Disturbing Pointers from Dhule

The partisan behavior of cops in communal disturbances in Dhule in Maharasthra in January has raised disturbing questions about the role of the State Police. Pictures taken over cell phones show trigger-happy cops shooting innocent people to death rather than targeting the arsonists, looters and rioters. Some pictures even show the cops looting the Muslim shops before arsonists, setting them aflame. Some victims were chased inside lanes and bylanes of Muslim mohallas and shot and killed by the police. Surprisingly all the six Muslim victims in the riots were felled by the police bullets.
Impartiality and justice cannot be expected from the administration, if communal poison seeps into the ranks and files of the guardians of law and order and they perceive as enemies the members of the minority communities or the underprivileged communities. In this context, Dhule sets a very dangerous precedent and brings the impartiality of the police force under a cloud. Even the inquiries conducted by the civil society organizations testify that the partisan role of the police turned it much into a clash between Muslims and the police and the latter disregarded the protocol that needs to be followed while dealing with enraged mobs.
It seems the various inquiry reports, principally the Srikrishna Commission Report on Mumbai riots 1992-93, which identified the bias in the functioning of the police, have not moved the authorities to bring about any change in the mindset of the police. The administration has not done anything to sensitise the police force, mainly its officers towards the diversity of the society and complexity of issues that go into triggering riots. Surprisingly, no one in the police was punished for Mumbai riots in which 900 persons lost their lives. Such impunity could only encourage wayward behavior among the guardians of law and order. Mercifully, two cops whose complicity in looting of property in Dhule was visually documented, have been suspended.
If a police force is trained with clear objective of curbing the mischief, nailing rumours and apprehending the trouble-makers, with officers being made accountable for the deed (or misdeeds) of the force under their command, nothing can go wrong. A force is as good as its commander is, it is said. This assertion was further reinforced by Mr. Vibhuti Narain Rai, a highly decorated police officer from Uttar Pradesh. Rai, a prolific Hindi writer, had obliquely referred to the unwillingness to contain and control riots on the part of administration on countless occasions in Uttar Pradesh. He had averred that no riots would take place if the administration did not want it. Rai’s novel Sheher mein Curfew had sketched clearly as to how religious prejudice in the Hindu dominated police force and provincial administration led to Muslim citizens being viewed as enemies and thus becoming easy targets of brutality and murder. The novel had been written in the aftermath of a communal riot in Allahabad in 1980.
A nation like ours making giant strides to claim a place in comity of great nations of the world, must take cognizance of such insightful warnings. Vision of turning the Indian society into an inclusive one will remain far from being achieved if justice and equity elude the so far marginalized sections of the society. Indiscriminate killings of Muslims at Dhule, Pratapgarh as well as sporadic arrests of innocent Muslim youth for bomb blasts in various cities—where their complicity was least suspected—has bred a sense of alienation. It is essential that some thought is spared to initiate and arrange training of police officers in a manner that they rise above the petty considerations of caste and community while dealing with the disorder and disturbances across the country.

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