling in poison in young minds. If someone is guilty found by the courts he should be absolutely punished but not before.

  3. Asghar saab,

    We need a modern day version of ‘morcha’ of the freedom struggle, to root out the prejudice, ill will & hatred. A modern day Mahatma is very much in need.

    As Asad mentioned, the potential India can realize will come to naught, if internal strife makes the society inherently unstable & unpredictable. Ironically, as sections of society start to enjoy the fruits of growing & slowing spreading economic benefits, they become oblivious to the danger lurking in the background – which can bring the whole growth story crashing down.

    As an idea – we should start having “Unity Day” on Oct 2nd, every year across hundreds of cities in India.

  4. I completely agree with Asad. We are at crossroads of India’s future. From here we can either shed the baggage of past and take off OR tie the burden of internal strifes on our back and jump down the cliff.

    Unfortunately, it seems to me that we are more inclined to take the latter path. Criminals are getting bolder day by day and no action is taken. Revivalism and xenophobia are at their peak and might has become the sole right. I do not know how far our economic resurgence can save us, if we do not learn to at least tolerate each other.

  5. A well written informative and objective thought. Let me see if this is also responded by the stone-wallers. Mind it, Mr Engineer has been target of so called ‘fundamentalists’ and if he is shouted down, to whom the so called rationalists and nationalists want to talk. Unfortunately it happened with Mr Javed Akhat too. But, here in India there are n number of cases where illogical things, religious or otherwise, are downplayed calling them ‘faith’ and ‘aastha’. Why this is not true in case of other groups. We need to ponder!!!

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