Rising voice stems police prejudice in India



Nilofar Suhrawardy

Published — Thursday 29 November 2012

Last update 29 November 2012 1:25 am

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Would it be fair to assume that a silent revolution has finally begun in India openly questioning the prejudiced approach exercised by certain sections against minorities, particularly the Muslims? Yes, this refers to a notable communal bias prevalent in Indian police services. It would be certainly unfair to assume that all Indian police officers are communally biased against Muslims. In fact, the police are not to be solely blamed for displaying a negative approach against Muslims in general. Rather, the tragedy is that they tend to be used as pawns to promote political interests of usually the ones in power. The recent incident in India over a Facebook comment is a symbolic example of this trend.
Soon after the death of Shiv Sena supremo, Bal Thackeray, India’s financial capital Mumbai decided to mark the day of his funeral services with a shutdown. It may be noted, no formal order was issued for the shutdown. A Muslim woman, Shaheen Dhadha (21) posted a comment in Facebook questioning the city’s shutdown. Thackeray and Shiv Sena activists have time and again hit headlines for displaying communal prejudice against Muslims. This apparently prompted Dhadha to state in her post, “Respect is earned, not given and definitely not forced. Today Mumbai shuts down due to fear and not due to respect.” Renu Srinivasan (21) liked the comment.
Within less than an hour, the local police detained Dhadha and Srinivasan on ground of charges filed against them under various sections of law which could lead to their spending around three years in jail. They were later released on bail. Dhadha regretted her comment on Facebook. She deleted it and also apologized for it. But that did not mark end of the case. Shiv Sena workers allegedly attacked a clinic owned by Dhadha’s uncle. They broke window panes, damaged equipment and other material at the clinic. Of the nearly 40 people who indulged in this violent behavior, ten were arrested and soon released on bail. Critics are questioning on why have these men not been kept in custody for a longer period.
Shiv Sena workers expressed their support for the women’s arrest stating that Facebook comment was against their leader. They were upset at his being “insulted.” Initially, there were reports of police having moved into action following a report filed against the Facebook comment by a Shiv Sena member. However, Shiv Sena’s legal officer denied that any of the Sena leaders had lodged the complaint. Irrespective of whether the complaint was filed by any Shiv Sena member or not, there is no denying that police took immediate action against the two women to please Shiv Sena. This is a clear pointer to police giving practically no importance to rules and regulations they are expected to follow when it comes to following political whims of those whom they wish to be in good books of.
For a change, the country is not being a mute spectator to arrests being made without any substantial charge against Dhadha and Srinivasan. The outrage against police action prompted Maharashtra Home Minister RR Patil to state that “strict” action will be taken if policemen are found guilty. The Maharashtra government will act on recommendation of inquiry report on arrest of the two women, Patil said. Now, please note the cautious approach adopted by Maharashtra government. Prospects of it taking immediate action against erring policemen were avoided by giving priority to an inquiry into the incident. This also implies that legally, till policemen’s error is proved, the women would remain allegedly responsible for charges filed against them.
Criticism voiced from across the country against police action prompted the state police department to waste little time in preparing the inquiry report. The confidential report has accused policemen responsible for initiating the two women’s arrests. The arrests could have been avoided and sections of law applied in the case were not justified, according to the report. Departmental action against erring cops has been recommended. The police department is expected to seek advice of Maharashtra government on dropping of charges against the two women.
Dhadha and Srinivasan would naturally be fairly relieved if charges against them are dropped. It is not clear whether they would dare to file any case against erring policemen for subjecting them to mental, emotional, psychological and also financial harassment for no fault of theirs. These grounds also entitle them to be compensated for being falsely accused and detained. The fear of inciting anger of agitated Shiv Sena workers may perhaps prevent them from pursuing judicial course of action, they are legally entitled to.
Sadly, the fear-factor haunts numerous Muslims, who have been arrested on ground of being alleged terrorists. Later, though a number of these have been released, the majority have to date remained quiet about seeking compensation and demanding action against the erring policemen. Of late, both these issues have begun being addressed seriously by certain conscientious Indian citizens. Had this trend not begun, the Maharashtra police may not have even considered taking departmental action against policemen for having crossed their own legal limits by taking two women into custody for a minor comment on Facebook.
It cannot be forgotten that most of state police officers acted as silent observers when Gujarat carnage (2002) occurred. The same was the case when Babri Masjid was demolished and nation affected by riots (6 December, 1992). The policemen have also been accused of keeping their eyes closed in 1984 when angry mobs targeted Sikhs following the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Till date, concerned Indians were primarily aggrieved about innocent Muslims being falsely labeled as terrorists. Now, in addition to demanding their release, they have begun reflecting on need of their being given compensation. And the third most important demand picking pace is that for punishing the erring policemen. Why should they be excused for abusing law and order, upholding which is their prime responsibility? Against this backdrop, the fact that Maharashtra government has openly expressed that action would be taken against policemen found guilty of arresting two women for a Facebook comment cannot be taken lightly. The government may have confined its views to studying the case, it will look into it and so forth. But that it went further only implies it being compelled to do so in response to satisfy agitated citizens.
Without doubt, the socio-political pressure is a result of the silent revolution that is slowly but definitely moving forth, nailing down the communal prejudice prevalent in police services. Not surprisingly, within less than a month of their going overboard to please Shiv Sena, the erring police officials have been suspended!

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