A sample survey of attitudes does not offer an accurate map of anyone’s mind. Yet, responses to questions do point to people’s underlying motivations, biases, beliefs and justifications for these. According to a recent survey, every second policeman believes that Indian Muslims are “naturally prone" to crime. Perhaps this institutional bias against the country’s largest minority group should not surprise us. Policemen are drawn from the society we live in. Over the years, distrust of Muslims among non-Muslims has grown in India, accentuated by forces that have polarized society for political gains. Acts of terror, and voices that seem to justify them in the name of Islam, even if few and far between, have only sharpened the suspicion.

The Status of Policing in India Report, 2019, published by the non-government organization Common Cause and the Lokniti programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, also reveals, rather eerily, the extent to which mob violence has got normalized in the country. The study found that 35% of police personnel believe it is “natural" for a mob to punish the “culprit" in cases of cow slaughter. Further, 43% are of the opinion that it is “natural" for a mob to punish someone accused of rape. Is it any wonder then that in most cases of mob lynching, policemen have remained mute spectators, allowing murders to take place with impunity?

The institutional bias against Muslims in our police force needs to be corrected urgently. Police personnel must be made to undergo sensitization courses, with periodic refresher modules to keep them from lapsing into us-and-them attitudes. Cases of mob lynching are becoming too frequent to be dismissed as stray incidents. Stringent laws must be framed, as Rajasthan has already done and West Bengal is preparing to do, to punish acts of public violence against individuals.

Close