New Delhi: If there is one thing that is common across all states where Muslim and police interact is the constant presence of "multi-layered bias" against the community and attempts to display the "heroic charisma of majoritarian view" through display of religious symbols or views, reveals a new report.
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, led by former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and QUILL, released a 50-page report which points at the several layers of bias the Muslims in India feel at the hands of the police force.
The key findings of the report range from how police perceive Muslim-concentrated neighbourhoods as "mini Pakistan", constant display of Hindu religious practices and symbols in police stations are perceived with apprehension and discomfort, to attempts at damaging proliferation of local informer networks by the police, splitting the community against itself.
In total, nearly 197 participants across Ahmedabad, Ranchi, Delhi, Lucknow, Bengaluru, Guwahati, Kozhikode, and Mumbai attended the consultation held for the report. The vast majority of these women and men were Muslims.
CHRI also conducted one-to-one interviews with a total of 256 retired Muslim police personnel, all men.
The report notes that police target and victimise Muslims based on their identity, revealing a distinct bias, "resulting in feelings that the community is often criminalised without basis, and kept in cycles of fear, intimidation, and the constant threat of being detained and abused".
A candid confession of a police officer is also documented where the officer admits that the torture meted out to a Muslim is often much more even though the police know that the person is not the accused.
Muslim women also expressed their difficulty of bearing the ‘double burden’ of being a Muslim and a woman, according to the report.
Women distinctly felt their identity as Muslims was a primary reason for both "police indifference and bias towards them."
They unanimously said that police attitude and behaviour is sharply prejudiced when women access the police wearing identity markers like burqa/hijab.
"(The policemen) disregard us if they find out that we have come from a Muslim-dominated area, sometimes even threatening us that we will be beaten if we don’t leave. Once, they said, “burqa nikalo, kya bomb leka aaye ho kya? (Take off your veil; have you brought a bomb here?)”, said one of the interviewed Muslim women from Ahmedabad.
Muslims, according to the report, feel further alienated and insecure while approaching the police for any remedy as the "display of Hindu religious symbols" and "pujas" performed inside the station cement the fact that there is no place for their grievance to be heard.
A Mumbai-based respondent for the report says that the practice of policemen wearing tilaks have increased in the last two to three years.
"There are pictures and idols (of Hindu gods) in police vehicles too. Such display of religious symbols make us feel alienated. We now see policemen applying tilaks. These practices of applying tilaks have increased in the last two years," said the respondent.
Apart from this regular "Shani Pujas", worshipping the arms, etc is a regular affair, across all the police stations, notes the report.
The report also looks at the aspect of continuous attempts to push the community into ghettos where the incidents of bias and torture are manifold.
Across almost all the cities the team visited, it noted that the "repeated complaint of the pejorative characterisation of Muslim areas as ‘mini-Pakistan’, lending insight into how the community believes itself to be viewed by the police."
"It is not limited to being seen as coming from a crime-infested locality, but extends to being viewed as potentially anti-national, separate from the mainstream and feeling that your loyalty is always suspect," states the report.
“During Ramzan, a Hindu baraat halted before a mosque for a long time, and this turned into a chaotic scuffle. The police had to come in to control the situation. They arrested 78 Muslim youth, but only one Hindu person," said a Muslim resident from Ranchi.
The Muslims across India also revealed that the police attempt to divide the community by placing informers within the community. A deeper sense of ‘being watched’ by the state, through the "intrusive medium of police informers or ‘mukhbirs’," was repeated across states.
It also emerged that there is an increased presence of informers cultivated by the police at local levels, and many of them are Muslims themselves. One of the respondents also stated how an informer had "live telecasted" an entire speech from a social gathering in the community to the local SHO.
The report has now urged Parliament to enact torture prevention legislation and also implement the Amendment of the Presidential Orders of 1950 and 1951 to include Dalit Muslims.
CHRI and QUILL also recommends that Equal Opportunity Commission bill as drafted by the expert group appointed by Ministry of Minority Affairs should be placed before the parliament with no more delay.
The report also makes a case for more recruitment of Muslims in the police force but notes that according to 2013 figures, "excluding the number of Muslims in the Jammu & Kashmir Police, the total representation of Muslims in police services was a meagre 3.14% of the total police strength in the country."