Sunday, 9 December 2018

Caste and Communal Biases in Police

Caste and Communal Biases in Police
SR Darapuri I.P.S. (Retd)
Recently a video of a police officer from Maharashtra, Bhagyashree Navtake had gone viral wherein she is seen bragging about how she files false cases against Dalits and tortures them and Muslims. It represents a crude but true picture of social prejudices in India’s police force.
After all our police men come from the society, hence the police organisation is the true replica of our society. It is well known that our society is divided on caste, religion and regional lines. Therefore, when the people from the society enter the police organisation they carry all their biases and prejudices with them. Rather they become stronger when such persons come to occupy positions of power. Their personal likes and dislikes; caste and communal prejudices influence their actions very strongly. These biases are often displayed in their behaviour and actions in situations where persons of other castes or communities are involved. 
A situation of blatant caste discrimination came to my notice when I was posted as Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Gorakhpur in 1976. As ASP I was in charge of Reserve Police Lines. On one Tuesday which was a Parade Day, while taking round of Police Mess I found that some persons were taking food sitting on the cemented tables and benches whereas some were sitting on the ground. It struck me as odd. I called one Head Constable and enquired about this dining situation. He told me that those sitting on the benches are high caste men and those sitting on the ground are low caste men. I was wonder struck to see this blatant display of caste discrimination in the Police Lines. I decided to end this discriminatory practice. Hence on the next occasion when I noticed the same situation I asked the police men sitting on the ground to get up and sit on the benches. I had to repeat it once or twice and was able to discontinue this discriminatory practice of segregated dining. Incidentally during that very period I was asked by my boss to give a report on the observations made by Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes which in its report of 1974 had mentioned that there was a practice of segregated messing in Police Lines of eastern U.P. and Bihar. I told my boss that it was true and I had abolished this practice only recently. He told me that I should just mention that it is not there now. I don’t know about other districts of eastern U.P. but it was abolished by me in Gorakhpur district.
It came into news reported sometimes back that even today the practice of not only segregated dining but there are separate barracks for high and low caste men in Bihar Police. It is shocking that it continues even today whereas Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes had pointed out this discriminatory practice as back as 197. Actually the police force on account of its composition is dominated by high caste men and such discriminatory practices continue unabated. It is only due to reservation policy that some persons belonging to low castes especially Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs and STs) have found a place in police force which has made the force more secular and representative. But still the caste biases are quite strong in police men.
As we know there have been very frequent complaints of communal bias against Provincial Armed Constabulary in U.P. I found it to be true when I was posted as Commandant of 34 Bn P.A.C. Varanasi in 1979. On noticing it I had to make lot of efforts to secularise my men. I always made it a point to sermonise them to be above caste and communal biases. I used to tell them that religion is your personal affair and you are only police men when you put on your uniform and are duty bound to act according to law. My constant briefing and debriefing had very salutary effect on them and I was able to secularise my men. It came very clear in 1991 during a communal riot situation in Varanasi. The occasion was the General election of 1991. One retired I.P.S. officer Shri Chand Dixit was contesting election from Varanasi city as a Vishav Hindu Parishad (VHP) candidate. As usual VHP engineered a communal riot to keep the Muslims away from voting. As a result curfew was imposed. News appeared in the papers that PAC men had resorted to looting and beating up in a Muslim locality. I immediately started making an enquiry. To my surprise I found that these were not PAC men but Border Security Force (BSF) men who had resorted to looting, destroying property and beating up of old men and women in the Muslim area. It shows that communal biases exist not only in PAC men but even among Central Para Military forces. No such complaint was received from the locality where men of my Battalion were posted.
I have experienced that the behaviour of lower ranks of police mainly depends on the behaviour and attitudes of the higher officers. If higher officers have caste and communal biases they are likely to accentuate the same among the men under them. I have personally seen many top ranking police officers openly displaying their caste and communal biases. What to talk of lower ranks even many I.P.S. officers do not show any change in their attitudes towards lower castes and other communities after such a rigorous training. Actually change of attitude of a person is the most difficult thing because it requires a lot of effort to relieve one of ingrained prejudices and biases. Communal biases are so often displayed in so called terror cases where there are lot of complaints of false implications of Muslims.
It is also my personal experience that role model of the higher officers plays a very important role in changing the attitudes and behaviour of lower ranks. As mentioned earlier, as Commandant of 34 Bn PAC I continuously briefed my men to be secular and free of caste and communal prejudices. My efforts gave a very good result during 1992 when Ram Mandir movement was in full swing. One day Bajrang Dal people had planned to have a demonstration. They were to collect in the premises of famous Hanuman Mandir of Varanasi city. The administration had planned to arrest them as soon as they came out of Mandir gate.  They had put PAC men to surround the agitators and put them in the buses. S.P. City and City Magistrate were on the spot. When the agitators came out of gate the officers on duty ordered the PAC men to surround them and put them in the buses. But to their utter shock PAC men did not move at all and the agitators started moving towards the city. Then more PAC men had to be rushed to the spot from the City Control Room. As soon as they arrived they surrounded the agitators and put them in the buses. Thus a possible disturbance in the city could be avoided due to the prompt action of these PAC men. Happily these PAC men belonged to my Battalion. The other PAC men who had refused to act belonged to another Battalion which was notorious for indiscipline. This prompt action by my men was appreciated by district administration and the recalcitrant PAC men were removed from the duty. The point which I am trying to make is that leadership in a uniform force makes a lot of difference.
As seen from the video of the Beed  I.P.S. officer Bhagyashree Navtake, it is obvious that if officers like her occupy a position of authority they are likely to act in a partial manner. A constant watch needs to be kept on such officers. They should not be put on such duties where they can display their prejudices. It is also necessary to change the composition of police force by recruiting more men from minorities in order to make it representative and secular. Training programmes for both officers and men should be organised to sensitise them about SC/ST, minorities and women issues.  

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