Tuesday, April 30, 2019
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Amidst Chaos. Source: Harni Calamur/Flickr

Police instill distrust in vulnerable groups who also have low representation in the force which could have built trust

ON MAY 22, 1987, the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) of Uttar Pradesh rounded up 42 Muslim youth from Hashimpura locality of Meerut city, shot them dead and dumped their bodies in water canals on outskirts of the city. It took 31 years for the court to convict 16 former PAC personnel for life.

Hashimpura incident was the reaction to a communal riot in Meerut and highlighted partisan role of certain law enforcement officers.

Such incidents of partisanship fuel perceptions and these beliefs are not restricted to religion, found a study ‘Status of Policing in India 2018′ done by non-profits Common Cause and Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Over a half of 15,000 respondents from across 22 states of India said that police discriminate on the basis of class, followed by caste, gender and religion.

Ther perception also get corroborated by official data from 22 states which shows that except women, most vulnerable groups have disproportionately higher representation in prisons.

What makes the perception more worrisome is the lack of diversity in police. While SCs, STs and women have reservations in the police, the targets remain unmet. Religious minorities, on the other hand, don’t have the backing of legal provisions. 

Muslims were most likely among all religious groups to feel the bias of police. They also have very low representation in the force which could have helped build trust. 

Poor at receiving end

Around 51 percent respondents believe police discriminate between rich and poor. Upper and middle class respondents were as likely to hold this opinion as the poor.

Also, greater number poor living in big cities had this opinion as compared to those in small towns and villages. This might be because of larger income divide in cities and greater interaction of police with those living in slums and on street. Villages and small towns would have comparatively better income parity. 

Upper and middle class respondents were as likely to hold the opinion that police discriminate based on class as the poor

Bihar (73 percent), Delhi (73 percent) and Maharashtra (68 percent) were the top three states where respondents felt police are biased against poor.

OBCs see greater caste bias

One in four (25 percent) respondents stated that the police discriminate against people on the basis of caste. When considered state wise, the proportion of such respondents was highest in Bihar (71 percent), followed by Karnataka (53 percent) and Uttar Pradesh (49 percent).

On the other hand, Himachal Pradesh (3 percent), Kerala (5 percent) and Nagaland (5 percent) scored lowest on this perception.

People from other backward castes (OBCs) hold this opinion more firmly than scheduled castes and upper castes. Scheduled Tribes (STs) were least likely to believe this except in states of Gujarat and Jharkhand where 46 percent and 36 percent of tribal respondents blamed the police for partiality.

19 states had higher number of STs in their prisons when compared to their total proportion in state populations while 18 states had higher number of SCs

Around 38 percent respondents believed that police falsely implicate Dalits in cases of petty crimes. while 27 percent believed that tribals are falsely implicated on maoist charges. These perceptions were highest in Telangana and Karnataka.

As many as 19 states had higher number of STs in their prisons when compared to their total proportion in state populations while 18 states had higher number of SCs. Data for OBCs was not available. 

There is reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs in police but not even half the number of 22 states have been able to meet the reservation criteria for OBCs, and the figures are much less for SCs and STs.

Only two states (Punjab and Uttarakhand) were able to meet the reserved quota for scheduled castes  while six states fulfilled the quota for scheduled tribes and a slightly higher number of nine states achieved the reservation benchmark for OBCs.

Muslims, Sikhs take opposite sides on religion bias

Religion has been one of the contentious issues in India with allegations that police are biased against minority communities, especially Muslims whose representation is low in police and high in prison.

Muslims were disproportionally higher in prisons across 22 states with the highest in Nagaland that had six times more Muslim prisoners than their share in total state population in 2014. In Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, the ratio was around three times. 

Muslims were disproportionally higher in prisons across 22 states with the highest in Nagaland that had six times more Muslim prisoners than their share in total state population

Muslim representation in police forces of all the states was constantly less than half of the size of their population. This data on Muslim  representation in police provided by the Nation Crime Records Bureau has been discontinued since 2014 thus clouding the possibility of improvement in policing on this aspect.

Muslims  were  twice  as  likely  to  believe that  police tend to be partial than Hindus. Christians and Sikhs were least likely to believe so. Muslims in Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan were far more likely to believe that police is partial as compared to Muslims in other states. 

Beyond communal fights, more people (19 percent) believe that police does discriminate on basis of religion. Again, among all religious  communities, Muslims were most likely (26 percent) to hold  the view that the police discriminates on religious grounds while the figure for Hindus stood at 18 percent, Christians at 16 percent and Sikhs at the lowest 6 percent level.

Among Muslims, this perception was highest among those in Bihar (56 percent), Rajasthan (55 percent), Tamil Nadu (50 percent)  and  Maharashtra (50 percent) while it was lowest in Kerala (4 percent), Uttarakhand (7 percent) and West Bengal (13 percent).

Muslims  were  twice  as  likely  to  believe that  police tend to be partial than Hindus. Christians and Sikhs were least likely to believe so 

Around 47 percent Muslims also felt that police falsely implicated people of their community in terror-related cases. Among respondents from all religions, only 27 percent believed this. 

Educated see more gender discrimination

When it comes to gender discrimination, around 30 percent respondents accepted its occurrence, 50 percent denied it while 20 percent remained silent on the issue.

Interestingly, there was not much difference between opinions of men and women but those in cities and towns were more likely to view the police as being discriminatory on the grounds of gender. Better educational levels in urban areas might be the reason for difference in views on gender discrimination. 

Respondents in Bihar, Telangana and Maharashtra were most likely to view the police as being gender-biased while those in Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Odisha were least likely to believe this.

Respondents in Bihar were most likely to view police as being gender-biased while those in Chhattisgarh were least likely to believe this 

The  all-India  percentage  of women in police was at 7.3 percent as of 2016, against the benchmark of 33 percent. Of the 22 selected states for the study, 17 had provisions for women reservation ranging between 20 percent in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka to 38 percent in Bihar.  

However, they fell miserably short of the target. Tamil Nadu with 12.9 percent women in police was at top. Bihar had 6.8 percent, Karnataka 6.6 percent and Uttar Pradesh, 9.6 percent women in police.

Silver lining: Overall Satisfaction

Not everything is bad thankfully. Most of those who had actual contact with police have a more positive image than those who have never been in touch with the force.  

Around 24 percent were very satisfied with the police help on complaint while 41 percent were somewhat satisfied. Around one in 10 (9 percent) were somewhat dissatisfied and 14 percent were fully dissatisfied.

Most wanted greater police presence in their locality. Around 60 percent of those who contacted police were able to get their complaints registered and most were satisfied with the help they received.

Even the majority of the 24 percent who could not get their complaints registered were satisfied with the police’s response. 

Those who had actual contact with police have a more positive image than those who never contacted the force  

Delhi had the lowest public satisfaction score of minus 2 despite having the largest and most well-resourced force in the country. Maximum satisfaction with police help was in Jharkhand which scored 11.7 followed by Kerala at 8.8. 

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