There is also great need for changing the very model of policing. Our policing is still on the model of British colonial rulers. It has to change to democratic model from colonial model.
The role of police in communal riots in general and in Gujrat riots in particular has been far from desirable. I have been investigating communal riots in India since Jabalpur riot of 1962. The Jabalpur riot was such in magnitude that it had shaken Jawaharlal Nehru who had secular vision of India. The role of police in Jabalpur riots was quite shocking. Apart from helping the rioters the SRP men were accused of snatching gold bangles and mangalsutra from the necks of women. They gate crashed into houses of riot victims and beat up women and took away whatever they could lay their hands upon. As it was my first investigation of communal violence I could not believe that the police could do all this. It was unbelievable indeed.
After Jabalpur, riot after riot I saw the role of police, which was strongly biased against minorities. In Meerut riots twice I witnessed role of police: in 1982 and 1987. In both these riots the role of PAC was worse than that of rioters. In 1982 Meerut riots the PAC killed at point blank the only son of one Dr. Shabbir and had him load his dead body on the truck. The PAC also destroyed Dr. Shabbir's dispensary completely. The same force killed several others who were hiding in their houses. Some women told me they had hidden their husbands in large trunks and they were pulled out of them and shot. Justice Krishna Iyer also visited Meerut after this incident and was so shocked at the behaviour of PAC that he wrote an open letter to Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, urging upon her to hold an inquiry into the role of the PAC.
Then again PAC repeated its role in Meerut riots of 1987. The PAC commandant Mr. Tripathi was accused of having pulled out 23 young boys from their houses in Hashimpura loaded them on a truck, took them near a canal outside the city, shot them dead and threw their bodies in the canal. Two boys miraculously survived to tell the tale. Again nothing happened. It was few years after the incident that FIR was recorded during chief ministership of Mulayamsingh Yadav. But nothing again moved beyond recording the FIR.
The role of police during Mumbai riots of 1992-93 came under severe criticism by various NGOs and above all by Srikirshna Commission, which named 32 officers as guilty of anti-minority bias and also Mr. Tewari, a high police official was accused of being instrumental in killing some young Muslim boys in Suleman Bakery, near Minara Masjid. The authorities took no action and Tewari was symbolically arrested and released immediately after great deal of criticism by human rights activists.
All this is bad enough and sufficient to shake minorities' confidence in the police. The same story repeated in Gujrat carnage after the Godhra incident of 27th February 2002. Again the police in Gujrat aided and abetted the rioters. This time the role of IAS officers also came under severe criticism. Harsh Mandar, an IAS officer of M.P. cadre working in Gujrat with Action Aid India at a time was so enraged by the role of IAS officers of Gujrat and their total surrender to the political authorities that he did not think it fit to continue in such service and he resigned in sheer disgust. Harsh Mandar wrote in his article, "Numbed with disgust and horror, I return from Gujrat ten days after the terror and massacre that convulsed the state. My heart is sickened, my soul wearied, my shoulders aching with the burden of shame and guilt." He further writes, "The unconscionable failures and active connivance of the state police and administrative machinery is also now widely acknowledged. The police is known to have misguided people straight into the hands of rioting mobs. They provided protective shields to crowds bent upon pillage, arson, rape and murder and were deaf to the pleas of these disparate Muslim victims, many of them women and children. There have been many reports of police firing directly mostly at the minority community, which was target of most of the mob violence."
It is not Harsh Mandar alone who writes about such role of the police in Gujrat carnage. Several others including some top police officials themselves have also condemned the police for what it did in Gujrat. Mr. Julio Reibero, ex-Director General of police, Maharashtra, even called them "eunuchs" for having attacked helpless people including old men, women and children.
Even after riots the police were not recording correct FIRS either under pressure from political authorities or because of their own communal leanings. Mr. Ribeiro told Times of India in an interview, "Apart from the usual complaints of inaction, people said that police were recording absolutely incorrect FIRs. I met a respectable Hindu gentleman who said that the police did not take down the names of the rioters he had seen and wrote that it was a group of unidentified people. If people who have seen their mothers and sisters raped and burnt before their eyes have no hope of getting justice they will all turn into terrorists." And then Ribeiro asks " Why are we talking about ISI and Pakistan when we are doing their job for them by creating terrorists."
