How Muzaffarnagar riots highlight tragedy of police

By RK Raghavan

Yet another shameful chapter has become part of Indian social history. We may be right in blaming the British for having divided us on the basis of religion in order to perpetuate their rule. But then, is that available to us as an alibi, six decades after the alien ruler left our shores? Certainly not. The truly secular Indian has every reason to be dismayed by what happened in Muzaffarnagar recently.

Uttar Pradesh is no doubt a politically powerful state. Unfortunately however, over the years, the state has acquired a reputation for insensitivity to the sacred task of protecting the minorities. The State could now justifiably be looked upon as inhospitable and dangerous by the minorities. Internationally speaking Muzaffarnagar could also become a metaphor for intolerance.

The Supreme Court is now seized of the matter thanks to a PIL which demands a CBI enquiry into the whole sequence of events. It is difficult to speculate what will come out of this. In any case criminal investigations are hardly a deterrent, and will offer no balm to the victims. The judicial enquiry that the UP government has ordered is widely looked upon as a joke, that too, a cruel joke, meant mainly to muffle the voices of many sane elements in the area who are privy to facts which do not show the state in good light. This is a trick many chief ministers across the nation resort to in order to silence their detractors. Akhilesh Yadav cannot therefore be faulted.

 How Muzaffarnagar riots highlight tragedy of police

The riots in Muzaffarnagar. AP

Barring a few details, the pattern in all such unfortunate happenings remains the same. As usual, a small incident – a Jat girl tormented by two Muslim boys - triggered it all, as if it was religion that induced this eve teasing. It is crass religious prejudice that is the agent provocateur for violence in all such instances. It is that kind of prejudice which magnifies what should normally pass off as mere sexual misconduct in a semi-urban context.

As in every other religious clash, in Muzaffarnagar also political leaders and their followers belonging to the majority and minority communities have been quick to jump into the fray and indulge in rabble-rousing and more. Our politicians seem to believe that every communal clash, even if they did not directly engineer it, provides an opportunity to expand their political base, and such an opportunity should rarely be missed, especially when a major election is round the corner. Whatever has been reported from Muzaffarnagar confirms that the need for restraint on such emotionally surcharged occasions was given a total go-by.

Far too many reports by the media suggest that the local administration watched by in the initial stages, particularly when the Hindus convened the so-called Maha Panchayat, and this was a major contributory factor to the violence to escalate as it did. This is why debates on Hindu-Muslim riots need to focus on the administration’s response at the very early stage of trouble.

There is the all round charge that the mob who thronged at the Panchayat carried many kinds of arms, and gathered in defiance of the Sec.144 orders. Incidentally, such prohibitory orders have become a joke. The administration usually imposes the prohibition for form sake and to keep its record clean. We saw this last year in Mumbai when the Shiv Sena took out a massive procession from chowpatty and the police were a mute spectator.

The sequence to police apathy is now well known. The phenomenon of police passivity even when their orders are being flouted is peculiar to India. This meek submission to unruly elements in society and total abdication of responsibility takes place because the police are under the thumb of the ruling political party, which would alone take decisions that should normally fall within the province of the police.

This ludicrous situation holds good in the matter of arrests as well. An immediate response to a communal incident should be the swift arrest of all known trouble-mongers on both sides. This has a salutary impact on the further course of events. It is known that this did not happen in Muzaffarnagar. A few deserving of arrest were branded by the police as ‘unavailable’. The same persons were however available to the media.

Sweeping as it may seem, communal clashes will never be handled professionally by the police as long as they remain an appendage of the ruling party. As things stand now, like in the case of the CBI, no political party will ever agree to insulate the police from the caprice of street-level politicians.

This is why it is unfair and preposterous to hold the police responsible for any inaction. We will never know of the numerous directions –both to act and not to act- that the Muzaffarnagar Police may have received in the crucial days. Those of us who have toiled for decades in the field know how difficult it is to perform when communal passions are aroused not only by local leaders but by those at the helm of affairs in a State government. I do not hold a brief for the truly incompetent and communally partisan policeman. There are quite a few of them.

Fortunately however this species constitutes only a small percentage of the whole police force in the country. The majority are itching for professional freedom. They are however afraid to act in pressure cooker situations, lest they be penalized for doing the right thing. This is the tragedy of the Indian Police.

(The writer is a former CBI Director)

Updated Date: Sep 13, 2013 14:15:37 IST