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Citizens for Justice and Peace

Saffron in Uniform

08, Dec 1993

 The growing stridency of saffron politics in the last 15 years or so, based on principles of exclusivism and hate, has made serious inroads into the psyche of too many guardians of law and order and exposed them to the charge of communal bias.

            Far from remaining an abstract prejudice or bias, this malaise has interfered grossly with basic notions of impartiality and fair play. As incidents of the past one year have sharply focused, the impact of this saffronisation is manifested in gross and brutal cases of police brutality against the country’s largest minority, the Muslims. Far from being isolated occurrences, these instances show a disturbing nationwide spread

That the Indian police and the para-military are a highly politicised and criminalized force with scant regard for human rights is well known. Their performance throughout the country over the past decade has earned them the additional dubious distinction of communal bias. The alarming saffronisation of the country’s law and order machinery was evident in different states over the past year:

While the Babri Masjid was being demolished in Ayodhya last December, a large contingent of the state police and 200 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) silently watched. Many policemen guarding the mosque abandoned their duty to join in the kar sevak’s euphoria.

Subsequently, they failed to protect media persons attacked by Hindu fanatics. Nor did they intervene when the lives and property of hundreds of Muslims were targeted in the frenzy that followed the vandalism in the temple town.

Bombay’s police, reputed to have the highest professional standards, behaved brutally with the city’s agitated Muslims in December, 1992. In the 10-day long pogrom against the minority community during January, 1993, numerous members of the same police force were in covert or overt complicity with the Shiv Sainiks.

This police behaviour has been arduously documented in the The People’s Verdict, the enquiry report of the Indian People’s Human Rights Commission conducted by two former judges of the Bombay High Court.

*          In nearby Surat, in Gujarat, the local police and SRP personnel have been charged with callous indifference while local Congress-I and BJP politicians led the gang rapes, under floodlight, of Muslim women on December 8 and 9 last year. The shocking dereliction of duty prompted Hindustani Andolan convenor Madhu Mehta to write an anguished plea to the President of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, urging stern and immediate action against the guilty police and SRP personnel.

*          Police fired indiscriminately in curfew-bound Muslim areas in Ahmedabad (Gujarat) in January inflicting severe hardship on families which were forced, for days, to live in a state of siege without basic necessities like milk and bread.

*          Innocent families in Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh became victims of unrestrained police fury after a mob had agitated against the demolition in Ayodhya. A shop-owner in

Maneesha market was pounded to death by a constable with a stone. The same police constable also assaulted his wife and shot dead his 5 year-old daughter. Gruesome instances of police brutality such as this forced the then governor of M.P., Kunwar Mehmood Ali Khan, to dispatch a private missive to the union president.

*          Jharia in Bihar’s Dhanbad district witnessed a parallel “kar seva” while the Babri Masjid was being destroyed. A mosque there was damaged by the very policemen assigned the duty of protecting it. A report submitted by a high level IPS officer revealed how some policemen even goaded fanatics to run riot for five days. However, the district administration repaired the mosque before the news could even reach Patna.

*          At Purnea, also in Bihar, a DIG caught, an inspector of police “saffron-handed” shouting Jai Shri Ram and inciting a mob to attack Muslim homes.

*          Similar was the police behaviour in the villages spread across Mewat, the Meo- dominated belt in the Gurgaon district of Haryana. Many Meo (a Muslim sect that comprises 95 per cent of the population in the entire belt) men were publicly thrashed by the local police in the village square. The entire population was subjected to the terror of unwarranted police searches and lathi blows through the night for weeks.

*          In Deoband, the seat of Islamic learning in Uttar Pradesh, Mohammed Irfan, a sugar factory owner had his factory looted and his fields set on fire. When he went to the police for help, they charged him with burning his own property to create communal trouble.

*          The Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) from U. P. and the Bihar police are notorious for anti-Muslim prejudice. This was evident during the Morabad and Aligarh riots in 1980, and much more in the butchery of Muslims of Meerut (U.P.) in 1987 and Bhagalpur in 1989 and Varanasi in 1991.

Of course, not every policeman is communal. Even The People’s Verdict, for example, has cited several instances of upright and duty-conscious policemen who have shown exemplary courage to save Muslim life and property.

The police force from Bhiwandi – a town 50 kms away from Bombay and a very sensitive communal spot provides an even more striking example. If the textile town remained peaceful throughout December and January while Bombay was in flames, much of the credit goes to local police, in particular to Bhiwandi’s deputy commissioner of police, Gulabrao Pol.