Another top police officer Vibhuti Narayan Rai, now Inspector General of Police in U.P. who has handled several riot situations maintains that "any riot can be controlled in 24 hours if the administration wants to." According to a Times of India report, Mr. Vibhuti Narain Rai has written letters to all IPS officers in the wake of Gujrat violence saying that the police should not blame inadequate equipment and manpower for their failure. Large scale rioting can be checked even with such problems." Mr. Rai also said that it is essential that the police should be seen to be objective that's what sends the right message to the people.
In every riot police also indulges in revenge killing once its man is injured or killed. It goes totally berserk once a policeman is hit. It happened in Deonar area of Mumbai during 1992-93 riots after a policeman was killed by unknown people. Several young Muslim boys had to pay with their lives. It was only a senior and upright police officer like Mr. Pawar who brought the situation under control. Same thing happened in Ahmedabad on 2nd April during Gujrat violence.
When a policeman Mr. Amar Rao Patel was killed the police fired in revenge and 10 persons including two women died and 14 were injured. Angry residents of Patel ki Chawli and Modi ki Chawli where seven persons were killed alleged that police was on revenge spree. The residents said there was nothing happening at the Patel ki Chawli which is one and half kilometre from where the police constable was killed. Nothing had happened there since February 28 and no violence had taken place there even before the police fired and killed 10 persons.
The police had its own version, of course. Inspector R.B.Parmar maintained that soft policing can not control a rioting mob. If a woman is injured it could be a stray incident or she could also be a part of rioting mob. Whatever the explanation firing was in excess and disproportionate to the violence by mob.
Is entire police force to be condemned? Though in riot after riot police does kill and arrest innocent citizens one cannot condemn entire force. There are officers who are unbiased and committed to professional handling of riot situations. Persons like Ribeiro and V.N.Rai, both top police officers are themselves good example of such people in the force. And there are many more such committed officers. Even in Gujrat we found many such officers during our investigations. Some officers handled the situation quite professionally but they were, unfortunately, not given free hand by the political bosses, particularly Narendra Modi. Such officers were instantly transferred and these transfers were either described as 'routine' or 'promotions'. It was more a culpability of political bosses than lack of professionalism among these officers.
There are number of factors which must be taken into account. Sometimes, nay more often, honest officers lack courage and do not act according to the rule book and surrender to the will of political bosses. Some who do get immediately transferred and they become ineffective anyway. But in Gujrat most of the top officers just surrendered meekly before the politicians with few honourable exceptions. I met one Additional Commissioner of police who did not allow riot to take place in his area and was immediately transferred to an administrative job in police headquarters in Ahmedabad.
The police force is deeply infected with communalism and casteism at the level of junior officers and especially at constabulary level and it is constabulary which handles the ground situation. There is great need to disinfect constabulary and ranks of junior officers through reorienting courses. There is no thorough training in secularism at this level. I have conducted many police workshops and have seen the effects of such reorienting courses on the minds of junior officers and constabulary. Some top police officers in Maharashtra where I have conducted these workshops realise the importance of such workshops and co-operate in organising more and more of them. Such workshops are necessary in all the states.
As for top police officer what is needed is proper transfer and promotion policy. Transfers should not at all depend on whims and fancy of politicians. They have their own agenda and are not always committed to the rule of law. As recommended by the fifth Police Commission the transfers should be effected by a committee comprising Chief minister, leader of Opposition, D.G. of police and some eminent citizens. Such a transfer and promotion policy would reassure honest and professionally guided police officers and they will be able to do their job well despite pressures from political bosses.
There is also great need for changing the very model of policing. Our policing is still on the model of British colonial rulers. It has to change to democratic model from colonial model. If proper transfer policies are not evolved politicisation of police will continue to take place and this is disastrous from policing point of view. This is precisely what happened in Gujrat carnage. Some top officers were politicised and hence they did not handle the situation professionally and those who did got transferred most arbitrarily.
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(*) Asghar Ali Engineer is a rights activist and heads two organisations, the Institute of Islamic Studies and the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism. He has authored or edited 44 books on such issues as Islam and communal and ethnic problems in India and South Asia in general.