CAA Protests: Is Police Biased Against Minorities? Here’s the Data

56 percent police in Uttar Pradesh and 49 percent in Karnataka view Muslims as being “naturally prone to crime”

5 min read

Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya

Video Editor: Ashutosh Bharadwaj

An Uttar Pradesh police officer Akhilesh Narayan Singh was caught on camera telling local Muslims that those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) should “go to Pakistan”. Instead of censuring him, the Uttar Pradesh police top brass defended him.

Cut across to Mangaluru where the local police have registered at least six FIRs against “Unknown Muslim Youth”, making it clear that the police has decided to label the suspects as “Muslim” even though they haven’t been identified as yet.

Over 20 people have been killed in police action on protesters across the country, a majority of them Muslims.

This has sparked allegations that the police is communally motivated. There are two questions that need to be addressed here:

  1. Do people, particularly minorities, see police as hostile or biased?
  2. Do police personnel hold communal views?

What Public Thinks of Police

In this context, Lokniti-CSDS conducted two important surveys: State of Policing in India Report (SPIR) 2018 and 2019. While SPIR 2019 largely focussed on the police’s viewpoint on various issues, SPIR 2018’s focus was on public’s view of the police.

Here are the highlights from the two surveys on what minorities feel about the police:

  • A majority of Muslims and Sikhs said they are fearful of the police, while around one-fourth of Hindus responded in the same way. Distrust of police was highest among Sikhs and Adivasis.
  • Within Muslims, poorer Muslims and those living in states where the community has a smaller share of the population, were more likely to have a negative view of the police.
  • Some 68 percent Muslims in Telangana, 65 percent in Delhi, 62 percent in Maharashtra, 60 percent in Karnataka, 59 percent in Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand said that the police tends to falsely implicate Muslims in terror cases.
  • Assam, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh reported the lowest representation of Muslims in the police force in proportion to their share of the population. Andhra Pradesh was rated as the best in this regard.
  • About 26 percent of Muslim respondents said that the police discriminates on religious grounds, the highest among all religious communities.
  • But there are major state-wise variations. About 56 percent Muslims in Bihar, 55 percent in Rajasthan and 50 percent in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu said that the police discriminates on the basis of religion. Only 4 percent of the Muslims in Kerala, 7 percent in Uttarakhand and 13 percent in West Bengal had this opinion.

What Do Police Personnel Think?

The surveys revealed that a section of the police in different states had slightly problematic opinions regarding Muslims and also on matters like mob justice and the use of extra-judicial methods.

Here are some key highlights from the two surveys:

On Muslims

  • On being asked if Muslims are “naturally prone to committing crimes” 50 percent of police personnel surveyed across India said “very much” or “somewhat”; 42 percent replied “rarely” or “not at all”.
  • There are major state-wise variations. In Uttarakhand, 79 percent police respondents said that Muslims are very much or somewhat prone to committing crimes, followed by Jharkhand at 66 percent, Uttar Pradesh at 56 percent and Karnataka at 49 percent.
  • On the other end of the spectrum is Punjab where only 23 percent respondents said Muslims are “very much” or “somewhat” prone to crime against 65 percent who said “rarely” or “not at all”. Similarly, In Andhra Pradesh, it was 33 percent and 63 percent respectively.

On Mob Justice

  • A sizable chunk of police respondents said mob justice was justified in cases like rape, kidnapping, cow slaughter and drivers’ negligence but it was still less than the proportion of police personnel who said it was not justified. However, here again, there were state-wise variations.
  • In Madhya Pradesh, 63 percent police respondents said that mob justice was “very much” or “somewhat” justified against people accused of cow-slaughter. However, on other issues, police in southern states were more likely to justify mob violence.
  • For instance, 59 percent respondents in Karnataka and 42 percent in Andhra Pradesh in Telangana, justified the use of mob violence against someone accused of rape.
  • Regarding a person accused of kidnapping a child, 44 percent police respondents in Karnataka and 41 percent in Telangana said it was justified.
  • Similarly, 58 percent police respondents in Karnataka, 55 percent in Telangana and 42 percent in Kerala said that mob justice was justified in cases of road accidents due to the drivers’ negligence.

On Extra-Judicial Killings and Violence

  • The percentage of police respondents who justified the use of extra-judicial means to punish criminals was highest in Nagaland (78 percent) followed by Chhattisgarh (69 percent), Bihar (60 percent), Karnataka (57 percent), Jharkhand (57 percent), Uttar Pradesh (54 percent) and Haryana (54 percent).
  • Interestingly, police personnel with better education (post graduate and above) were more likely to support extra-judicial methods than lesser educated ones. Even in terms of use of violence against criminals, post graduate cops were more likely to call it justified than lesser educated ones.
  • The police in Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Nagaland, Bihar and Gujarat showed greatest inclination to use or justify violence. Police in Odisha and West Bengal showed the least inclination.

Why UP & Karnataka Were Worst Affected

The views held by the police about Muslims or regarding use of violence is irrespective of the party in power in the respective states. But, in the current violence, there does appear to be a clear pattern.

According to reports, 25 people have been killed in the course of police action on protesters. Out of these, 19 were in Uttar Pradesh, four in Assam and two in Karnataka. All three are BJP-ruled states.

On the other hand, little or no violence has been reported in non-BJP ruled states.

This does indicate that irrespective of the view of the police personnel, it is the political leadership that proves to be a key factor.

So, on one hand, there’s a state like Maharashtra, where a sizable chunk of Muslims consider the police as being biased against Muslims or prone to implicating Muslims in false terror cases but there has been no police violence on anti-CAA protestors. This would largely be due to the political leadership in the state.

On the other hand, the worst affected are states like Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, where BJP being in power is coupled with what seems to be the biased views of the police.

According to the CSDS survey, 56 percent police respondents in Uttar Pradesh and 49 percent in Karnataka view Muslims as being “naturally prone to crime”. Then in both states, a majority of police respondents justified use of extra-judicial means and violence.

When such a thinking in the police is backed up by the sense that the political leadership won’t object to violence against Muslims, it is bound to have lethal consequences. This is evident in the killing of protestors in both these states.

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