It is to the credit of the soldiers and officers of the Indian army that the faith of the vulnerable minority community in its impartiality is even today largely in tact. When called in to quell agitated Muslims from Kanpur (U.P.) protesting Kanpur against the demolition, the PAC shot from roof-tops claiming a total of 22 (majority Muslim) lives on December 6 and 7 last year. The impact-following Muslim pleas to the local administration – of the army takeover was dramatic: there were no more untoward incidents nor was a single person felled once the army had moved in on December 9. Elsewhere in the city, however, Hindu mobs defied the curfew and butchered close to 100 Muslims.

In Bombay after inefficient and partisan police conduct had wrecked havoc for several days in January, apart from Muslims staunch democrats like senior jurists H. M. Seervai, Nani, Palkhiwala and Atul Setalvad and other civil libertarians demanded an army take-over of the city.

This enviable reputation of the Indian army has however taken a severe battering in the north east and in the Kashmir Valley because of their record on gross human rights violations. National and international human rights organisations, including.

Amnesty International and Asia Watch have charged soldiers with the rape of Kashmiri women, the cold-blooded killings of innocent civilians in so-called “encounters” and widespread extortion from the local population in the valley.

The incidents over the past year have brought the growing communalisation of the armed wings of the Indian state into sharp focus. But the trend has become pronounced since the early ’80s, coinciding with the increasing saffronisation of the Indian polity.

Investigations have revealed how 11,000 of the 17,000 police constables hired by the Maharashtra police between 1981 and 1992 have close family links with the Shiv Sena. The infiltration of RSS and BJP members into the West Bengal police cadre has meant that today 2,900 police personnel have strong Hindutva links. The figure has doubled over the last two years.

The superintendent of police of Faizabad, who was suspended for dereliction of duty in connection with the Ayodhya episode, resigned his post earlier this year to join the BJP with ambitions of playing electoral politics.

Almost all the 1,097 police stations in Bihar have their own special temples dedicated to Ram or Shiva. All have been inaugurated by the police top brass; the priest who performs rituals in them is a policemen. It is a sacrilege to transfer these policemen-priests. A superintendent of police who dared take such a step was confronted by an agitation by the police association. The officer had to withdraw his orders.

Insufficient minority representation in the police and para-military forces has been identified by many as a major factor impeding impartial dealings. Today, the Muslim presence in the PAC is restricted to a mere 4 per cent, in the CRPF to 5.5 per cent and in the Rapid Action Force – specially constituted over a year back to deal with communally–charged situation- to 6 percent. Only one in 60 police stations in the country is headed by a Muslim. Other minorities are similarly poorly represented.

Nothing highlights the serious nature of the problem more than the candid acceptance by senior police officials from all over the country – in the course of a seminar on “Police and the Communal Bias” held at the National Police Academy in Hyderabad two months ago –that the charge of communal bias in the police force is not without substance.

This has been especially the case since 1986 when the Ram Janamboomi dispute gathered momentum. Top officials of the Indian Police Service (IPS) have stressed the need for improved training at the constabulary level.

The report of the National Police Commission has repeatedly cautioned against the deterioration of the law and order machinery due to excessive politicisation in appointments, promotions, day-to-day functioning and transfers.

The undesirable relationship between political will and police behaviour cannot be over-emphasised. For example, in U.P., the police and para-milatary forces under a BJP chief minister, Kalyan Singh, were mute witness to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It was the same machinery that opened fire to protect the Babri Masjid when Mulayam Singh was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1990. As the senior officer in-charge of the CRPF stationed at Ayodhya admitted in his interview to a video newsmagazine, but for the “lack of orders from the Centre” preventing the demolition of the mosque on December 6 would have posed no serious problem.

Should the actions of the law and order machinery to curb violence and uphold the law depend upon the specific character of the government in power at that time? In this case whether the government is interested in upholding secular values and protecting the life and properties of the minorities or not?

Bias on record

           

            Dongri 1 to Police Control: Two military trucks have come carrying milk and other rations, led by Major General (retired) Syed Rehemtullah. Therefore, a crowd has gathered at IR road near Bhendi Bazar, please send some more men.

 

(Voice): Why the f—are you distributing milk to them laandyas (abuse for a circumscised person)? Do you want to f—their mothers? Miyan (muslim), bastards live there.

 

Dongri 1, (agitated): There are lots of police here. Let them distribute Milk.

 

Voice: Why are you distributing milk to them? Are you doing them a favour or what?

 

  1. P. Road to Control: A mob has gathered outside Maharashtra garage, Ghas galli, Lamington road with the intention of setting it on fire. Send men.

 

Voice: Must be a laandya’s garage. Let it burn. S– –, don’t burn anything that belongs to a Maharashtrian. But burn everything belonging to a miyan, bastards.

(Excerpts from transcripts of police wireless messages taped by Teesta Setalvad between January 10 and 18, 1993.)

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