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Fiction as Statistics


India, as a nation, has long been hostage to inept analyses and pseudo-solutions to prevailing problems, and the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee has become a significant case in point, where a selective focus on particular data, within the context of the author's personal predilections and prejudices, has become a substitute for a realistic and productive assessment. The result is that, while little that is new has been added to public understanding or knowledge - the broad trends Mr Sachar underlines are well known, and the details have largely been missed out by his report - his recommendations fall into a pattern that reflects particular and unfortunate political positions, rather than anything that could provide the framework for a radical resolution to the problems of the minorities in India. This is certainly the case with Mr Sachar's analysis of the management of communal violence and the dubious role of the police in communal situations.

Among Mr Sachar's well-intentioned proposals are the recommendations, first, that there should be greater equity in compensation for victims of India's many riots; and second, a very significant increase in representation of Muslims in India's Police Forces. On the face of it - and this is part of the problem - these recommendations appear impeccable. There is, no doubt, a transparent absurdity, in giving the families of victims or survivors of one riot just a few thousand rupees, and of another, several lakhs. The only saving grace in the prevailing incoherence of past practices is that they were non-discriminatory, and some of both the most generous and most miserly compensations have gone to the same minority community.

Since this is the community from which an overwhelming majority of victims are drawn in most riots, however, this apparent lack of discrimination gives no cause for satisfaction. Crucially, however, as the conduct of families and victims of communal violence increasingly suggest, the issue of compensation has little to do with the victims' sense of satisfaction that they have been treated fairly. This does not mean that an inequitable regime of compensations should be acceptable, but rather that greater equity in this regard would do little to address the larger issue of giving greater justice to the riot victims, their families and their community.

This then takes us to the second of Mr Sachar's 'solutions': Greater representation of Muslims in India's Police Forces. Once again, this is an admirable objective on grounds, purely, of equity. As an instrumentality for the better management of communal violence, however, the record would demonstrate how utterly misdirected it is. For one, where police forces have been backed by a political executive committed to communal harmony, they have been extraordinarily successful in preventing and containing communal violence irrespective of their composition, or even, in fact, their strength. This is dramatically illustrated by the trajectory of communal riots in Bihar and UP, which have India's poorest police population ratios - Bihar, with 57 Policemen to 1,00,000 population, and UP with 84, in 2005, as against a national average of 122 per 1,00,000 - and where Muslims remain under-represented in the police in terms of these States' religious demography.

Both Bihar and UP were, at one time, among the country's principal loci of communal rioting, with near-annual blood-letting, and some of the country's worst pogroms. Despite the very poor record of governance in both these States, however, the incidence of communal riots is now extremely low - the result of the peculiar political equations that have been established by the dominant political parties in these States, and of the marginalisation of the parties that have long played communal politics in India, some of them openly, and others in the garb of an opportunistic and insincere 'secularism'.

Other examples of States, which have established an enviable record in the management of communal relations and violence, despite very low, or lower than representative, presence of Muslims in their police forces, include Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala. On the other hand, States with far better representation of Muslims in their forces, including Andhra Pradesh, where the proportion of Muslims in the police is greater than the proportion of Muslims in the population, Maharashtra and Gujarat, have been witness to significant and recurrent communal riots. It has been my personal experience, moreover, that Muslims make excellent police officers, but under particular political dispensations, they become utterly ineffective, confused and directionless, and can be as unsuccessful in administering the law as their non-Muslim colleagues.

India's Police Forces, under appropriate leaders and political direction, have been exemplary in their performance in situations of communal polarisation. Under poor police leadership and cynical political management, they have performed disgracefully. This is the case irrespective of police composition or of police capacities and strength. Indeed, some of the most demoralised and disgraced of police forces - forces that had been rejected, by pseudo-intellectual commentators whose thinking has much in common with Mr Sachar's, as being utterly compromised and communalised - have recovered and demonstrated the most exemplary courage, effectiveness and absence of bias under a new leadership.

This was dramatically the case in Punjab, where an overwhelmingly Sikh force, under criminally cynical and collusive politicians and a rudderless police leadership, was thought to be so utterly subverted that even the Central forces did not trust them. Yet, it was the same force, and the same Sikhs, who fought the Khalistani terrorists and defeated them in campaigns that have no parallel in India's history, and, indeed, few equals in the history of counter-terrorism anywhere in the world. Something similar is also happening in Jammu & Kashmir, where the State's police force - overwhelmingly Muslim - is playing an increasingly active and effective role against the Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorists operating there.

Correct assessments based on a realistic appraisal of facts and experiences are necessary if we are to really solve the problem of communal violence and polarisation in this country. Pseudo-solutions like those recommended by the Sachar Committee play to a particular gallery and fall into the trap of communal thinking. Worse, Mr Sachar's focus on compensations and composition seems to accept that riots cannot be stopped, that they are a permanent fixture on India's political and policing scenario. It is, however, my firm belief that the police under appropriate conditions can ensure an India entirely free from riots. The correct identification of these conditions is the first step towards creating this future. Till now, available analyses have failed comprehensively to attempt such identification.


(Published in The Pioneer, January 6, 2007)





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