Police and Minorities
By Asghar Ali Engineer
The police as such is unfriendly, even antagonistic to people and much more so when it comes to minorities. The police act was drafted by Britishers in 1861 and its main purpose at the time was to suppress people and to enforce British rule. Thus the police act was meant to suppress people and make them obedient to the British rulers. It was understandable that any foreign rulers would do that.
However, what is most surprising is that even sixty years after independence from British rule our democratic rulers have not made any change in the police act. Not only that our rulers are not even prepared to implement recommendations of 5th police commission for some reforms and that too despite the Supreme Court directive to do so. The reason is obvious. Our rulers also want to use police for their political end. They do not want police to be people friendly. If police becomes people friendly politicians cannot use them for their personal end.
If police is anti-people in general, it is much more so anti-minorities, particularly anti-Muslim and anti-Christian. In riot after riot police behaves partially and does not hesitate to kill Muslims in firing. Latest example is of Hyderabad Mecca Masjid bomb explosion. The police fired ruthlessly on the protesting mob and killed six persons. It fired even on injured persons who were being taken to hospitals after bomb explosion. And what is worse they fired to kill and that is why six lives were lost.
Here I am reminded of terrible tragedy of Hashimpura of May 23, 1987. Hashimpura is near Meerut, which was rocked by communal violence in May 1987. The police as usual thought that Muslims are mainly responsible for communal disturbances in Meerut and decided to teach Muslims a lesson. The PAC (Police Armed Constabulary) went to Hashimpura and pulled out some 50 persons mostly young and some elderly. Most of them were poor.
They were loaded on trucks, taken outside city premises and shot dead and then their bodies were thrown into a nearby canal. Some two or three persons somehow survived, (the police had taken them to be dead), hid themselves in shrubs and escaped and told the whole story. It is twenty years since this terrible tragedy happened no action has been taken against the murderers. They are roaming free. Some activists worked hard to bring these policemen to justice but nothing happened. The state machinery was totally indifferent to this and not even summons were served to them.
Mulayam Singh Yadav who always claimed that he is sympathetic to Muslims and had an eye on their votes, did not do anything at all. Even today matter is pending and relatives of those killed are running from pillar to post for justice and the culprits roam freely. The reason is obvious: those killed were poor and also Muslims. Thus they were doubly disadvantaged. Recently on 23rd May on completion of twenty years of the massacre in Hashimpura, mothers, sisters and fathers of those killed demonstrated in Delhi holding photographs of their loved ones. One does not know whether the authorities took any notice of this grim tragedy or not.
The Gujarat police is of course notorious in this matter and they seem to get away with anything under the patronage of Narendra Modi. Sohrabuddin and his wife and another witness of the crime of fake encounter Koli were eliminated. All papers were faked under instructions of Chief Ministerâ€™s Office of which Tehelka in its issue of 19th May, 2007 has given gory details. DIG police Vanjara called these fake encounters as â€˜Desh Bhaktiâ€™. Apart from Sohrabuddin and his wife Kausarbi, another Muslim youth Samir Khan was also eliminated in 2003. Ishrat Jahan and her colleague were also eliminated describing them as members of Lashkar-i-Tayyiba.
All these fake encounters were carried out saying they wanted to kill Narendra Modi. Thus Narendra Modi was trying to project himself as a martyr and a brave fighter against terrorism. He himself said in one of his speeches that he will lay down his life for the sake of the country and for fighting against terrorism. He said, challenging â€œthe powers in Delhiâ€? to â€œhang him till deathâ€? but has reiterated that he would continue his efforts and wipe out terrorism from Gujarat. â€œI challenge the UPA (government) to hang me till I die. If they plan to do this tomorrow, I request them to do it today, I will give up life. But I will not give up my fight against terrorism.â€?
This is how Modi is trying to extricate from the fake encounter imbroglio. He wants to wipe out terrorism by getting innocent people killed. He wants to project himself as martyr by killing people from minority communities. All this is happening in a secular democracy. Of course Gujarat is a Hindutva laboratory and already has declared itself as part of Hindu Rashtra. Modi is showing all his efficiency in bringing about reality of Hindu Rashtra in Gujarat.
This clearly shows how politicians misuse police for their own personal ends. It is thanks
to the Supreme court that Vanjara and other police officers are being brought to justice. Sohrabuddinâ€™s brother filed a petition in the Supreme Court and on being issued notice to the Gujarat Government, it admitted that Sohrabuddin and his wife were killed in fake encounters. However, Modi Government washed its hands off the whole affair and put entire blame on DIG CID Vanjara and others.
It is also true that there are some honest police officers who try to do their duty. Ms. Gita Johari, IG CID stubbornly refused to bow down to political pressures. Supreme Court had issued instructions to make her answerable to the Court only. But political establishment put pressure on her to report to her immediate boss Shri Mathur but she refused. However, such officers are very few. Most others are politically pliable.
There should be zero tolerance for encounter deaths and any police officer who has killed anyone in so called encounter should be treated as murderer unless he proves in the court of law that he fired in defense and that there was casualty on the part of police also. All details about how many rounds were fired and bullets fired should also be accounted for. Recently the Government of Maharashtra has issued instructions that there would be a CID enquiry after every encounter death. It is a welcome step. But one has to see whether this is strictly implemented. Many such instructions are issued but never followed in practice.
No other country ever tolerates such killings by the police. Encounter deaths were unheard of even in India few decades before. First encounter deaths were reported during emergency (1975-77) when some Naxalites were killed by Andhra and Kerala police. Mr. Tarkunde, (retired judge of the Bombay High court) the noted rationalist and human rights activist held inquiry in encounter killing and exposed those police officers who killed people. There was much debate in the country at a time and such encounters had almost stopped.
But soon these encounters began and many mafia dons were killed. But such killings were also not so genuine. Some policemen who became â€˜encounter specialistsâ€™ were killing at the instance of rival mafia dons and making money. These encounter specialists accumulated wealth much beyond their known sources of income. Despite all this they acquired political influence and had direct access to political bosses over their immediate bosses.
Thus encounter deaths should not be tolerated in a democratic set up. In democracy human rights play very important role and police should be sensitivised to human rights issues. However, our police is still being used for suppression of peopleâ€™s rights and specially those of minorities. In most of the communal riots police hardly brings those responsible for killings of minorities to book. They do not investigate cases properly and even forge records.
One has to go through various inquiry commission reports to realize this. The Madan Commission Inquiry Report into Bhivandi and Jalgaon riots of 1970 lambasted the police officers for forging records in order to implicate some members of minority communities. However, state took no action against such officers. Instead many of them were promoted. Similarly the Srikrishna Commission Report which inquired into Mumbai riots of 1992-93 passed strong remarks against communalization of Mumbai police and named more than 30 officers for their crimes of omissions and commissions but the congress Government of Maharashtra took no action against these guilty officers and even where it did it was mere symbolic. And one such officer was promoted to the highest coveted post of Mumbai commissioner of Police, a person who was named for killing nine Muslims in Modern Bakery near Zakaria Masjid. Of course he was promoted by the Shiv Sena-BJP Government which came to power in 1995.
Thus the police force is both criminalised and communalised and is trigger happy when it comes to poor and weaker sections in general and those belonging to minorities. This is indeed a matter of shame and the state should make all possible efforts to secularise the police and sensitise it to democratic values. The police should not be used as a repressive force as during colonial times but as people friendly institution in a democratic and secular country.
There is urgent need to implement police reform and change the outdated colonial police act. Earlier it is done better it is to uphold democratic secular values of our Constitution.